Oi, Sir, Don’t Call Me ‘Mate’!

I can’t stand it: being called ‘mate’! I’m not your m-a-t-e; I’m a paying customer. I don’t know you. I’ve come to spend my money in your establishment, so don’t pigeonhole me into your group of ‘friends’. Take me out for a few beers over a couple of years, send me a Christmas or birthday card even, maybe invite me round for dinner. Then – perhaps – I might possibly allow you to call me ‘mate’.

I was at lunch recently with an Australian mate … sorry … FRIEND of mine who enlightened me as to the etymology of the word ‘mate’:

It turns out it’s actually a pretty old word, dating back to the 14th century. It’s derived, on one side, from the Middle Low German word ‘mate’, meaning ‘one eating at the same table, messmate’ and, on the other, from Proto-Germanic ‘ga-maton’, meaning ‘food-together’. Interestingly, the word ‘meat’ also shares the same etymological roots. Who knew?

(Is this why I’m addressed as ‘mate’ in trendy meat concept hamburger & steak restaurants, I now ask myself?)

I have recently been reprimanded by my own team – which includes many women – for addressing them as ‘chaps’ in a general email! I wholeheartedly apologised for unwittingly using what I had not, until then, realised was, of course, a male-orientated term. Which just goes to show how a seemingly innocuous comment may cause offence and how we must all take the time to think how we address our co-workers, too. They expect and deserve the same respect and boundaries a customer does.

All this has got me thinking. We don’t need to be forced into a compulsory address when dealing with customers. We are in the hospitality industry, after all. There is a clue in the title. To be hospitable we must have the ease and disposition of receiving and treating guests in a warm, generous and friendly – yet not over-familiar – manner. We should look to our European cousins who do this so naturally: they use ‘señor’, ‘señorita’, ‘Monsieur’, ‘Madame’ effortlessly; it’s simply part of their culture.

I believe the roles and hierarchy found in our British class system are probably to blame. I have a theory that our British stiffness – born of this class system and which, at times, can come across as curt or cold – lies at the heart of our industry’s oft-cited difficulty in coming across as natural and willing. Our ‘upstairs-downstairs’ mentality can make it hard for some of us to distinguish a polite, respectful ‘Sir’ from a servile, I’m-your-inferior ‘Sir’.

These two potential extremes flaw the value of our industry: ‘mate’ is too informal, ‘Sir’ can be too formal.

The point is this… We have to start believing in our own product, our own service, where all we have to be is knowledgeable, polite and to possess great hospitality skills. Don’t let your staff break down barriers with such a cheap throwaway address as ‘mate’. It’s simply not necessary. You wouldn’t hear our European cousins saying this and even with Trump in charge, it won’t be anytime soon that the Americans – who excel in hospitality – would dare address a paying customer in this way.

It sounds simple and, indeed, it is: keep the customer at the centre of the experience, be personable, be professional. That’s it!

Lawrence Hartley
AIR Co-Founder

Big Flavour Marketing