I've been in Johor Bahru over two weeks now and I've been to Malaysia quite a few times, and I've been around Southeast Asia a fair bit. But I can't figure this out and haven't run into it elsewhere.
My guesthouse is in a residential area where most of the locals and eateries plus a few Indian but no Chinese.
Sometimes I just can't figure out how to order, who to order from, how a place even works. I can walk in looking like a hungry customer, nobody asks me to take a seat or take my order or to go to a specific person. Usually there's no uniforms so it's a bit unclear who is staff. The kitchen or half the kitchen may be out in the open. No visible cash register. Often no menus. But you can see there's food and there are customers sitting and eating. Sometimes you can tell the staff are kind of talking about you but even if you approach one or try to make eye contact they just go about whatever they were doing as if stirring or chopping is their job but taking customers' orders isn't.
This never happens at Chinese eateries and I've never experienced it anywhere else in Southeast Asia and I've eaten at many tiny places on the side of the road in the sticks or in random suburbs. In places where English speakers are much rarer than here.
Also it doesn't always happen here in all Malay places. I walk in looking lost and hungry and even if they don't speak any English they treat me like a customer.
But it has happened multiple times at multiple restaurants. I must be missing something.
Is there a trick? What do locals do?