Finding Your Way Around a Cafeteria

Cafeteria settings are always a challenge. Not only because the lines are so long and go around and around, but also because cafeterias are crowded and noisy, making it more difficult to orient yourself.

If you always go to the same place, like your dorm dining room or your high school cafeteria, you may try the following techniques:

  • Start by learning the layout of the place.

    A good way to learn is to explore the cafeteria at a time when it is not busy (2:00 in the afternoon, after lunch rush hour, or at night, before it closes). Ask a friend to accompany you, and ask him or her to tell you where the drinks are, how the silverware is organized, where the salad bar is, how to operate the machines, and so on.

    If the cafeteria has multiple lines, it may take a little longer to learn where things are, but it can be done. Once you are familiar with the place, you should be able to do well on your own, since you now have an idea of where to start.
  • Finding the end of the line and keeping your place:

    A good way to find the end of a line is to simply ask. When you feel you are near the line you are seeking, ask people if they are the last in line. The people in line will be glad to direct you to the end since they are probably hungry and will appreciate that you are not cutting them off.

    Once you make it to the end of the line, there are a couple of ways to keep your place in line. If the cafeteria is too noisy and it is hard for you to know when the line moves up, ask the person in front of you to let you know when he or she moves up. Another technique is to slide your tray along the cafeteria tray rails, and move up slowly every time the person in front of you moves. In both cases, keep the hand on the side towards the direction the line is moving with some of your fingers out. This allows you to feel the person's tray in front of you, and may prevent you from bumping into them.

  • Finding a seat in the dining room

    After you've gotten your food, one of the biggest challenges is finding a seat. These are three suggestions on how to deal with the situation:

    1. Walk carefully around asking if people are sitting at various tables.
    2. Ask someone in the cafeteria to help you find a seat.
    3. Before leaving the line, ask the cashier or someone from the staff to help you find a seat.

  • Finally, when carrying your tray in search for a seat, put most of your fingers under the tray to hold it. However, leave a couple of them in the tray making sure you are holding on to your drink. If you are walking with someone you know, you can stick your arm under his or her arm, and try to follow.

The situation and techniques change if you are totally unfamiliar with the cafeteria you are visiting. In this case, you may want to use the following techniques:

  1. You may want to stand by the door and wait for someone to come in. When they get to the door ask them if they might assist you through the line as you follow them. Then ask someone from the cafeteria staff to help you find a seat.
  2. You can always ask someone from the staff to assist you from the beginning. In this case, you may want them to take your tray while you hold on to their elbow.

In a familiar place there is always a chance of finding a friend who may recognize that you are looking for a place to sit and offer to share his or her table. In any case, you should feel free to indicate to the people assisting you whether you want to sit with someone, or if you prefer to sit alone.

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