Fine dining sign language

Here's a guide to the specialized sign language used by the Maitre D' and staff at NYC's swanky Eleven Madison Park restaurant; there's also a set of traffic rules to keep things moving smoothly (staff walk clockwise and keep right, guests and staff leading guests have right of way, followed by hot food, cold food, empty plates, and then empty-handed staff).

Sign Dining - Op-Art - NYTimes.comArt

(via Beth Pratt)


  1. This is very smart.  Basic traffic rules and nonverbal communication should be in place in all restaurants.  Takes no more time or effort and it makes things go so much more smoothly.

  2. I was having trouble with “staff walk clockwise and keep right”, but I checked out TFA, such as it is, and it turns out it’s really “Staff must walk clockwise around the room and must always keep to the right.”That seems a little more do-able, although the clockwise thing sounds a bit inefficient, if the kitchen door is at 12 o’clock and the guest’s table is at 1 o’clock. The staff have to parade around the entire room? Sounds like a fashion show from an early 1950’s newsreel.

    Beyond that, the article doesn’t explain what a “host” is, and I’m too much of a yokel to figure it out.

    I also can’t figure out why the article isn’t published as text, but as a gigantic .jpg graphic. What are blind people (or search engines) supposed to do with that?

    1. I’m a yokel, but I clean up pretty good. :)

      The maitre-d’hotel is the person in charge of the establishment. In most cases, even over all kitchen staff (but smart maitre-d’s stay out of the head chef’s way whenever possible).
      The host is the person that shows you to your table, takes an initial bar order, delivers menus, etc. Sometimes a host will take kitchen orders, but usually after seating, menus and drinks, the servers take over. The host will stop by to ensure your satisfaction.

      You have a complaint with the establishment? The escalation goes like that. Server (maybe) > Host > Maitre-d (and maybe chef if food is involved).

  3. I love expedient signals for common messages where talking is inconvenient, and this is brilliant for a noisy, busy environment.

    Related, but not really: An ex and I used to go scuba diving a lot, and in addition to the standard scuba hand signals we added a few of our own. For instance, both hands with 3 fingers up, moving side to side was “WOW!”. My favorite was one we started using when we went on vacation and there were big “cattle car” boat dives with lots of beginner divers. That one was a hand fanning a circle made with the other hand, and meant “Let’s get away from these buttholes”.

  4. And of course this skit from “The State”:

    Which – while still funny – was definitely a lot funnier when I was 13.

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