I'm in China and many staffs at cafes or bars call me "朋友" to get my attention, for example to bring the food to my table or ask me to hand in my AliPay screen. But on the other hand, it seems always "服务员" if a customer calls a staff, not "朋友".

However, I often hear customers call waiters "朋友" to get their attention, but in my experience this is true only when the customers are foreigners.

So I wonder if it is considered acceptable, or even if it is, still sounds awkward or unnatural, to call waiters "朋友" as a custermer. Also, do local Chinese call them "朋友"?

  • @Rodrigo Correct. Fixed. – Blaszard Jul 12 '18 at 1:17
  • @Rodrigo Yup. Sorry, just fixed... – Blaszard Jul 12 '18 at 5:26

I think 服务员 is just a little bit old, formal and sometimes serious way of calling waiters/waitresses from some people's prospective nowadays. But I don't think it is offensive if you use it, especially if you're a foreigner. I also use it several years ago and even now.

Alternative way maybe 服务生(mostly for male). I guess it's the way from Hong Kong or Taiwan but accepted in mainland. This sounds more modern in some cases.

朋友 is not widely used by local in such cases. Maybe because you're a foreigner, they would like to show more friendly. I think they can call you 先生(Mister)/女士(Mrs.)/小姐(Miss). However, if this is the cafe/bar's feature or tradition or something like industry rule (though I don't know such rule), then it's OK.

Instead, you can just call waiters (even not only waiters, but any other male you don't know) as 帅哥、小哥、小哥哥(if he is young); 兄弟、哥们;叔叔、伯伯、大叔(if he is elder);大爷(very old)... The same, call any female you don't know as 美女、小姐姐、小姑娘(if young);姐姐、姐们儿;大姐、大嫂、阿姨(if elder); 大妈(very old)...

小哥哥、小姐姐 are just the popular saying recently, we don't even use them maybe 2 years ago. Things are always changing, you know.

Finally, it's simple and proper to say 你好 in order to get the waiter's attention.

  • Thanks. Is there any chance that men calling female waiters 小姐姐 or 美女 sound creepy? At least in many other cultures, it is considered creepy, offensive, or intolerable... – Blaszard Jul 12 '18 at 5:31
  • Emm... It may depend on the pronunciation and intonation, and even your expression in eyes... But these words are currently popular. Basically, as a foreigner, use 服务员 or 你好 is decent and enough. – Bruce Huang Jul 12 '18 at 6:09

Nationwide, 服务员 is the common term for waiters(in English). Some may think to address someone as 服务员 is a bit "look-down", but wouldn't it be the case for the English word waiters? I did hear "waiter" was used to humiliate someone. Overall, there is no issue that you use 服务员 in those public service establishments including restaurants, malls, supermarkets and etc., in which you don't intend to offend.

As for the case you encountered in those bars and cafes where they address customers as 朋友, I think the main purpose is that they want to pull the relationship closer to their customers (as if they are friends). Some would take it a bit odd at the first time of hearing it, and they may get used to it after they go there many times because they know it's just their style.

I wouldn't suggest you call them back with 朋友 unless you are trying to make a little joke on their style (calling their customers 朋友). Think about the case where you say "朋友,买单" and the waiter might be confused whether you are asking him for bill or your friend sitting next to you to pay the bill.

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    +1 Well said. FYI in Saudi Arabia people call waiters as "brother" / "Sadiq" (trustful brother) / "Habibi" (my dear). Even in US people call waiters as "buddy", or call their names directly. – WDC Jul 12 '18 at 9:09
  • Thanks for the upvote! (So that I can comment now). In Canada you don’t call them waiter or waitress; we use ‘excuse me’ for the most part. – The Lyrist Jul 13 '18 at 1:05

If you call your waiters or waitresses 服务员, 小二 , 小哥、小哥哥、帅哥、靓仔, 小妹、小姐姐、美女、靓女 as above in Hong Kong, you could seriously offend them.

Especially 靓仔 靓女. I will strongly recommend against it; it will be considered creepy and borderline sexual harassment. (Would like to comment, but I don't have enough reputation.)

Instead, a simple request starting with 你好 (hi) + 唔該 (please) would normally suffice.

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    It's interesting to know that 服务员 is inapplicable in HK. What word you guys use except for 你好? 你好 wouldn't draw clear attention unless waiters are just close to you, because people would not be sure who you are talking to. I upvoted your answer, so you are ready to go comment in this site. – dan Jul 13 '18 at 0:50
  • I think it is most acceptable to use 唔該 to get the attention of the waiter and waitress. It is rather uncommon for unrelated parties to start a random conversion in a restaurant, so the chance of Hi being mistakenly is rather low here. – The Lyrist Jul 13 '18 at 0:55
  • any words mandarin speakers can use? – dan Jul 13 '18 at 1:05
  • I think you could use 不好意思? – The Lyrist Jul 13 '18 at 1:06

Not usual to hear 朋友 for waiters.

Yes it is acceptable to call waiters 服务员, though is slightly awkward.

And yes, most local Chinese people call waiters 服务员.

Personally, to show my respect, I would call waiters as:

  • Male: 小哥、小哥哥、帅哥、靓仔 (Cantonese)、伙计、哥们、兄弟 (in northern China).
  • Female: 小妹、小姐姐、美女、靓女(Cantonese).
  • How can it be that "call waiters 服务员 is slightly awkward", when "most local Chinese people call waiters 服务员"? – Rodrigo Jul 11 '18 at 18:17
  • @Rodrigo for me, it is awkward. No offense, polite and well educated people seldom call waiters 服务员. – WDC Jul 11 '18 at 18:23
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    If most local people do something and you do it differently, you are the awkward. No offense. – Rodrigo Jul 11 '18 at 18:26
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    Wait, 服务员 is slightly curt? Most Chinese I think call in that way... – Blaszard Jul 12 '18 at 1:19
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    @Blaszard See some discussions here. Is it appropriate to call waiters as 服务员 is still an open topic. For me I opt for alternative titles. – WDC Jul 12 '18 at 9:03

Locals do not use 朋友, but if you use it, waiters will happy, before you use it, consider your friends feeling, they may give you an odd face.

You can use 服务员,or just say 你好, and avoid to call a title.

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    Thanks and yes I use 你好 as well but I think if the waiter isn't near, it is a bit hard to get their attention. – Blaszard Jul 12 '18 at 5:29

In this context, it is like you call someone in English as "bro" even though he is not your actually brother.

Me personally call the waiters as "服务员".

  • Yes I know it is something that does not imply the "real" 朋友. But my question is whether it is common, considered unnatural, awkward, or even offensive for them, as I only have heard it from foreign customers and local Chinese always seem to use 服务员 much like you do. – Blaszard Jul 11 '18 at 17:28

We say 小二 in a traditional Chinese restaurant. 侍應 in a western restaurant.

We use 朋友 If u know the name of the waiter(s) .


My gut feeling is that ,

Foreigners call Chinese waiters 朋友:natural and will make me feel that this foreigner is a smart and considerate person.

Chinese waiters call foreiners 朋友:how does he know this foreigner can understand Chinese?But if he does,it's a good option.

Chinese locals call Chinese unfamiliar waiters 朋友:inappropriate.

Chinese waiters call Chinese locals 朋友:very inappropriate.

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    When a Chinese local calls an unfamilar Chinese waiter as 朋友,i would feel that it's kind of flattering.And if i'm that waiter,i may think that the local is insulting my IQ.LOL.But it's only my personal opinion. – dubina Jul 12 '18 at 13:37

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