The super-secret world of restaurant hand signals explained

Hand signals
Some restaurant servers use hand signals to silently communicate with each other for things such as flat or sparkling water and more bread.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The next time you see your restaurant server straightening a lapel or fluttering his or her fingers, you may want to take a closer look. It’s all part of an elaborate world of restaurant hand signals, secret agent-style.

According to Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema, these seemingly mundane hand gestures can mean big things. Big things such as flat or sparkling water and to please bring more bread to a table.

Some restaurants use signals in lieu of speaking in real voices in an effort to make the dining experience more special. Some of the signals are painfully obvious, but here’s a breakdown of each, so you’re, you know, in the know: 

1. Fingers positioned in a sideways V means a VIP is in the house.


2. Pointing to a ring finger lets everyone know the guest is celebrating an anniversary. 

3. Pointing to a belly button area lets everyone know the guest is celebrating a birthday.

4. Holding your hand horizontally signals flat, bottled water.

5. Making a fist with your thumb sticking out signals tap water. 


6. Fluttering your fingers means the guest would like sparkling water. 

7. Holding your palm forward means to bring more bread. 

8. Using one hand to brush your shoulder means a table needs cleaning. 

9. Placing one hand on your lapel means you need help. 

So the next time you feel inclined to watch your server rather than enjoy your meal, you can tell your fellow diners what’s really going on. Just make sure you explain in a whisper. We can’t have the entire world figuring this stuff out. 

Want more quirky food news? Follow me on Twitter: @Jenn_Harris_


World’s hottest pepper hits 2.2 million Scoville heat units


Restaurant owner treats 50 homeless people to fine dining

Watch this guy cook a turkey with a Lamborghini Aventador LP760