How Do I Get a Slow Waiter's Attention?

Categories: Ask the Critic
This would be a no.
Today's question comes from Martin, who has been spending a little too much time lately waiting for his check:
I sometimes get frustrated by slow service. It especially irks me in upscale places where I think I'm paying for quality, efficient service. Is it okay to gesture to waitstaff or should I only communicate with facial expressions?
For all the bumptiousness that New Yorkers like to accuse San Francisco waiters of, service here is pretty damn good: same food knowledge, less stiff formality. In the case of the rare waiter who seems to bump my table down to number 47 on his or her priority list, my own approach ― which I'd say works in three minutes or less 95 percent of the time ― is to escalate my appeal for attention.

The vast majority of waiters in high-end restaurants respond the moment they spot a facial cue. On the first try, I look at them expectantly, as if I just thought of a joke they need to hear. On the second try, I raise my eyebrows and look slightly stressed, as if I've just realized my movie is about to start or my water has just broken.

If the waiter looks at me directly and then ignores that clear call, I then attempt a rebuke: I crane my head to look around. Yes, I know! Bold stuff, craning the head. But it's not for the waiter's sake ― it's a message to the front-of-house manager. In any restaurant where the waiters earn enough to make their student loan payments, any manager seeing a customer looking around should rush to the table to find out what's up.

Now, if I've spent more than two minutes imitating the Marx Brothers, wiggling my eyebrows and rolling my neck, only then will I go papal.


I break out the John Paul II blessing: discretely chest high, so that I don't catch the attention of the other tables around me, and with two fingers raised so the gesture doesn't look like a scoolmarmish rebuke. I've never had to do anything more extreme than that, but I would rather get up, walk across the room to the host station, and whisper into the host's ear that I really, really need to rush off ― again, it's all about shame ― than raise my hand above my head. Why should I let a bad waiter make me look like a boor?

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