/ Food & Drink

Does it pay to be polite?


Manners cost nothing – ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ – but other than the exchange of niceties, how many of us actually consider whether there are monetary benefits to being polite?

Most of us would’ve been brought up to be considerate of others – minding your Ps and Qs – we do this because it’s just polite to do so. As I was often reminded by my parents, ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’ and ‘speak to others as you wish to be spoken to’.

For those in hospitality it will be of no news to them that ‘service with a smile’ has monetary benefits in the form of tips. Tips are traditionally based on quality of service, but it’s become a standard practice for some. Some will always tip, others will carefully mull the service to work out whether to tip and how much – maybe asking themselves: ‘Did I get that service with a smile?’.

Politeness pays off

But for a café in Spain, the benefit is very much for the customer to reap. This café, near the city of Girona, has recently introduced a new graduated pricing system for its coffee. A courteous client will see themselves paying €1.30 [£1.17] for a coffee, a curt client will be set back a whole €5 [£4.50] for that same coffee. Those middle-of-the-road customers who remember their ‘por favors’, but no ‘buenos dias’, will find themselves be paying a reasonable €3 [£2.70].

The café owner claims to have been driven to introduce the new system after finding that customers were so rushed that they were missing simple manners.

And this is no new concept. A small café in Roanoke, Virginia, introduced a very similar policy last year. CUPS Coffee and Tea proudly brandished its new sign threatening upcharges if customers forget their Ps and Qs:

Cups Coffee & Tea in Roanoke, Virgina

Really I think it’s quite a nice incentive, manners cost nothing, after all. But it isn’t just a discount on your coffee that you could land, it could even be an entirely free meal. Like for one pair of friends in Plymouth who had their whole meal paid for at the Barbican Pasta Bar last year by a couple sat near to them. The generous strangers were keen to settle the bill to recognise the politeness of these two friends.

So, something as simple as minding your manners may even help you manage your money. It could be that you land yourself a discount on your next bill or an entirely free one if you’re lucky (and polite).

Over to you

Should it pay to be polite? Or do you think that manners should cost nothing?


In August I was interested in booking a holiday for a week, but it had to be from Thursday to Thursday to fit in with other commitments. The small company that I had used before did not offer these dates but having found them very accommodating ten years ago, I decided to make an enquiry. We had a long chat and I related a couple of anecdotes about my previous visit, which had been very enjoyable. Not only did I get the dates I wanted but was offered a discount of more than 25% because I was a previous customer, even though it was eleven years ago.

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Absolutely, but I don’t know any that do home, car or breakdown insurance. I use various printers to produce leaflets, cards, posters and banners and they are great, but they are all small and local. My favourite is a one-man business. For years I have used a small motor engineer that specialises in refurbishing classic cars but is happy to do repairs on ordinary cars and offer advice. His personal service was remembering to return my coat when I turned up the following year for an MOT.

I would love to know of a breakdown recovery company that offered a no-claim discount. The last time I called one out was in 1989, yet I pay the same or more than a new customer who might have a poorly maintained car. Being polite has not worked. 🙁

I can’t imagine that we are the only ones who are keen on loyalty, Duncan. I don’t mind paying a bit more for good service and decent quality.

Jane says:
16 October 2016

Bad manners really bug me. In one of our local shops there’s a lad on the till who asks for the money without a ‘please’. When I repeat the amount with a ‘please’ at the end he looks at me like I’m an alien. I get the same when I remind him to say ‘thank you’. I’d been using one of the other local shops because of him until the other day when I had to go in there. I reported him to his manager and told her they’d been losing custom to their competitors, whose staff had better manners. I think bad manners does cost us, whether we notice it or not.

I have always believed that whatever job you do you should do it to the best of your ability. If you do not your are guaranteeing a poor attitude and a dissatisfaction with your role.

As most of us know sometimes your employer has silly systems, or they do not provide proper training but you have to rise above that so that you can take pride in your work.

It was instructive in France to note in a restaurant in a small village [4000] that the Head Waiter was training four teenagers in the intricacies of the job. And they really were into being the best. Of course it helps that in France being a good waiter is recognised as a proper job not something of a stop-gap.

I have had many roles and I enjoy the customer-facing ones the best as if viewed as a challenge to make people satisfied/happy it provides a reward to oneself when successful.

anthony humberstone says:
6 January 2017

Good manners, being polite and helpful to others was part of my early education. if it was taught to our children the world would be a better place. Please, thank you and a smile can brighten all our days.

