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How to get the check?

What is the trick for signalling to wait staff that you are ready for the check? I have been told that in Europe the staff anticipate that people will linger over a meal longer than in the U.S. That's fair enough. However, how do you indicate that you're done lingering? It is often very difficult to catch the eye of the staff as they are scurrying about doing their jobs. Do you wave your arms, pound on the table, send up a signal flare? (Yes, that was sarcastic, but the question remains.)

In our recent trip to England and Wales, we had quite a nice time until we finished our mains. Then we had to wait, wait, wait until someone asked if we wanted dessert. Wait, wait, wait for the dessert menu. Wait, wait, wait to order dessert. Wait, wait, wait, for it to be served. Wait, wait, wait to be able to ask for the check. Wait, wait, wait to receive it. I left the exact amount in cash rather than have to wait for a credit card transaction.

We have started eating in pubs just because you order and pay at the bar, which means you can just leave when you're done.

Posted by
2101 posts

We've never found it that difficult. We will try to catch the eye of our server and raise one arm. If that fails, we'll similarly catch the attention of any of the servers and ask them to send our server to us with the bill. On the very rare occasion when this also fails, and we are in a hurry (not typical for us) we'll just go to the front desk. That never fails.

Posted by
5746 posts

Just raise your hand and say check please in the native language. Don't be timid or do what CJEAN recommended.

Posted by
1988 posts

Hold your left hand palm facing you. Use your right hand as if you are signing your left palm. Any server nearby will catch that universal sign and bring you the check. But do learn to say “check please” in the native language. Have your credit card ready when you ask for the check. If they see it, they will wait while you check the bill for accuracy and run it on a hand held device. That should be the quickest part of the transaction.

Posted by
14226 posts

I didn't see folks in the UK wandering up to the bar to pay their restaurant checks, though I'm not claiming it never happens. That seems to be common behavior in less formal restaurants in Spain and France.

Posted by
2026 posts

We’ve had that problem too. Most of the time, when they bring our food to the table, I will ask them to bring the check when they get a chance. Seems extreme I know, but it alerts them that we don’t want to hang around when we’re done eating. I’m usually on the go all day so by dinner time I’m tired. I like to take a walk after dinner and go to bed early. I’m with my husband 24/7 so we don’t need time to chat. We’ve been chatting all day!

At home we usually go out with friends, and in that case we want to sit around and chat after dinner. Much harder to do in the US. I guess I’m living on the wrong continent!

Posted by
2130 posts

You have to ask, and be prepared to ask again. And again. Yes, just catch their eye. There's no special signal flare. So you catch their eye and ask. It may take a few tries!

I actually don't mind, it makes for a nice, relaxing meal. After a trip I come back home and get really annoyed at American restaurants bringing the check before I ask (seems rude, like they are rushing you out). I adjust, of course, but it's just different.

Posted by
1988 posts

I actually don't mind, it makes for a nice, relaxing meal.

I couldn’t agree more. What is worse here is, other than at very fine dining establishments, the servers who ask “are you guys still working on that?” Geez, where did that come from?

Posted by
341 posts

My dad was stationed in Spain 1958-1962. I was four to eight. We drove the Chevy station wagon all over Europe and I remember Pop’s signal exactly. He would hold up a hand and rub etching fingers against the thumb, universal sign for money. And he’d add “PsssPsss”. Worked every time. Every time. He was never rude, mom and dad had watched the locals.

Posted by
3207 posts

I couldn’t agree more. What is worse here is, other than at very fine dining establishments, the servers who ask “are you guys still working on that?” Geez, where did that come from? ote

Alan, I'm with you on this. I told some friends with whom we had lunch recently at an upscale casual restaurant that this kind of thing bothered me, and they didn't get it. Maybe we've spent too much time in Europe? Naaah.

Posted by
8918 posts

“Working on that?” Eating is not working!

In Italy, we often go inside or up to the desk or counter if our server is very busy. At all but the highest of the high-end restaurants this is fine and indeed efficient in peak hours.

