Learning a foreign language makes you realize how hard it is to break down the elements that make an apparently simple thing work. Not only do I get the grammar of Chinese wrong all the time, but I often can't even tell what part of speech a word is. My teacher tried to clarify once by telling me, 'First, you exist. Then you are somewhere. Then you do something. Then something happens'. This sounds logical. And deep. But it doesn't help me to form correct sentences.
Asking for the Menu
A menu in a restaurant is a 菜单 (càidān). 菜 can mean vegetable but also means "dish" when used in compound words. 单 is an adjective meaning "single", as in single ticket or single bed. So 菜 is a noun, 单 is an adjective, and 菜单 is a compound noun meaning "meal menu". It is not interchangeable with the menu of services at a nail salon, say. The name for that still remains shrouded in mystery to me, but the surprised looks I got when I asked for the 菜单 tell me that is wrong. Handily, most menus have pictures.
Corn is popular here. Warm corn juice, anyone?
Asking for a Knife and Fork
To ask for a knife and fork in a restaurant you can say 刀叉 (dāo chā), literally "knife fork". Unfortunately, if you say it wrong, it sounds like 倒茶 (dào chá), pour tea. Not great for a coffee addict like me. If your tones aren't up to the challenge you can also ask for 餐具 (cānjù), which figuratively means "silverware" and literally means "meal tool". Furniture is 家具 (jiājù), "house tool". There is a logic here. It's just that this particular logic does not match anything that my brain would come up with.
Asking for the Bill
To get the bill you say 埋单 (máidān). This sounds a lot like menu, càidān, and I always thought it was a noun that meant "the bill". Until I tried to translate "Give me the bill" as 给我埋单 (Gěi wǒ máidān). 给我 means "give me". With my bad accent it sounded like I was saying 给我买单(Gěi wǒ mǎidān), where 买 means to pay. I was asking the waiter to pay for me. Not the most charming thing to say. 埋 (mái) is actually a verb meaning "to bury". How "bury single" means "bill" I still have no idea.
If you're a beginner, play it safe. Don't try to form sentences. Just do it the way the Chinese do and yell 服务员! 埋单! (Fúwùyuán! Máidān!),"Waiter! Pay!".
Or you can just ring the bell.