Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

A Confession

Sunday, 15 February 2009

There is an art to getting attention in pubs and restaurants. This might sound like the introduction to a useful tip - but, unfortunately, I don’t know what it is. Some people get served immediately; I’m in the category that can paint themselves bright green and stand on top of the bar waving tenners, still nobody notices. If one of the Visible People has any suggestions, please post below.

Or maybe it’s genetic? I wondered that yesterday, during a romantic Valentine’s meal with my family. My brother, who’d been gasping for a glass of wine for about half an hour, tried waving the wine list backwards and forwards over his head. Still nobody came. When the bill arrived, the waiter disappeared immediately without taking a credit card. Twenty minutes later, my mum tried shouting across the restaurant, “We want to pay! Does nobody want the money?” Still, an ice age passed before anyone slunk over with the machine. And we’re supposed to be one of the noisiest and most grating families in the media. God knows how discreet people manage.

  It reminded me of the time I shoplifted from Brent Cross. (In my defence, there was no credit crunch at the time. Brent Cross was doing fine.)

  I stood at the unmanned till with a mascara in my hand for a good fifteen minutes. I tried calling out, “Is anyone serving?”. I waited another ten minutes. Nothing. Then I tried calling out, “I am now going to leave the shop with this mascara.” A sales assistant looked at me from the middle of the floor, where she was slowly buttoning shirts on a rail. I showed her the £10 note in my other hand.

“I’m going to walk very slowly”, I told her. “All someone has to do is stop me before I get to the door, and take this tenner. Otherwise I’m taking the mascara without paying.”

  She shook her head, but didn’t move. I walked slowly towards the door. I noticed a CCTV camera on my way, so I stopped. I wrote my address on a piece of paper, held it up to the camera and read it out loud. “If you want the money”, I said, “that is where to find me.”

  Nobody ever got in touch.

  So, the question is: Am I still, technically, a thief? I’m starting to think I might make quite a good one.

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Ste at 2:49 am on February 15th, 2009

I don’t know if you qualify as a thief or not, but I’m inspired to try your technique in the Co-op tomorrow. If Hazel the checkout granny nabs me with a packet of bacon and an armful of cat food I’ll blame it all on you.

You need to learn the skills of bar karma. Stand next to someone who’s - for example - painted themselves green and is furiously waving a ten pound note in the air. When the barman turns round to stare at the expectant mob in front of him gesture politely at the maniac next to you, indicating that it’s their turn and you’re happy to queue like an upstanding and thoroughly English citizen. They’ll get served straight away, but nine times out of ten you’ll be next.

CW at 10:25 am on February 15th, 2009

well, poker is a kind of thievery… if you are good at it

Martin the pieman at 10:26 am on February 15th, 2009

Up early Vix? That frustrates me when they bring the bill and then run away when you have a card in your hand.

Perhaps try the walking out approach with the dinner….although as a poker player aren’t we all branded thieves anyway…lol.


Kenneth at 10:49 am on February 15th, 2009

Firstly yes there is some sort of an art to being served and attended to, like yourself i seemingly lack this.
Being of sunday morning laziness i cannot be bothered to get the dictionary but im sure the definition of theft, is something like “Taking something that does not belong to you”, and shoplifting (if in the dictionary) would be like, “taking an item of value without payment” so by definition you would be a thief. Still pretty ladies get let off all the time so you would be safe, men are idiots (yes yes we are)

PS. I am a man who understands the english language, words and how to use them in a structured and manipulative way. I usually pride myself on my ability to spell (not typing due to my hands moving faster than my brain). So imagine my surprise when reading your new article on the G this morning.
No matter how much i have purchased and eaten, i have always thought they were called and spelt WOrthers and i saw in your article WErthers. My initial reactions was “shit Vicky spelt it wrong” (in my head this can’t ever happen, you’re the queen of words and you just don’t do that, ever). Anyway a quick shameful “Googling” (can’t be bothered to go to the shops, its sunday morning!) and i found that all is right with your language.
So thank you for opening my eyes this morning.

