At this café in England, saying 'hello' and 'please' gets you a discount
The owner says he's never actually charged someone extra for being rude, but the sign encourages good manners
At one café in Preston, England, your good manners will save you some money.
Usman Hussain, owner of the Chaii Stop, has a unique sliding scale of pricing for his signature desi chai — a South Asian black tea boiled in milk and "brewed to its finest" — and it's based on how nicely you ask for it.
According to a sign in the caf é, a cup of desi chai could cost you about $3, if you place your order with some pleasantries, including a "hello" and "please." Use just one of those words, and you'll pay about $4.60. But if you order it straight, it could set you back nearly $8.
Hussain spoke with As It Happens host Nil Köksal about his shop's policy. Here is part of their conversation.
How does one get tea at the cheapest price?
They have to come in and just be friendly and polite when they order. And they'll get the cheapest option.
Maybe they say 'Please,' but they don't say 'Hello,' for example.
Oh. That's going to cost them ... an additional £1.10 [$1.70 Cdn].
The most expensive ... [is] £5. That's $7.80 Canadian. Is £5 a normal price for tea or coffee?
No, no, no, definitely not.
So what does somebody have to do to be punished in that way?
They have to come in, not make eye contact, head down and just say "desi chai."
And how do they react … when you say "£5, please?"
Instead of saying "£5, please," we say, "Would you like to choose again?" and point at the board. And this is the first time that they've lifted their head up that morning, and they take a look. And funnily enough, they then begin to come out of their shell.
The best line we have is customers coming in and saying, "Can I order one 'Hello, desi chai, please.'"
And what do you say to that?
We just have a laugh about it.
Since putting this sign up, we've never struggled building rapport with our customers…. It's literally like every single customer, you just have a connection with [them] and you just give them that bit more of a customer service.
I've certainly been at a shop when I'm smiling, I'm friendly. I always try to make that connection and, you know, acknowledge that there are human beings in front of you, not just, you know, devices to bring you caffeine. And sometimes you just get a blank stare, right? Sometimes the person on the other side is not that kind. So what kind of chats did you have with your staff to make sure it's a two-way street?
So the staff we've got in have been with us from the beginning, way before this sign's gone up. The standard of customer service, everyone knows in the shop, because it's set so high. So it's not something we've had to go back over with any of the staff because they know to keep that level of customer service at its highest. And they know how much that means to me.
So we've not actually charged anyone the £5. It's more of a polite reminder about manners and also the fun side to it, which is exactly the response we've got.- Usman Hussain, Chaii Stop owner
And that connection you mentioned that is now exploding because of this sign and the interactions, how does that affect your day?
It makes it worthwhile, that much more, dealing with people who are happy, who are coming in having a laugh with you. They were actually speaking and interacting with us.
Why do you think it has to be said in the first place? What does it signal to you that people have to be reminded to be kind?
This is what I've been thinking about ever since, to be honest. And I don't think I've got the answer for it. I've tried to think about it more on a deeper level and try to get an answer for it.
A few things I've come up with is, you know, sometimes we're busy in day-to-day life. Things are moving fast.
Another reason [is] we may be going through a hard time. And, you know, we're forgetting who's around us or who we're interacting with.
Yeah, I think you're right. And I think the pandemic changed things for people, so people have forgotten how to act in public and around others. But you're right. I think the busyness of the day gets to people.
On top of that, I mean, I, myself, am addicted to caffeine. Once I wake up in the morning, I need a coffee fix or a tea fix. And some people don't operate until they get that.
It's true that sometimes people have to come with warning labels as well, pre-caffeine. What about ... people who are really just shy and going out is difficult for them, let alone making eye contact or interacting with people? So what do you do in those scenarios? You know, I wonder, is it really fair to charge them as much as £5?
So we've not actually charged anyone the £5. It's more of a polite reminder about manners and also the fun side to it, which is exactly the response we've got.
That's great. So no one has said, "Take my money. I'm not being nice."
No, no. Although someone suggested that we may get that, but no, we've not had that yet.
That's really good to hear. I have heard variations on this, this idea. In the past, in the United States, Virginia, there was a cafe a few years ago [that did the same thing.] What was the moment you decided to do this?
So this was the exact inspiration.
I actually took a screenshot of that board that he posted. It was to do with coffee. I took a screenshot of that two years ago, and I was just going through my camera roll maybe around two weeks ago and I stumbled across it again, and it had that same impact on me the second time.
At that point, I thought, we're going to amend that to what we sell, our most popular drink, which is the desi chai, and we're going to put it up in store.
In fact, it wasn't supposed to be in store. Initially it was just for an Instagram post. And then because of the huge response we've had, we put it up in store.
I went back and actually did some research as to where that's come from [and found the Virginia coffee shop owner] actually got inspired from somebody from France.
Love it. Cross-cultural pollination of this idea of kindness. It has travelled the world to get to you and now beyond as your story explodes, coverage here in Canada as well. Why do you think this resonates so much?
I think the main reason is because it should be the foundation. It should be a principle everyone follows.... But yet we're not actually doing that.
Interview produced by Chris Trowbridge. Q&A edited for length and clarity.