How to Get Good Service in London

Posted on March 8, 2016

By Emily Stallard


This is more of a cultural post because I have heard many of our students, especially from outside Europe, complain about London service in bars and restaurants. Of course ideas about what makes good service and how you can get it vary wildly across cultures.


When I lived abroad took quite a while for me to get used to very hierarchical, loud Japanese service, and the formal way in which waiters and customers should speak to each other in France. In London I have been surprised to see students speak to service staff in a way that is considered rude in the UK. Then they didn’t get particularly good service, but I did from the same person, at the same time.


In Britain, the general idea of good service is calm, friendly and non-invasive. Except for in very upmarket places, British customers tend to prefer to be spoken to in a casual, friendly way rather than being addressed as “Sir” or “Madam”.


Importantly, there also may not be a strict obligation for staff to act warmly towards customers who are dismissive or abrupt.


If you adapt your behaviour to suit this culture you will experience much better overall customer service. Have you ever seen the American TV series Sex and the City? The main character Carrie always stuck in my mind as someone who spoke to waiters and waitresses exceptionally well. This is Carrie’s approach, and this is how to get good service in London:


  • Smile
  • Make eye contact
  • Say “Hi” or “Hello”
  • Ask for what you would like as a question, not an order, with “please”
  • Say “Thank you”
  • Have a calm, friendly demeanour


I have experienced progressively better service in bars, cafés, restaurants and so on by following the above rules. I hope you do too!

Do you work in the service industry in London? Learn about English specific to your job here.

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