English for the Service Industry

Posted on May 28, 2014

Lots of people come to London to work in the service industry and it’s important to speak correctly, especially if you are repeating the same phrases over and over again.


Here are some top tips based on English mistakes we hear a lot in cafés, restaurants, hotels and bars:


“Do you want coffee?” is fine casually between friends but “Do you want coffee?” with a customer or client sounds abrupt. “Would you like coffee?” is much better in this situation. Similarly you can say; “Would you like milk?” or “Would you like me to take a message?”


Often this mistake is a result of “do you want” being appropriate in the speaker’s native language. In French it is polite for a waiter or waitress to say “Que voudriez-vous?” (“What do you want?”) because the type of “you” chosen is a formal one.


Think about whether what you’re doing for the customer has been planned in advance or not, and this will help you choose the best grammatical structure. “I will” or “I’ll” is for a spontaneous decision. If the customer says; “Hello, can I have a mojito please?” you should say; “Yes certainly, I’ll bring it over to your table”.


We often hear; “I’m going to bring it over to your table” in response to a request, but this is incorrect because “going to” is for a pre-arranged plan. If the customer asks; “Can you substitute chips for salad please?” you could reply; “Yes, I’ll tell the chef.”


Similarly, saying “I bring it over” (present simple) just tells the customer that on a regular basis you bring coffee to customers.


The “P” in receipt is silent. Yes, seriously. The “P” in the spelling is a relic from the Latin origin word so it has been a long time since we pronounced it! We have also heard the “T” in “Merlot” pronounced when this should also be silent.


If you are describing a woman politely you can use the word “lady”; “She is a tall lady”. Strangely enough, addressing a female customer as “Lady” as in, “Here you are, lady” is actually very derogatory and casual. You should use “Madam” in this situation; “Here you are, madam”.


Thanks very much for reading, and have a nice day now!


Do you have any more tips to add? Please let us know on the Orchid English Facebook page or on the Orchid English Twitter feed.


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