David Young at 3:26 pm on February 15th, 2009

The great thing about ‘Werthers’ is that the company is actually German.’s_Original

Thus it’s not pronounced ‘worthers’ but ‘verters’ and in those ads when the old man was sitting on the chair reminicing about his childhood he was probably thinking fondly of his time in the Hitler Youth.


LC at 3:26 pm on February 15th, 2009

I’m currently working in retail during a gap year and it’s these folks that give us a bad name. Please don’t be mean to us as a collective though, some of us try our best even whilst getting paid about tuppence an hour.

I suspect the shop girl either hadn’t been trained properly or couldn’t sign onto the till. But for either of these she should have just told you. The most likely option is that she didn’t care because she hates her job and was half-heartedly sticking one to the man.

Restaurants, well. I find that the frequent problem, on busy dates of the year like V. Day, is that they’re hideously understaffed. Managers refuse to get in extra staff to cope with demand and are then completely ill-equipped to deal with the number of people suddenly pouring through the doors.

Ralph Tritt at 6:06 pm on February 15th, 2009

Monty Python’s Graham Chapman used to tap his penis on the counter in order to get the attention of pub staff at his Highgate local. But then he was a chronic alcoholic at the time.

John at 6:27 pm on February 15th, 2009

I was once a waiter.  ‘I was once a weak man’... but that’s between me and Hattie Jacques. 
The classic “Hello I’m waiting” call from the parched and stranded diner would be the clicking of the fingers.  How we enjoyed that one.  They learn it from the telly, you know.  Life will imitate soap, so very often.

Alan Glaum at 10:08 pm on February 15th, 2009

I assume good staff are hard to get on valentine’s Day because everyone employed is made to work..

And you’ve made me feel better that having won a Valentine’s Day trip for 2, I took my sister. At least the races were a good day out anyway.

JM at 12:42 am on February 16th, 2009

I can totally identify with being invisible in this country (UK).  I say in “this” country because when I’m in the US it is the exact opposite.  I tend to get served in front of everyone else without uttering a single word.
Unlike you, I wouldn’t have the brass neck to walk out without paying for something.  I generally just leave the item and walk out and buy it somewhere else complaining loudly on the way out.  But then nobody notices that either!

Dickie D at 12:15 pm on February 16th, 2009

Mmmmmm I might have an answer here. Did the restaurant owners have a pet dog?

E at 7:42 pm on February 16th, 2009

Treat them like pets, not demeaning or cruel, but commanding. Toss in a few “pleases” and “thank yous” as their treats.

Also when they arrive at your table do a “wait-tease” ask how their day is going even if you don’t give a damn.

As for the mascara, you should have put the tenner down then said “Here’s the money for the mascara, I’d ask for the change back but by the time you get it to me, inflation will catch up and it won’t be worth shit, so keep it!”

And when all else fails, just curse out loud a lot. Someone’s sensibilities are bound to be insulted and when they complain about you, you can use the staff that arrives to obtain your goals.

My ways aren’t usually the right ways, but they are sometimes the best ways!

davejnick at 11:43 pm on February 16th, 2009

I generally find that the trick to being served quickly in pubs is to drink in places where friends work - which no doubt irritates and annoys the other punters who are waiting at the bar, but on the plus side means that I don’t die of thirst on Friday and Saturday nights.

As for restuarants…sorry Vic, haven’t a clue!

Alias at 2:04 pm on February 17th, 2009

My days of stealing have now passed, but back in the day my philosophy was always that the more blatant you were the more you got away with it, while getting served at a bar requires playing it a bit cooler. On catching a barperson’s eye TELL them to give you your drink of choice, occassionally the phrase ‘don’t you dare walk away from me you muppet’ may have to be used to encourage them to serve you immediately. Then quietly take note of which idiots are waving their money around frantically in a bid to get served and hang around long enough to help yourself to said idiot’s purse/bag/wallet etc later on in the evening. Hope this helps.

raycake at 7:23 am on February 27th, 2009

you should post more on thmf
brilliant little story

Bngr at 12:09 pm on May 1st, 2009

Fixed eye contact is the best way to get attention of barperson/waiter etc. Another handy trick for queuing at a bar, when there’s lots of people queuing, is to state aloud your order when the barman comes near/before he’s decided who to look to next, and he’ll usually respond.

Victoria Coren

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