I agree about learning the terms in the local language. Shows respect and a bit of cultural perspective. ”I’ll conto per favore,” or “Das Rechnung, bitte,” or ”L’addition s’il vous plaît.”

Or you could just relax and enjoy eating like a European, visit, linger over a digestive, enjoy the atmosphere.

Posted by
12 posts

In Italy you could catch the eye of the waiter, make a little writing gesture in the air, or if he’s near you, as Laurel wrote, you’ll say “Il conto per favore”.

Posted by
8291 posts

Just raise your hand and say check please in the native language.

BTW, In English, you ask for the bill. In the UK, if you ask for the "check", they may not understand you, or they may think you want to pay by a cheque, which few places now accept.
And you pay the bill by a credit card or with banknotes (not bills).
You don't have to be too flamboyant to catch a waiter's attention, just a wave of the hand when one passes. If not doing anything, they are usually standing back to the wall scanning the room to see if anybody needs anything. Maybe it is just a skill I grew up with.

Edit:
@Laurel - In German it is NOT “Das Rechnung, bitte,”. They actually say "bezahlen bitte", which is "pay please". This always sounds a bit abrupt to a British ear, as I am used to being polite "Can I have the bill please?", but "bezahlen bitte" is what the Germans say.
And it is "Die Rechnung"

Posted by
3252 posts

I've never really experienced any problem with this anywhere in Europe. Sure, there have been occasions when it's taken a bit longer to catch someone's attention but I usually anticipate this and start getting ready to signal before I've finished my wine. Catching the eye of a waiter is usually the easiiest way and if they're a distance away the universal mimic of signing on a piece of paper means that they don't have to make their way to you only to traipse back invariably to where they were stood to get your bill.

Otherwise I'll catch the attention of a passing waiter, it doesn't matter if they've served me or not and ask for the bill, preferably in the local language (my language skills aren't great but I can at least manage to learn the phrase for "the bill please").

What I absolutely detest is being handed the bill in the US before I've even finished eating. Incredibly rude and serves only to demonstrate the server's impatience to get you out of the door and another tip making opportunity to be seated. At least in Europe (and some of the more finer restaurants in the US) you have the option to linger over and enjoy your meal OR request the bill at your convenience if you're in a hurry.

Posted by
22467 posts

That's just because people are polite, Dagestanian spleenworts not so much.

Posted by
22467 posts

check the profile of the finger snapper

Posted by
8918 posts

Thanks, Chris. That high school German was a loonngggg time ago.

Posted by
8235 posts

I imagine the latter gets you the “addition”, while the finger snapping gets you a contemptuous look.

Posted by
11878 posts

In Germany and Austria just tell the wait staff, "zahlen, bitte." or if you rather say this in a sentence, then say, "Ich möchte zahlen." S/he will come around with the check.

No need to say, "die Rechnung."

Posted by
4529 posts

"Garcon" is also considered rude and demeaning now, I believe.

Posted by
2291 posts

"Dagestanian spleenwort"....
Wow, at first glance, I was assuming it would be a Dr. Who thing.

Posted by
1125 posts

Just to be clear, because apparently Poe's law is in full effect, I don't snap fingers, or say garcon. I apologize for my apparently ill-advised humor, which I guess some people are taking seriously, or in the spirit of Poe's law, pretending to take seriously.

Posted by
8235 posts

Aha! It was a joke. In that case, LOL.

Posted by
22467 posts

Shame for the innocent original poster who got that joke as information.

Posted by
4401 posts

Just please recognize that it is not inattentive "bad service", its to be considered good service not to rush you. One of those cultural differences.

Posted by
3252 posts

Reminds me of the fable, Peter and The Wolf.

Posted by
6845 posts

A friend and I were having lunch with another friend in Paris. The 3rd person actually DID snap her fingers and call out garcon before either of us could stop her. We were both horribly mortified. The waiters were awesome and just completely ignored her. I suspect they could see our jaws drop and the look of incredulity on our faces. I think my friend caught the waiter's eye and raised her finger and the check was brought immediately. My word...I have never, ever been as embarrassed as I was then.

