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I've used "¿Qué tal mi café?" to remind a waiter about my coffee, for example. Today I used "¿Qué tal N?" in a similar context in a different place of the same country, but they didn't understand me.

Hence a question: can "¿Qué tal N?" always be used to mean "How about N?" - to remind someone about something or to ask how it's going with something?

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Short answer: no. It's correct to use qué tal N (and one of a few verbs can possibly go in between) to ask about how something or someone is going (going well, going bad, etc.), but you don't use it to remind someone about something, like you did with the waiter. If you do this latter thing, you will be understood, probably, but it's not common usage and it may come off as sarcastic. Let me explain:

First, the correct usage. The phrase is constructed with qué tal plus an optional verb plus whatever it is that you want to inquire about. The optional verb can be estar, ir, andar and a few others. If there's a verb, it will have to be in the correct tense. For example:

¿Qué tal fueron tus vacaciones?
(or ¿Qué tal estuvieron tus vacaciones?)

means "How were your vacations?" or "How did your vacations go?", but you can also say

¿Qué tal tus vacaciones?

and it will be understood the same, since you mostly ask people about their vacations once they've returned from them, so the past tense is implied.

In the cases where you have a verb, you can mostly substitute cómo for qué tal:

¿Qué tal anda tu trabajo? = ¿Cómo anda tu trabajo?
¿Qué tal está tu esposa? = ¿Cómo está tu esposa?

Now for the wrong usage. You don't normally remind someone of something with ¿Qué tal…?. If your waiter has forgotten about the coffee you asked for, and you say

¿Qué tal mi café?

you will probably be understood and the waiter will probably remember about the coffee, but not in a good way. The sentence sounds as if you had said: "How's my coffee going along? You know, the one I asked for fifteen minutes ago. I'm asking you because I'm sure you're as concerned as I am about its absence." I think (but I'm no English native speaker) that using "How about..." (in English) for this situation would also come off as rude. There's no polite direct way to remind a waiter of an order s/he has apparently forgotten; if you're not sure, you could stick to the absolute minimum and just say

Perdón, ¿mi café?

where perdón is intended simply to call for the waiter's attention and soften the request.

  • what's the way to say "how about my coffee?" and something similar without using "perdon"? – nylypej Nov 16 '18 at 22:05
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    Alternatively, @nylypej, you could say: ¿Y mi café? or ¿Para cuándo mi café? or even ¿Qué me dice de mi café? (which sounds pretty much like your English "How about my coffee?"), but please note that all of them will sound rather rude. – Gustavson Nov 16 '18 at 23:26
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    @Gustavson Completely agree. Short comments as such tend to sound very rude. I prefer to ask the "long way" -> Disculpe, había ordenado un café, y aún no ha llegado... This usually prompts the waiter to answer and save face, too, if they have forgotten. – psosuna Nov 16 '18 at 23:43
  • Mind you, this is all very dependent on the country/region you are. In some places people will use longer, more apologetic sentences, while in others short requests in the right tone will be considered perfectly polite. – pablodf76 Nov 17 '18 at 0:23
  • @pablodf76 Very true. Your last example is a good example of short yet polite. – psosuna Nov 17 '18 at 0:32
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I agree with Pablo. I think that "Perdón, ¿mi café?" is the best option. Simple and polite. "¿Qué tal mi café?" sounds awkward and a bit rude. I complete mentally the phrase, more or less like Pablo did: "¿Qué tal mi café? ¿Está bien? Parece solo y triste ahí abandonado y frío en el mostrador. Quien fuera tan amable de traérmelo, solo llevo esperando 30 minutos".

For that situation I tend to use "¿Cómo va mi cafelillo?", that it's a more accurate translation of "How about my coffee?".

  • what's cafelillo? – nylypej Nov 17 '18 at 12:52
  • It's a "diminutivo" for the word "café". It's "café" but trying to sound less rude on requesting it. – RubioRic Nov 17 '18 at 13:03

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