I missed this convo and it’s a good one in some ways.

Taking note of wavechange’s comment, “On the other hand, it is disgraceful that we have some rude people, and I feel sorry for those who have to handle customers’ complaints, either by phone or – worse – face to face.” and looking at it from the other side as it were, some of you may think the Dark Side where you’re on the receiving end…

People have gotten progressively more rude, abusive, arrogant and just downright unpleasant in recent years to us as a business on the phone and by email especially.

It is not at all uncommon to hear abusive people demanding this that and the other, especially when it’s a complaint or a problem with something. It used to be, a decade or more ago, unusual to have people shouting and swearing demands but these days, it’s a daily occurrence.

Staff in call centres are constantly faced with a daily barrage of unreasonable demands and tirades of abuse and why the staff turnover for many is extraordinarily high as for many people, the stress of it is unbearable. And in the UK, good call handling staff that will stick it are hard to come by as the salaries aren’t good enough to be taking the grief all day, every day.

I am astonished that there’s not more about this online but I suppose that companies probably don’t want to tell potential or existing customers about some of the more unpleasant stuff that they have to deal with in this politically correct and customer orientated climate we live in these days.

Although you can find some brilliant stories of customer service in some places. Thing is, many people think that these are unusual and not common. The reality is, many you see are daily and in some cases multiple instances a day.

So much so that in many public service areas, especially the NHS ones, you’ll see signs all the time warning about abusive behaviour will get you ejected. A polite way of saying, if you don’t behave you’re going to the back of the queue or you may not get seen at all.

Is it any wonder that some businesses choose to try to promote better behaviour also?

For people that are dealing with whatever company (or much anything really) where they are looking for support, is being aggressive or abusive really the way that they think they’ll get help or a response?

People should keep in mind that the person (yes, it’s a person!!) that they are dealing with is probably trying to do the best they can for them, not always I accept although I expect that is the exception not the rule but, giving them grief isn’t really going to help speed things along. This is so as that person will not want to call that abusive person back, have them come back or even want them as a customer most probably. Some customers are simply more bother than they’re worth, let them go to the competition and give them abuse will be the attitude of many.

And sometimes, for difficult and abusive customers, yeah they go to the back of the queue and get poorer service as they’re going to complain, post bad reviews or whatever else they threaten as leverage to get what they want so there’s no point pandering to them. Some I know in business will actively make their life harder, it’s just human nature really in just the same way as the customer chooses to be of a mind to think that being aggressive or whatever scores points.

People that are pleasant, mannered and reasonable will in almost every instance receive better service in my opinion, almost without doubt.

Or you move your call centre to India, the Philippines or somewhere that you can get staff at the drop of a hat and that also saves you money. I wouldn’t do that but I can see why it would appeal to some, especially larger businesses but then, I’m not a fan of call centres at all.

Case in point though, a contract for my own business is ending after several years and sadly some staff are moving on and this is summed up by a comment made, almost word for word by three out of four of the staff on phones…

“I’m looking for a job where I don’t have to deal with the public at all on phones etc as it’s just too stressful taking the abuse all the time”

That’s why it’s hard to get staff to deal with the public and why I suspect that many call centres are overseas now as, anyone that has done the job normally never wants to do it again.


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I don’t know the answer to this problem, Kenneth, but I have witnessed aggressive people at customer service desks, etc. In some cases, company policy and employees that are not authorised to make decisions can be part of the problem. Where someone has genuinely tried to be helpful I make a point of thanking them.

Duncan – Currys/PC World don’t get much of my custom but my strategy has been to go back when other staff are on duty, speak to the person in charge and be very polite to them. That does not always work but can catch them off-guard. 🙂

To be blunt Duncan, if people approach issues with that attitude then should they not expect the same reciprocated.

After all, if people treat myself or anyone else like dirt, what do they expect in return? The people taking the grief will roll out the red carpet and to fall over themselves to help?

Or are you saying that it’s okay to be abusive or aggressive to people just because they happen to be employed by a big business? That this is acceptable behaviour in your opinion?

People that behave like that, bluntly, I don’t want as customers, perhaps your fuel company thought the same.

Or you could choose not to deal with large companies which, I will agree to a good extent, are not as good at looking after people as smaller businesses tend to be in the main.

