You're out on the town, sipping cognac and coffee at the close of a sumptuous meal. Out of the corner of your eye, you detect an almost imperceptible movement, a shadow of black and white drifting toward you.

It's your waiter.

How do you react? Do you smile and meet him head on, as if to show that you appreciate his attentiveness? Do you scowl, as if to say he's an intrusion?

Do you simply wave him away?

Your answers to those questions not only tell a lot about you, but have a lot to do with your waiters' and waitresses' well being when they drag home at the end of an enervating day or night.

Here are some guidelines respectfully submitted to you, our customers. Who knows, your paying attention to them just could result in better -- even courteous -- service. And you might get an anecdote or two about the lore of the place in which you're dining.

* Don't abuse opening and closing hours. Preparing the house for business, as well as closing it up for the night is a time-consuming, painstaking process, often involving dozens of staff members.

* Don't expect a restaurant to provide services or items it is not prepared to offer. No single restaurant can possibly provide everything to everyone. If you lack information about a restaurant's fare, find out before you go.

* Likewise, if you need to know about prices, please ask when phoning in a reservation.

* Don't be surprised if you are refused a reservation at your favorite spot when you call at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

* Don't run your waiter ragged. Try to order as much as you can at one time.

* Please don't make jokes about receiving "freebies." Almost never is a waiter permitted to give away free merchandise, and he may lose his job if discovered doing so.

* Don't wait until the last minute to request separate checks.

* Feel free, when making a reservation, to request a specific table, but bear in mind it may not be available.

* If you wish to request a particular waiter, do so upon arrival or sooner, so that you are assigned a table in his "station."

* If you want something, ask for it. Waiters are there to serve, not intimidate, you.

* For special occasions, ask about any extras you may want when you make your reservation. With a little advance notice, you may be able to order one of the chef's dessert extravaganzas, or a flaming after-dinner drink.

* Feel free to ask the waiter for recommendations if you are having trouble making up your mind.

* Don't hesitate to send back flat or watered drinks, tepid coffee, or -- within reason -- improperly prepared orders.

* When served a bottle of wine, you have the right to send the bottle back if you sincerely feel it has gone bad. It is considered good form, however, to call in the sommelier or your waiter to also sample the bottle.

* Don't hide your cash or credit cards beneath your check. Most waiters are not clairvoyant. When you're ready to pay, let your waiter know directly.

* If you have criticisms of your waiter, do him a favor. Take him aside and tactfully let him know what the problem is. You may help improve his performance.

* Remember that most of us aren't dumb; we're apt to be college grads, even doctoral candidates. We don't mind intelligent conversation.

* If everything has been perfection and your waiter has done his job admirably, why not let him know you've enjoyed the service? A compliment from a patron can give the lift he needs to sail right through another night on the gourmet trail.