This question is very culturally specific to the United Kingdom. Social and age deference is waning in the UK, this may be a matter of personal opinion as to whether that is a desirable trend.

Many people of "a certain age" in the UK were brought up to use titles and honorifics. Teachers are addressed as "Sir," or "Miss," and it was generally expected that older people were addressed as "Mr X," or "Mrs Y."

This expectation of courtesy was also expected from serving staff in restaurants and other service outlets. I have observed recently, that on three different occasions in recent weeks of having been addressed in widely different forms. On one occasion when my takeaway order was given to me, the server said "Thank you very much, Sir. Enjoy your meal." On a second occasion at a different establishment the food was served with a "Here you go, Buddy." The third and most recent was a "Ta, Mate."

While I am not overtly offended by any of these manners of address, it does seem to be culturally unexpected for a middle-aged person, to be addressed as "Mate" by an unknown teenager.

Would politeness and professionalism not dictate a more distanced or formal mode of address from staff (no matter what the age of the customer), or am I merely being "old fashioned?"

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    What could you do? Any form of correction probably wouldn't make much difference (other than portray you negatively). I think frequenting other establishments is easier... Jul 22, 2017 at 18:41
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    This is not just a UK-specific issue. When dealing with the phone company or a salesperson, it has become the new norm for them to address you in a familiar way. It seems inappropriate to me, as well, but I'm a geezer, and grew up in a different age. As with all things relating to culture, I think it's just easier to go with the flow: I think we are yearning for something that simply no longer exists.
    – Curt
    Jul 30, 2017 at 0:02

6 Answers 6


Times they are a changing....

This isn't as culturally specific to the UK as you might think. The US had very similar conventions, and still does in certain places.

Working in the service industry, the appropriate honorifics typically change with the atmosphere. In fine dining establishments Sir and Ma'am are still common. Takeout and your typical neighborhood​ bars will tend to be less formal so less formal language is more appropriate. At my favorite local bar "Yes Sir, thank you Sir" tends to be thrown around in a tongue in cheek sort of way, more a spoof on the convention.

This wasn't always the case here either. I'm​ old enough to remember the expectation of age appropriate address, but times are changing. You can either change with the times or be construed as a curmudgeonly​ old person. If you're​ really bothered by the informality you're always free to vote with your wallet and take your business elsewhere.

  • I have to agree. Using the word, "sir" in a casual dining establishment would appear out of place.
    – Casebash
    Jul 24, 2017 at 0:40

Today's teens are more egalitarian than their elders. While this is a good thing in many ways, it is a bit disconcerting to people who are now middle-aged (or older).

I remember people of my age bracket (about 60) being more formal with older people when we were young. At one level, it was a sign of respect, at another level, it was a buttress of a less equal society than we now enjoy.

So I would take these younger people on their terms; they are being respectful as they understand it, although not as we would. And that's mainly for a better, more egalitarian society.


The vast majority of culture is arbitrary. Look around the world and at different time periods and you will see a massive variation in cultural norms, expectations and traditions. This includes how people greet each other, with some cultures focusing on particular terms like "sir", whilst other might have a separate formal tense or even a separate language for formal interactions. In contrast, many societies are also much more informal.

What culture is "best" is somewhat besides the point, culture is what it is. If you don't use the term "sir" in a culture where it is expected, you will seem impolite. If you expect the term "sir" in a culture where it isn't expected, you will seem old fashioned and stuck in your ways. There's nothing wrong with missing the old culture and preferencing visiting places where people still act that way, but as you cannot change culture by yourself it is not worthwhile fighting a battle that has already been lost.

If the old culture is important to you, then you can try to ensure that the memory of it lives on. Sure many of the younger generation won't be interested, but I'm sure that others will be. When talking to them, don't just talk about how good the old culture was since that is a bit of a trope, but also try to demonstrate an appreciation for the benefits of informality as well.


In the US, it also used to always be "Miss/Ma'am", or "Sir", etc, but often now it is not. And I find among my friends (and we all grew up with Ma'am) that they will feel annoyed if someone calls them Ma'am as if they are "too young" which I can assure you we are not. So it is harder too working in an era of the change over for wait staff to know what you would prefer. I am nearly positive they would gladly call you any title you prefer if in fact they were certain what title that would be, but not all people want an age deference as some seem to pride themselves on turning 29 every year since they were actually 29 and find such titles reminders they are no longer youthful.

If you would prefer "Sir" then I see no issue with you saying so, particularly in a place you wish to frequent. There is nothing wrong with asking to be called by whatever title you prefer. If it's a one stop, I think it's likely a waste of time to mention as the person coming in after you might quite like to be called "mate".


Depends on the establishment. If I am paying £10 for a pizza to be delivered it is different to being in a restaurant where I expect a higher level of service since I am effectively paying for it (service charge aside, it all costs more on-site for drinks and food because of the serving staff).

All one can do is voice their concerns to the manager there and then preferably, but an email after may well suffice. As somebody said above the younger staff may not even realise they need for the difference in politeness levels so appreciate that when making your complaint.

Then, if it has not improved, vote with your wallet. One place near me was highly regarded but since the management changed they have had a high turnover of serving staff, all inexperienced and not using appropriate language for the place and of the dozen or so people I have spoken with they cite it as their main reason for not going back there.


One possibility is to address the serving staff in the same manner that you would want to be addressed in.

Let me say up front that I am American, and so my thoughts may not be on target -- though I am hard-pressed to think why this may be, so here goes...

The benefit to this approach is that is that you are calling attention to a way of speaking that you prefer without being confrontational about it. It gives the other person an opportunity to think about it without the sense of having to defend their manners.

It may give your server an opportunity to be addressed in a very polite manner that they may appreciate, and thereby feel better about returning the favor.

Of course, you may be in an establishment where the management, by wanting to cater to a certain market segment, actually is telling their service staff to address customers is a specific manner. You may want to see how other servers are addressing customers to see is this is the norm, as opposed to the exception.

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