It costs nothing to be nice and mannerly when dealing with issues.

There’s a time and place for getting more forceful I wouldn’t disagree but, I do not think it should be the default position and that it should be both measured and tempered. Just shouting at people rarely accomplishes anything in my experience.


You tend to find that there are systems in place for any number of reasons wavechange.

Much of the time staff are constrained in what they can or cannot do as you can’t judge which have the capacity to deal with a particular issue or would deal with it in a proper manner. There may also be legal implications as well as company policy when dealing with some things or, it may be constrained by the terms of sale, warranty and so forth or any combination of any or all.

Some things get pretty complex to deal with and not all staff can do it, if they even have the knowledge to do so.

Actually I’m failing badly to explain this I think as it can get very complicated as to the reasons and many can be specific to a product, service, warranty, business and more.

I think that often people think that perhaps like they can do, that decisions can be made with impunity on the spot with no checking of anything and sadly, a lot of the time, that won’t be the case.

Even the MD of a company often will find him or herself constrained by policy and more so by legal implications on what they can and cannot do.


I try and be professional and when dealing with companies and other organisations. I make sure that I have all the information likely to be needed to hand before making a call. In return for being polite and professional, I expect the same in return. A little humour can work wonders.

I accept that not all staff will have the necessary knowledge or experience but in that case I don’t think it is unreasonable to be passed on to someone who can help without undue delay.

Yeah it all helps make things go as smoothly as possible and as you and Malcolm say, having a bit of a sense of humour can help everyone just get things done with the minimum of fuss. In the end, that’s all everyone wants.

That issue of “who’s responsible” can be a nightmare, especially in larger organisations. You see the same thing in the public sector as well, it’s just a side effect of bloated systems I think but, probably a necessary one for the most part. Sometimes probably as much to protect “customers” as much as the organisation.


I suspect some people are rude and aggressive for two reasons (among others. One, they have already been messed around and have become frustrated, and two, they are expecting a battle so go in all guns blazing – sometimes because they know their argument may not be that convincing. My approach is to assume the people I am talking to are just like me – nice, pleasant mild mannered ( 🙂 ) and if I talk to them logically and politely I am more likely to get a result – if, of course, my case is sensible. If I don’t get the result I think I deserve then there is no point in antagonising the person; next step is to ask to speak to a supervisor or manager and then, if necessary, email a senior person like there CEO. You are most unlikely to get anywhere by threats, swearing, or being aggressive – put yourself in their shoes and think how you would react.

That is also my approach Malcolm. I sometimes try and get a laugh out of them which can lighten the tone somewhat.

As already discussed in another conversation, unlike machines, people are made up of diffent personality types. It is generally acknowledged however that Type A’s are the most difficult to deal with, but if you need guidance on how to deal with difficult people as a whole, may I suggest the following website:

psychologytoday.com – Difficult People and How to Handle Them – Donna Flagg.

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It’s a case of who you take your wrath out on – either a person who has clearly let you down, or the manager/director involved in administering the guilt party. Even then, I find the polite but firm but plite and fair approach works best, and keeps my blood pressure contained. Most people, in my experience, do not set out to deliberately cause you problems.

I get it Duncan and I completely understand that some businesses and public organisations can be desperately infuriating to deal with. I’m a consumer too remember so I’ve experienced it as also.

What I do tend to do is try to buy smart in terms of both goods and services and knowing what I know through dealing with a number of companies professionally, BG being one I’m not ashamed or frightened to speak about, I’d never, ever deal with them unless there were no option. Nor would I advise anyone else to either.

What I would say is that my local plumbers, two I deal with, would never allow things to get to that.

But then they won’t offer a rolling maintenance policy with the promise of this that and the other which, as it seems you’ve found out, the marketing and promises don’t always live up to the reality.

Flipside is although I get better service I lose the “big company blanket of security” as it were, if the local guys retire, cease trading or whatever I need to do some legwork myself. But I’d rather that than face what you appear to have.

Or at least on the surface, it may look to be a more expensive option.

A chap in our industry did a study on this sort of thing many years ago and it holds true for many if not most in-home services, local businesses based on feedback and service levels offer what is classed by those in that sort of field class as world class service.

Larger businesses couldn’t even hold a candle near the service levels of small local businesses.

