/ 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?

bishbut says:
9 October 2016

I was brought up being told to be polite and I still try to be all the time I admit there are times when I am not as polite as I should be but try to remember my please and thank you’s all the time I also respect my elders


I have to admit I sat pondering how politeness (or the lack of it) could have any relevance to consumer protection. Politeness is, of course, the ubiquitous social lubricant that allows society to function, but it may have more far reaching effects than we think.

Some time ago researchers at Princetown found evidence which suggested that people who are routinely polite to others live longer, while there’s growing evidence that politeness to those paid to serve you does, in fact, enhance the quality of service you receive. Being abusive to your waiter at a restaurant, for example, is a dangerous tactic, since they serve your food and a lot can happen to that food on its way from the kitchen.

But in the end being polite simply makes people happier, and when people are happy they tend to respond positively, a reaction which itself in turn rubs off on other people.

In conclusion, I”d like to thank Lauren for writing such a thoughtful and carefully-considered header, Patrick, for making all this possible with foresight and courage, the Which? founder, the late Lord Young, for having such innovative and compassionate beliefs, the Council of the Consumers’ Association, for kindly overseeing such a prestigious organisation, my wife for putting up with me and our children, for bringing such happiness and joy to our lives.

Was that too much? Ed. No – sounds about right…


Well that was certainly some food for thought for a Monday, thanks for that Ian 🙂

p.s. I’m pleased you approve of the header 😛


I’m wondering if a UK café could get away with charging people different prices, as mentioned in your introduction, Lauren.


I’m not sure @wavechange, instinct tells me that it would be discriminatory to do so but then I’m not qualified to advise on that. I could certainly find out. I do wonder if people unwittingly pay more if they’re rude customers though.


In a coffee shop I say “Please can I have ….” whereas in a pub I would ask for “A pint of …., please”. In both cases, I thank the whoever serves me. I have noticed that younger people often say “Can I get …..”. I wonder if our café owner would want to charge them more.


I think I am polite but would avoid the café featured in Lauren’s introduction, because I don’t have much time for gimmicks. 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.

About the only time I try to use politeness to influence people’s views is when I have a faulty product and have to convince people that I have rights under the Consumer Rights Act/Sale of Goods Act. It’s possible to be firm and calm, yet remain polite. Success obviously has financial benefits.


That coffee sign in Virginia is brilliant. Customers can’t complain as they have been warned.

In my younger days, I worked in many cafes, restaurants and bars. Both staff and customers could be happy and polite or miserable and rude. Wages were low and most of your money came from tips so it paid off big time to treat customers well. ‘One for yourself’ at the bar soon mounted up and could be more than your night’s wages. I usually took £1, less than the cost of a drink so I could get several £1s rather than just one higher price drink that some staff took.

One restaurant I worked in had a really ignorant head waitress who made sure her ‘regulars’ who always tipped her sat on one of her tables. One time she had no spare tables for a regular couple so they sat on one of my tables. She happened to notice the tip they left me was a lot more than they gave her and I suddenly had an enemy as she made my life hell after that, giving me all the dirty jobs to do, jobs that meant I would have to stay late to finish them or jobs that kept me off waiting tables. It didn’t help when the same regulars asked to sit on one of my tables the next time they came in.

On the other side of the coin, American waiting staff can write 20% service charge not included on your bill. That really annoys me especially if they have not been polite and friendly. One time when we had made a point of asking what time last orders were in a restaurant, came back half an hour earlier than they told us and ordered starters, mains and drinks. The starters came quickly, we were half way through them, knives and forks in hands, when they were whisked away and the mains put down with the staff doing a quick disappearing act and ignoring our ‘hey we haven’t finished yet’. Half way through the mains they wanted the bill settled and had added 20% service charge. We stuck to our guns and asked them to remove it as the service had been so bad and they hadn’t even let us finish our starters. Closing time meant closing time, so a lesson learnt on getting to restaurants earlier.

Good manners do cost nothing and can make life so much more pleasurable and satisfying.