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Do shoppers need reminders to play nice?

March 19, 2014

A French café has earned viral acclaim for posting a sign that shows higher prices for rude customers than polite ones. Essentially, the price becomes cheaper when a simple "Hello" and "Please" are used when ordering.

A blackboard outside the café, Le Petite Syrah in Nice, listing prices for coffee reads:

"Un café" ..... €7
("One coffee" - $9.75)

"Un café s'il vous plait" ..... €4.25
("One coffee, please." - $5.90)

"Bonjour, un café s'il vous plait" ..... €1.25
("Good day, one coffee please." - $1.74)

Speaking to the English-language website, The Local, owner Fabrice Pepino said the sign started as a half joke because some of his lunchtime crowd "would come in very stressed and were sometimes rude to us when they ordered a coffee."

He added, "It's our way of saying, 'Keep calm and carry on.' I know people say that French service can be rude, but it's also true that customers can be rude when they're busy."

The price scheme has never been enforced, but Mr. Pepino said his customers have become more relaxed and congenial. He added, "Most of my customers are regulars and they just see the funny side and exaggerate their politeness. They started calling me 'your greatness' when they saw the sign."

In the U.S., an extreme example of a store or restaurant guiding customer behavior was the classic "The Soup Nazi" episode on "Seinfeld," inspired by a soup shop in midtown Manhattan. In the episode, if strict ordering guidelines weren't exactly followed, customers might miss out on bread with their soup, an extra apple, or horrors, hear the server bellow, "No soup for you!"

Although rare at national chains, it's not surprising to find themed signs at some independent shops or restaurants around shopping behavior, most with a whimsical tilt. Many focus on rambunctious kids, such as "Unattended Children Will Be Given Espresso" or "Children left unattended will be sold to the circus." But other versions serve as a tongue-and-cheek reminder on the merits of being polite.

Here are a few:

  • Prices are subject to change according to customer's attitude.
  • The customer is sometimes right.
  • Caution: I don't have an attitude. I just have a personality you can't handle.
  • Notice: Customers who think our waitresses are rude should speak to the manager.
  • Attitude is Everything. Pick a good one.


Discussion Questions:

Do shoppers need reminders to remain polite? Do you see signs at stores or restaurants encouraging customer behavior as appropriate or inappropriate?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

In most cases, do you see signs at stores or restaurants encouraging customer behavior as appropriate or inappropriate?


This is a great story. It's like "Dynamic Pricing Meets Miss Manners." What a shame that people have to be reminded to practice common courtesy. Then again, we know that to effectively change customer behavior, it takes an artful combination of recognition and rewards. This small cafe seems to be doing both by recognizing the customers that are polite and rewarding them with preferred pricing. As a bonus, they're generating some great publicity.

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Bryan Pearson, President and CEO, LoyaltyOne

Servers can be rude; consumers can be rude. Prompts that encourage people to smile, slow down, and relax are very welcome. I have seen one of the signs about children saying that unattended children will be fed sugar. Reminding people of behavior choices that are not pleasant for those around them in a clever way is fun. Enforcing them them may lead to even more rude behavior, so that may not be helpful.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

There are lots of good people out there in the world, but the 10% of miserable ones make life tough for retailers and restaurants. They would complain if you gave them everything free, and that is not going to change anytime soon.

Customers need to realize that we are people too, who have families, and issues to deal with, but some do not care. They want what they want, and will act like a bully to save 10 cents.  It is part of the business landscape, and for the most part, I just smile, and move on.

I feel bad for some waiters, as food not cooked properly, or slow service from the kitchen can be a nightmare. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and all of us would be way better off.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering


Just imagine a customer actually looking at you while ordering, and not their "smart" phone.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

The price thing will get you in all kinds of legal trouble so I'm not in favor of that approach.

The truth of the matter is that some people are just not polite whether they are in a store, restaurant, at work, or even at home. Therefore, it might not be a reasonable expectation for rude people to somehow be polite while shopping in a given store at any certain time.

Impoliteness Personality Disorder (IPD) a term that I just made up, can stem from one of three root possibilities: a) arrogance, b) unhappiness, or c) low self-esteem.

