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“Can I get” vs. “May I have”

I am told by my business partner that using “Can I get a...” from a waiter is verging on the rude and that you should use “please may I have...”.

Would you agree?

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Did you mean TO a waiter?

Certainly "May I have" will be perceived as more formal and courteous, but "Can I get" will not necessarily be perceived as rude, depending on the tone of voice. "Could I get" is even better, though, or "Could I have". Omitting "please" in any such request might sound a tad rude, admittedly.

It also may depend whereabouts in the world you are.

Dave3 August 26, 2004 @ 8:20AM

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This is an etiquette question, not a grammar question, lol :)

It depends on where you are. If you're in a formal business lunch, you certainly must say, "May I have..." or, "Would you please bring me..." another napkin, for example. In an informal business lunch, you may say, "Could I have..." or, "Please get me...." In a casual setting (such as a cafeteria, where the server stands behind the line and hands you what you point at), it is courteous to say, "I would like some...."

It's always OK to answer, "The broiled fish special, please" in response to "What can I get for you?" or, "May I take your order?"

Cowboys eating with oil rig workers at a Texas barbecue joint are commonly heard to say, "Miss, get me some of that sliced pork." I guess that's not shockingly disrespectful... but it's not polite.

And always, always say "Thank you" to the server when they have done what you asked.

speedwell2 August 26, 2004 @ 9:27AM

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If I were a waiter and somebody said "can I get a coffee", I would be inclined to say "go ahead" and then just stand there.

If they the customer then asked where the beverage was, I would say: "Oh, I'm sorry; I thought you wanted to get it yourself. Would you like me to get it for you?"

pedontic August 26, 2004 @ 9:45AM

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OK, I think the concensus is 'can I get' is not ideal, but said in the right manner and with a 'please' is marginally acceptable.

And I was in Australia. Does that make a difference :)

clivebellmore August 26, 2004 @ 12:22PM

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I think that has a lot to do with whereabout you are. I am always afraid of speaking to elderly native English speaking people since the way we speak English here in Denmark may sound totally vulgar.
Also I have for instance learned something, let say, from an Irish and then that wasn't quite understood the same way when I said it to an American.

goossun August 27, 2004 @ 5:09PM

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"Can I get" isn't rude, it's just casual. In a diner or something, I would have no problem asking "can I get," especially for things like coffee refills. In a formal setting, I'd use "may I have," but when Flo the waitress is making small talk with me, I'm not going to play Miss Manners.

popsnap August 28, 2004 @ 9:42AM

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I usually say "I'd like some..." or "Can I have..." so that is neither. I don't always say please, unless my kids are with me... to be a good influence.

ladylucy1 September 21, 2004 @ 3:21PM

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Nick, I don't think the problem with CAN I GET is that it's rude, but that it isn't understood everywhere. Certainly in Britain CAN I GET would be interpreted CAN I FETCH FOR MYSELF, which in a restaurant would seem a rather odd request to English ears.

Dave3 September 21, 2004 @ 3:59PM

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Dave (from Sept. 21) is correct. Asking "Can I..." implies that you are questioning your ability to perform any given action. For instance, asking "Can I wash my hands" implies whether or not you can physically wash your hands.

Asking "May I..." denotes that you are asking permission to do something. For example, asking "May I have another book," implies that you would like permission to take an additional book.

curmudgeon September 21, 2004 @ 5:38PM

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Eurgh. No, that's not what I meant. CAN I and MAY I have long overlapped in English usage as a means of requesting permission. It was GET that I was suggesting would confuse an Englishman, which in that particular context would sound like FETCH FOR MYSELF.

Dave3 September 22, 2004 @ 2:08AM

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I hate the term "can I get "with a passion. It seems like an Americanism to me. I have always been taught to say "could I have. ... " Please. Or obviously "please may I have".

Mick Carlton May 7, 2015 @ 9:43AM

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@Mick Carlton


Hairy Scot May 7, 2015 @ 9:36PM

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When you say, "Can I get..?" in the UK, it's generally considered a f**king rude Americanism. Happy Thanksgiving, though.

Dave Jenkins November 26, 2015 @ 6:48AM

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How should a waiter or bartender address a customer?
"Do you want .........................?"
"Would you like.....................?"

Hairy Scot November 26, 2015 @ 4:24PM

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Overhead yesterday in a coffee shop:
Customer: Excuse me; I was wondering if I could trouble you for a side salad.
Waitress: Side salad?

Slight mismatch of styles!

jayles the unwoven November 26, 2015 @ 7:01PM

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As far as I can discern, it is neither impolite nor polite. However, it is incorrect. "Can I get [something]?" implies that the person is asking whether it is possible that they, themselves, are able to go and fetch or obtain something e.g. "Can I get petrol there?" or because they are asking whether another person would like something that they could obtain on their behalf, for example "Can I get you a drink?"

If they are asking a waiter, bartender, shop assistant or other person serving if they would go and fetch something for them on their behalf, they should ask the question "May I have/can I have/could I have" and similar variants preferably with "please" in there somewhere!

Caroline1 March 21, 2017 @ 10:53AM

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I mean it depends on how you are using say if your saying can i go get some more food you are asking am i able to go get some more food. So i think can i is proper but my teacher corrects me every time

Tamir Smith March 29, 2017 @ 9:32AM

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"Can I get?" instead of "Can I please have?" is yet ANOTHER Americanism. Why are people like sheep when it comes to anything American?

RATTY June 14, 2017 @ 6:45PM

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Another Americanism that is creeping into our vocabulary is "listen up". Also, why are so many British women and men obsessed with driving 4 x 4's (another American influence). America has the infrastructure to deal with them - our little island doesn't! Glad I got that off my chest!

RATTY June 15, 2017 @ 6:52PM

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"May I have" or "I would like" would be preferable to any of the "get" options when speaking to a waiter or shop assistant.
When speaking to a customer the use of "do you want......" should be dropped in favour of "would you like".

"Listen up" and "do the math" should be consigned to the bin for all time.

Hairy Scot June 18, 2017 @ 6:11AM

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