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How to get the attention of waiters and waitresses

It varies from restaurant to restaurant. Sometimes your waitperson won’t leave you alone all evening and you feel like you’re being scrutinised. On other occasions, all you want is some attention and a glass of water but staff don’t realise you exist. Of course, these experiences are balanced out by the perfect waiting staff who keep an eye on you all night to ensure you’re adequately looked after, and don’t intrude on your special evening out.

So how do you handle wait staff when they aren’t paying you much attention? Or, as is more often the case, what do you do when the restaurant is busy and the waiters are run off their feet? How do you get their focus?

  • Eye contact method
    Often a simple glance from the corner of your eye is enough to indicate to your waiter or waitress than you need their assistance. A good staff member will always be on the lookout for your glances. When your eyeball is spotted by the staff, ensure you offer a response to confirm your request, such as a small smile.
  • Raise your hand in the air
    If the restaurant is particularly busy this may be the only way to get the attention of a waiter or waitress. This method depends on whom you are dining with – this wouldn’t be appropriate if you're meeting your in-laws for the first time, for example. If you’re in a fine dining restaurant, this procedure will usually be unnecessary.
  • Vocal request
    The vocal request is perhaps the most common method of receiving attention. As the waiter or waitress is passing near your table, a simple "excuse me" will redirect the focus to your table. Try to avoid the grumbled "hmm hmm" - use plain English.
  • Shout
    Yes, you may need to throw your voice across a noisy room to get some attention. But keep it subtle and don’t make a scene.
  • Turn your bottle of wine upside down in the ice cooler
    In a licensed restaurant, a traditional indicator that you want another drink is to turn your bottle of wine upside down in the ice cooler. Usually this will send a waiter running to your table, eagre to sell you another bottle of heavily marked-up wine.
  • Clicking your fingers
    It’s rude, pompous and arrogant. Unadvisable.
  • Throw things
    A ‘Gallagher’ style approach - this is only advisable if you know the food is off, the waiter is a criminal, and you want to be thrown out of the restaurant.
  • Wait
    Yikes, what a novel idea! Waiting for service is becoming rare in the western world where instant gratification is demanded. But there are merits of waiting – your waiter or waitress will be fully prepared to offer you their service and you have more time to relax.
  • Spill a drink all over the floor
    A last resort. Very effective at getting attention at most restaurants but could result in even less attention after the mess has been cleaned up.
  • Throw a plate against the wall
    At a Greek restaurant, this won’t get you squat. At any other restaurant, this will get you into the back of a paddy wagon.

After covering these potential methods, we must cover the number #1 essential ground rule. Never be rude to your waiter or waitress. This is not because you run the risk of a bodily fluid being added to your soup - it's simple courtesy. Being challenging, pompous or condescending to your waiter is disrespectful and unnecessary. It’s ugly, and makes your servers feel even more like slaves than they already do. In addition, your dining companion/s will think less of you.

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