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Help! How do you make small talk in English?Hi! i started to work in a restaurant in...

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anuka2012 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:24 AM via web

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Help! How do you make small talk in English?

Hi! i started to work in a restaurant in London last week. I'm from Poland and English is my second language. I need to have small talk with the customers while serving them some coffee and cakes. I'm rather shy. Do you have any idea what I should say to them to improve my skills?

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mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:50 PM (Answer #2)

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My daughter was once shy, and she learned to speak up for herself just as you can.  When you approach a customer's table, try to look at them as you speak.  If you want to small talk, asking them to tell you something is easier if you are shy than to tell them about yourself. The restaurant may be a start as you could ask if they have been there before. Are they on a visit to London?  Which landmarks have they seen? Which was their favorite?  If they are from London, ask them to describe for you the landmarks you should see as you are not from London.  Once you have them talking to you,it will be easier to tell them your name and where you are from. If you think of getting them to talk to you, that should be easier for you.  Then be sure to ask what their order is.  Just think of them as an opportunity to meet new people who might tell you fun things about your new city and country.  Most of all, try to relax and approach them with a smile.  Good luck.

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portd | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted October 30, 2012 at 2:38 PM (Answer #3)

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I agree with the post above about having a relaxed manner and approaching your customers with a nice smile. This typically is a good way to get them feeling comfortable with you and opens the door to friendly conversation. The key to engaging in small talk is to ask open-ended questions of your guests - questions that cannot be answered with a short "yes" or "no." Instead of asking them if they are on vacation in London, ask them what aspect of London they have found the most intriguing so far. This will, hopefully, cause them to elaborate more and it will result in more productive conversation. This will also help develop your English skills as you listen to their words and phrases and even slang. As you respond to their conversation you develop your speaking skills in English.

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:00 PM (Answer #4)

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All of the above suggestions are good, and more importantly, culturally appropriate. Another form of small talk you can use is to ask your customers if they're enjoying their meal. Talk about the foods on the menu that you enjoy. I presume that you're required to learn about the men, so this will give you something you're comfortable with to talk about. I find small talk difficult (painful, frankly) myself, and if I can find something that I know something about to talk about, it makes things much easier.

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litlady33 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:48 PM (Answer #5)

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People love talking about themselves. A simple "how are you today?" can invite them to go into detail about themselves, which takes the pressure off of you to do the talking. Also, pay attention to current events. If something major is going on in the area around you, it is likely that people will want to talk about it. Make a small comment on the weather, traffic, sporting events, etc., and you will likely engage the interest of those you are trying to talk with.

It's also important to know when people just want to be left alone, especially when they are at a restaurant. Pay attention to facial expression and body language. If people turn away from you, frown, or give you short, clipped answers, they probably want to be left alone and enjoy their coffee.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:57 PM (Answer #6)

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If someone looks like a tourist, you can ask them where they are from.  As a waitress, it is good to ask them if they like the food or mention that you really like the food.  It is not so much the small talk as the attitude.  If you smile a lot and look at the customers, they will like you.  You can always talk about the weather!

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dancer7 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted October 31, 2012 at 6:59 PM (Answer #7)

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Rule One is : Smile.

Rule Two is : SMILE

Small talk is just noisy air while people evaluate each other. Dogs check by sniffing each others' bottoms; people do it with small talk. The words are not important.

So,

  • SMILE AND MAKE EYE CONTACT. If you look down or away, you are hiding something.
  • Talk with a happy, strong voice. If you talk with a 'lost' voice, it makes your customers lost.
  • Show confident body language. Don't shuffle your feet or say, 'ummm' and 'errrr'.

What should you say? That's easy,

"Good morning, my name is *****, It's a lovely day today, isn't it?''

or (when it's raining) "It's lovely weather for ducks today!" 

then... The secret of small talk is questions. Questions make the other person do the hard work.

  • ''How's your day going?''
  • (she's got shopping bags) Oh, have you bought anything interesting?
  • (he's got a laptop) Would you like the password for the wi-fi?
  • (office lunch-time clients) So, how many times did you save the company from bankrupcy this morning? 
  • (Japanese with camera) Is this your first trip to London?
  • (they have kids) Aww, hello little man, are you hungry?
  • blah blah blah

The words don't matter, what matters is that you let your customers see that you are friendly, helpful and care... They WILL respond. Don't be 'small' and just keep smiling. You will very quickly learn 

So, welcome to big-tip city. (ESPECIALLY with kids. If you are nice to the kids, Mom and Dad will shower you with money.)

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:13 AM (Answer #9)

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As cliche and dull as it may sound, talking about the weather can be a simple and easy way to have small talk. Talking about the weather has several advantages. It pre-supposes a connection and shared experience between people. And it is not easy to extend into a long conversation. 

Part of the art of small talk is creating conversations that have natural endings and talking about the weather can serve this purpose nicely.

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