Posted by
13180 posts

I usually have to ask for the check when I'm ready to leave. If I have asked for the check and waited too long or if I haven't been able to ask for the check, I just walk up to the cashier to pay. Always works fine and no one seems offended.

If I'm in a hurry because I have a timed ticket somewhere - or maybe I just want fast service - when I enter, I'll tell my waiter that I don't have a lot of time, I might say I have a train to catch or opera tickets, depends on where I am. That almost always gets me faster service.

IMO having to wait a long time for service on being seated or between courses is just bad service in a restaurant, though I make allowances when it seems very busy. In most of Europe, service is usually attentive even when a place is crowded. The wait staff earn their pay. I haven't been to any really crowded places in the UK. In pubs, there may be table service, but getting up to get menus, order food, get drinks seems to be acceptable.

Posted by
1 posts

Learning to ask in the language is good advice. Waiters are now addressed in our version of "Mr." or "Mrs." (maybe Miss, but I avoid it). Garcon means "boy," and will be as popular in France as using boy would be in the US. A related piece of advice is that once you ask for the check, you should pay it then. Don't ask for the check and then linger before you pay it. If you want to linger, don't ask for the check.

Posted by
1 posts

An interesting note that many Americans are probably not aware of: tipping is a byproduct of racism and the end of slavery. Freed men and women often were not paid for their work by the proprietors of their work places—frequently those proprietors refused to see them as worthy of pay. These workers were dependent upon customers to pay them for their services. As a result, American wait staff are grossly underpaid and clientele are forced to pay not only for their meals, but also for the service which to many Europeans feels like a shakedown.
Tipping is, unfortunately, coming to Europe, but it should not be encouraged. We do not encourage it in Spain where service staff are well compensated. People do not want their wages reduced when greedy business owners see them receiving tips and take it as an opportunity to cut pay. If you must tip, simply round up to the next euro.
As to waiting for a check, I agree with all the suggestions (except for the “finger snapping” which I also did not read as a joke.) Again, because waiters are well enough paid they have no need to hurry guests along in order to increase their income.

Posted by
425 posts

This has been an interesting discussion. Unfortunately, most of the answers have been to the effect of "you just ask for it." That misses the point of my question. We have often been in restaurants where it almost impossible to catch the eye of anyone working there. They are bustling about, often nowhere near our table. If they are near, they are so concentrating on their immediate tasks that they would notice any gesture that would not be impolitely large. Thus, to parody an over-used meme, one doesn't simply ask for the check in most restaurants.

Posted by
5322 posts

Well Dav, everybody else seems to manage! :-)
Basically interupt them as they are bustling about. Maybe not when theu are talking to another customer but any other time is fair game. Sometimes it does take a few goes. On occasion you might want to throw a bread roll at their head.
When I am eating out with friends someone always wants to use the bathroom before we leave so they just ask a member of staff, any member of staff, on the way.

Posted by
1968 posts

Oh, Emma! Now every time I need to ask for the addition, I'm going to be in hysterics!

Posted by
2 posts

There is a fundamental difference between dining in Europe and typical restaurants I frequent in the states. I have had a local restaurant owner explain that his business is built on turn-over, i.e. how many parties he seats per table each evening. Conversely, it was my understanding when I lived in Europe that a table reservation was essentially for the entire evening. Thus, if the expectation is that I may intend to linger between courses and after my meal, courtesy dictates that I should not be rushed and it's my responsibility to let the server know when I'm ready for the bill. Whereas, often in the states, the assumption is that everyone is in a rush and good service means correctly anticipating when the customer is ready for the check. Understanding the cultural differences helps.

Posted by
425 posts

I did note in my original post that I understand that difference. There still comes a time to leave.

From what others have said, there is no specific practice that I am missing. I will have to leave it at that.