What if your server cannot speak English?

If you go into a Chinese or Korea restaurant which mainly serves Chinese or Korea, your server cannot speak English well. Will you be offended? or feel like it’s part of your exploration?

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That’s often the only way to get un-Americanized food.

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What you said. I’ve sometimes gotten help from other diners or restaurant staff. Pointing to other people’s food.

I go to American restaurants where the server can’t speak English.

I manage.


Doesn’t offend me at all. Like Ipse said, I manage.

In this case, I’ve entered their world. Shouldn’t THEY feel offended? The onus is on me. I should at least be able to attempt to say hello, thank you and other basic pleasentries. Smart phones give us instant access to info like this, so one has little room to not make an effort.

If one has access to such eateries that are true to their heritage and do their cuisine justice, that’s a huge win from my view.

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This. If you’re going to an ethnic restaurant I’d hope the server is of that ethnicity and bonus points if their English is broken. More bonus points if the kitchen isn’t manned by Mexican line cooks (no offense meant).


A combination of doing your homework ahead of time, and making full use of universal sign language and facial expressions.

Get (or make) a “Rosetta Stone” of common restaurant phrases (“I’d like to order THAT” or “Check please” or “Spicy?” or “Party of 2”, or “Menu please” etc.) in the destination language (Chinese, Korean, Uzbek, whatever). Take it with you into the eatery.

Wait a moment - I’m re-reading your original question 'cuz it’s unclear… Are you asking about restaurants located IN ASIA? Why the hell would you expect all restaurants in Asia to have English-speaking servers?

I wouldn’t, unless they cater to tourists, in which case at least some fundamental Engrish would be in order.

As to the USA, it seems like a lot of places w/o English-proficient servers have numbers on the menu alongside the item. Sometimes, there are pretty pictures of the menu items on the wall, too.

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The more I think about this question, the more I think it is a completely asinine one.

One meant for nincompoops.

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I think your name says it all. A dogmatic and unproven statement. What’s wrong with this thread.

Thank you all for your feedback. As a new guy to enter the restaurant business, I am facing the challenge to see a balance. We are operating a Chinese restaurant in Houston China town serving authentic Sichuan dishes with the majority of our customers are Chinese. So the servers need to speak Chinese well. However, we are trying to build a more diverse customer base and thus speaking English well is becoming more and more beneficial for our servers. After all, it requires a lot of communication skills to introduce a dish a customer not used to eat.

Judging by the yelp review we received so far, some customer feel offended or not served well if our server cannot speak English well. Some consider a part of exploration journey and are quite open to the language barriers.

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Have a good English menu with numbers. I don’t think there’s any hope of pleasing nitwits who can’t handle servers with limited English.


Detailed descriptions on your menu - written by someone fluent in English - will go a long way toward heading off any problems, as will ensuring that at least one English-speaking staff member is on duty at all times, whose help can be enlisted as needed. I wouldn’t be offended if I couldn’t communicate well with my server, but I might be frustrated. I still remember ordering “fried scallops” in Prague and being served veal scallopini, which I don’t eat. Thank goddess for bread baskets.


I haven’t spent much time in Houston, but social norms for tolerance to different cultures obviously differs a lot from region to region, city to city - heck, neighborhood to neighborhood.

The majority of posters on this site are from California - most from Southern California. Most - if not all of us - understand the potential issues one confronts with this situation you pose in your OP. Yet I don’t think we are representative of most of society here either. As diverse as our state is, I feel there’s a fair amount of apprehension on the part of the majority of eaters who would face the same situation.

I could be wrong, but if your food is true to its origins, I’d hope that those Chinese customers you serve will be the vast majority of your business. Word spreads fast in this community when food is very good (price is a critical factor as well). Any customers who are “handicapped” by the language barrier can be assisted by what @robert and @small_h mention.

We go to eat Chinese food pretty regularly. My wife speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, so my perspective may be a bit off, but I want a say in what’s ordered as well - I am not a speaker of either - but find the menus laid out as mentioned above help out a ton. The menus that aren’t laid out like that are hard to understand if at least some attention isn’t paid to proper English in some detail. Even my wife will find it hard to describe to me what is in a particular dish because translations aren’t always on equal terms (Saliva chicken anyone?).

I think if you also have one or two available staff members who can speak English at least reasonably well, you’ll have them for back-up when needed. College students from Chinese Asia might be a good source.

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I know there are several restaurants in Houston’s Chinatown with no English menu and very limited ability on the part of the staff to communicate in English. This is also true of other cuisines, including Central American. They do quite well in many cases. It’s a huge city with a very diverse population and active foodie scene. The fact that some complaints have been registered may actually make your place more desirable to some - they’ll assume you’re serving really authentic dishes to your countrymen and want to come sample it. The food itself is going to be much more important to your success.

If you don’t mind, what is your restaurant? What are your specialties? What’s your best dish? Houston’s Chinatown is daunting and I am by no means an expert but I’d like to come check you out.

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There’s a saying, originally from a poet named Lydgate and later referenced by Abraham Lincoln, that “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

Basically, because you are in a service industry, you will need to decide who is your ideal customer and decide how to meet their expectations.

Personally, I enjoy the experience of new-to-me foods and cultures, as do - I think - many on this board. Therefore, I am fairly comfortable with servers who are not fully fluent in English.

But…I know many people who would feel uncomfortable in such situations. If you want a broad customer base, then having someone who is comfortable speaking English available when your restaurant is open will help. Also, having a menu that has been written by someone fluent in English will make a big difference. Photographs of food /dishes and numbers on menu also help.

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I knew I had seen something on this.

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Yes, we are operating Chef Liu Restaurant at Houston. We offer authentic Sichuan cuisine dishes there.

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I am always thrilled haha