What would you think if you saw this sign? It made me smile, and I also think it made me more likely to take my cutlery and crockery back to the counter when I finished. 

A sign by the Red Rock Cafe at Dawlish Warren in Devon

The Red Rock Cafe isn’t a posh joint. No lobster on the menu here. No Michelin stars. Just a welcome little hut sandwiched between a rocky outcrop and the railway near Dawlish, South Devon. 

But on this sign the Red Rock Cafe is using language a lot more effectively than many big brands. What’s so great about this writing? First of all, it’s friendly and polite – full of hellos, pleases and thank yous. It’s also funny.

Please, as our waitress has run off with a train driver, could you return all cutlery and crockery? Thank you.”

The story about the waitress running off with a train driver suits the cafe’s location right by the railway line, and is a lovely flight of fancy. It brought a smile to my face and made me want to help by taking my plate back after I’d finished my cake.

If they’d stuck up a sign that just said 'return all cutlery and crockery to counter', how would you have behaved? I think I’d have been less likely to comply, and certainly less likely to feel positive about their business. And I don’t think I’m alone in responding better to gentle, humorous persuasion than terse demands.

The result for the Red Rock Cafe is that they get their cutlery and crockery back and their customers also leave happy. And they get all this for the cost of an old blackboard and a chalk pen. Now that’s a good return on investment.

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