New York Times: Is Guest the Way to Go for Franchises?
New York Times: Is Guest the Way to Go for Franchises?

Paper of record takes issue with calling customers guests.

Does your franchise insist employees refer to customers as guests? Don’t tell The Gray Lady.

The New York Times’ Hilary Stout recently took the term to task, describing it as “one of those head-scratchers of daily life that no one can explain.”

Stout made her case using the “Oxford English Dictionary,” which differentiates a guest – someone being entertained at a house or table – with a customer – someone purchasing goods or services from a retailer.

It only makes sense that perhaps the world’s largest proponent of using “guest” over “customer” is Disney (this is the company that almost won an Academy Award for a song titled “Be Our Guest,” after all).

The New York Times quoted an excerpt from a book published by Disney of the same name, this one intended to explain why referring to customers as guests matters:

“At first glance, Disney’s language may seem contrived or inconsequential,” the book stated. “But words create images and corresponding assumptions in people’s minds. Take the word guest. An unhappy guest and an unhappy consumer create two very different images in an employee’s mind. Guests are welcome visitors, whom you host; consumers are statistics. If someone is your guest, don’t you feel a greater obligation to ensure his or her happiness?”

This is a sentiment shared by Michael Mabry, CEO of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes. In fact, Mabry told the Times his company goes beyond using the word “guest.”

“We take it a step further — we capitalize the ‘G’ in guest,”he said. “If you have the opportunity to read any document or letter to our franchisees, it’s always with a capital ‘G.’”

The overarching point of Stout’s article seems to be that some people find usage of the word “guest” in place of “customer” annoying, whether because it’s technically improper syntax or because it feels too familiar on the part of retailers.

However, brands like Disney and MOOYAH continue to enjoy increasing profits and public goodwill. Who’s to say going the extra mile by turning standard customers into valued guests isn’t part of the reason why?