It literally means “at the order” but translates to something more like “at your service”, it’s what servers in restaurants or people selling things on the street say to let you know they’re ready to receive your order.
I suspect this isn’t exclusive to Colombia but I don’t recall hearing it in Spain and it is very common here – I’m trying to give you guys colloquial Spanish that’s common here, that will prove useful to you if you visit, and that you probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise (textbooks, courses, Duolingo, etc.).
When I was in Cartagena I heard this all the time. There would be employees for every restaurant, bar, and cafe standing out in front of them with menus trying to entice people to come in, and they would frequently use this phrase to indicate they were open for business. The street vendors selling everything from straw hats to cigarettes and candy to beer would use this phrase with the same intention.
In Bogota and Medellin, thankfully, the vendors are nowhere near as aggressive (one of the reasons I didn’t like Cartagena, it’s very touristy), so this phrase is only heard once you’ve indicated you want to engage in some sort of business with someone, e.g. you’ve just sat down at a restaurant and a waiter hands you a menu and says “a la orden”, indicating that they’ll take your order whenever you’re ready (you will likely have to flag them down when you are ready, they don’t check on you occasionally like servers in the states do).
Important (and quick) side note before we end!
If you’re reading this you’re probably learning Spanish at a beginner or intermediate level, and if so could I recommend you quickly check out a site called Yabla? They teach you Spanish using videos made by and for natives (e.g. TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, cartoons, news and documentaries originally made in Spanish-speaking countries for native speakers) coupled with a set of tools specifically designed for that purpose which are integrated into the video player:
- Verbatim subtitles in Spanish shown at the same time as English subtitles (you can turn either or both on or off)
- An integrated dictionary and flashcard system that both automatically looks up a word in the subtitles when you click on it as well as adds it to your flashcards for later review
- Exercises and quizzes about what you just watched that make you apply the new Spanish you just learned.
Ok, I hope that was useful, let me know what you think in the comments. There will be many more of these to come!