The real question becomes, does the place of business really want customers with IPD to shop their stores? If the answer is no, the best approach is simply to tell them that you require them to treat your employees respectfully, using words such as please and thank you, and if they are unable to handle it, they probably will never come back. Problem solved!

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David Biernbaum, Senior Marketing and Business Development Consultant, David Biernbaum Associates LLC

Do they need reminders? Absolutely! Do these signs change behavior? Given the evidence, apparently not.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Hey, this is all in good fun and not a real policy. I think it's terrific. And Tony's got it right... do unto others as you'd have them do unto you!

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

I so love this story! I always told my staff there were three levels of service and people were treated by the way they treated them.

"A" level is the best. We find the deals, hold them, and ship them out with gifts for the kids. "B" we told you a sale was coming. "C" we served you in the store correctly. No deals, no gifts, no special treatment!

Instant karma is the best!

Kate Blake, Social Media Manager, Take Five with Kate Blake

The best reminder for a customer to be polite is to be treated politely. A genuine smile and eagerness to serve will go a long way to disarm a surly shopper.


Well, etiquette is disappearing in every aspect of our lives, especially in the U.S. When was the last time you saw the gentlemen at a restaurant dinner table stand up when a lady arrives or leaves? Get serious. Are we REALLY going to impose our dwindling sense of courtesy upon our shoppers? I don't think we should. It is nice when we help polite shoppers. I always try to be one when I shop. Truly, I do. However, I believe that any retailer has the right to share perspectives with shoppers. It is also the right of the shoppers to shop somewhere else if they don't like the merchant's perspective.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

The essence of civility is the perception that politeness is necessary with or without wall signs.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

Leave it to the French. Silly. Customers are not the enemy.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

I always counseled my daughters that a measure of a man is how he treats waiters/waitresses or other service personnel.


As a citizen, I say yes. Should retailers remind customers to be polite so other customers can enjoy a good experience? Again, I say yes. Should they do it for the retailer's staff? No. Staff should be trained to handle all customers well regardless of how polite the customer is. Tough job. But it is the job to provide customers a good experience.

As society has become "all about me," we've become less courteous to others. This is a problem we all experience and we all own. It's high time we made it socially unacceptable to be rude.

Christina Ellwood, CEO, Moreland Associates

We can call this new sector "Mommy Retail." Corporate tag line: Making you better with every visit.

OK, this scenario of the indifferent customer — as I don't see the omission of "please" and "thank you" in the retail ordering process as sinking to the level of rudeness — is a good point at which to examine whether retail is a commodity or service industry. The wonderfully chipper waitress, cashier or salesperson who brightens a customer's day with enthusiasm and a smile is delivering something more than a product, they're delivering a positive experience — a great service, even in exchanges where the courtesies are not reciprocated.

Retailers that deliver better customer experiences along with the product(s) can charge everyone more money for that service. We all pay premiums to retailers that deliver delightful experiences.

So, tsk-tsk and penalize the naughty for the lack of pleasantries, or rise above and build a better customer experience for all. A retailer that builds a brand promise of politeness and great service to all will attract people looking for those characteristics in the experience.

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Larry Negrich, Director, Business Development, TXT Retail

Frankly, I'm polite to wait staff for two reasons: First, it's the right and nice thing to do, and it's the way I was raised. And second, they might spit in my drink or food. Bottom line, don't irritate them.

My fondest hope on this subject is that for everyone who is impolite, someone spits in their food.

M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

If I saw a sign or a note on the menu that said something like, "We'd like this place to be a place where "please" and "thank you" are ingredients in every meal served and eaten here," I'd smile and be charmed and aware. Preachiness and price incentives, not so much.


If done with a touch of humor, it can be a great way to keep people aware of being nicer. Hey, as the saying goes, "What goes around comes around."

Tom Borg, Business Expert, Tom Borg Consulting, LLC

I think that French cafe is great. I would frequent it just for that approach. Our society has seen a drop off in manners, civility and kindness to each other. This type of approach is fine if it's done in a congenial or humorous way. Otherwise, the attorneys will be all over it.

In a restaurant, I always treat the servers with respect; they control my food! In today's world, do something rude or slightly insane and you'll end up on Twitter or Instagram in an unflattering depiction.

Alan Cooper, Training Consultant, Independent/Freelance

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