Even looking back on Which? you’ll see in my industry, appliance service, they found exactly the same. The small local companies for maintenance walk all over the big boys on service levels. And are often much cheaper to boot.

And it’s more personable, you can normally talk to someone that actually has a clue and will often go out their way to try to help. No need for shouting or unpleasantness most of the time.

They’re not all perfect, granted and a very small minority might even be no good but the vast bulk are. Reason being that they live and operate in the community that they serve, they’re either good or they don’t survive.

Big national and multi-nationals, in my opinion, rarely care and there’s multiple layers to them which at any point can go wrong.

I don’t look at things as one size fits all as what BG do even in appliance matters, bears little to no relation whatsoever to what most of the rest of the industry is like.


I agree with Malcolm. Polite and unyielding is the best approach and having all the information to hand is also essential. Finally, I try to anticipate what their reactions will be if I have an issue, so I can rehearse a cogent argument beforehand.

I did have an issue with Virgin Trains who managed to combine enthusiastic and helpful with alarming incompetence and lack of English. The last made it hard to deal with them so I was forced, eventually, to contact the MD. Thereafter, it has to be said, the advice was flawless, but in Virgin’s case they operate by a rule book which they don’t reveal to customers, as I eventually discovered.

Kenneth – I have generally had much better experience with smaller companies but, as you say, there is always going to be some uncertainty if they will deliver. For example, I arranged for a tree surgeon to come and remove three trees. He did not turn up and later in the afternoon his wife rang to say that he had been admitted to hospital a few hours earlier. It was at least six weeks later when he turned up with two assistants and they did an excellent job. The delay was unimportant, but I had no heating or my washing machine had been broken I would not have been happy.

Whether we choose a large or small company, I think we are entitled for work to be done proficiently and in a timely fashion. In the case of my tree surgeon, I did think about getting someone else in but I’m glad I waited and I now recommend the guy to friends.

At the time, Duncan related the saga of his heating system. It had a faulty pressure accumulator (a part that commonly fails) and to replace it, apparently the boiler had to be removed from the wall. That does not seem very good design to me.

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I hold little sympathy for the larger businesses Duncan, I think many of them have lost a sense of what their function actually is to a degree. In large part I understand why and it’s complex and too long winded to get into here but suffice to say that it’s not always that things are done in the interests of their customers.

Which is why I think many people hold a very negative view of businesses in the round.

Personally I don’t view things as a spreadsheet and bonus driven world, for me it’s all about people. Sure any business has to cover it’s cost and to use what is often seemingly regarded as a swear word, make a profit. But that does not mean you have gouge your customers to do that, it has to be fair to everyone. Or at least, that’s my take and I hope you’d find many business owners held the same view.

So not all businesses are out to “do over” customers by a long chalk nor deliberately offer a poor service, that’d be commercial suicide for most.

But it seems to me at times that a lot of people seem to think that is the case and go at things from that perspective straight out the traps or, think they’ve got to fight from the get go.

When really, much of the time a bit of courtesy and respect would yield a far better and probably faster result as the person at the other end will want to help you, not be forced to.

All most people on phones et all want is an easy life, they just want to get the job done as best they can with as little hassle as possible for both them and their customer and everybody being reasonable and pleasant makes that a lot easier to achieve.


One of the problems with “companies that treat us badly” is that such companies don’t believe they are doing so; they are incapable of accepting any faults on their part. Nevertheless, I still think one has to take that on board and speak to them decently and treat them as you would wish to be treated. At the end of the day we need their help and they can make our lives . . . very difficult.

Personally, I wish we could do things by correspondence or face-to-face rather than over the telephone, but there is no time for that nowadays and some situations, like Duncan’s, are very urgent and require a much more understanding response as well as some continuity of follow-up. Firms could take a lot of heat out of the atmosphere if they looked at themselves, and the way they respond, more critically and from the customer’s perspective.

Everyone living in the real world has difficult situations to cope with at sometime in their lives. It’s the way you deal with it that is more likely to achieve the best results, but it does help if you know a little about who or what you are dealing with before beginning your approach.

That’s one reason I get on well with small companies and keep going back. Good old fashioned loyalty on both sides. Over the past nine months I have made various attempts to register an extended warranty with a well known company that seems well respected. Part of the problem is that they have a fast turnover of staff in customer service, according to the last person I spoke to. From what Kenneth has said, perhaps that’s not surprising.