Guest Service: Don't Call Me Sweetie!

By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | June 06, 2010

"Happy New Year 'Sweetie'! What can I get you?" "Hey 'Honey', let me help you with that?" "Let me put you on hold, 'Doll', while I check for you."

Aaaaggghhh! I don't know these people?!!! Do they think they know me well enough to forego all formalities? Why are they using such familiar terms upon our first encounter? I can actually feel the hairs on my neck stand up one by one when I hear these names. In a society that is often much less personal than it used to be, this is the other extreme...way more personal than appropriate.

"Terms of Endearment" was a fantastic movie and emotionally riveting. Terms of endearment from my husband or son are meaningful and touching. Terms of endearment from a waitress, valet or hotel employee are not any of these and in fact, are annoying, inappropriate and sometimes offensive. Why do employees use familiar or intimate terms with those with whom they are not familiar or intimate? The way employees address a guest can make such a positive or negative first, last and middle impression.

When employees serving guests and customers use these terms, they risk creating "uncomfortableness" and uncertainty. In some cases, while attempting to be friendly, they may instead be offending the guest. Instead, focus on other options that universally will be accepted and positive and get the experience started on the right foot with the words to follow.

Greeting a guest is the first powerful moment to make an impression. When a cheerful hello or welcome is made, followed by that employee's own name, the guest experience can begin to flow and both guest and employee are on sure footing. If a promiscuous greeting is made, the guest may be thrown off and the experience begins with uncertainty and possible discomfort. When an employee introduces themselves, they have begun to build a relationship with the guest versus the one-sided aspect of only calling the guest by name. It also makes it easier for the guest to call upon the employee by name, instead of "waiter" or "bellman." Employees, like guests, also like to hear their own names.

As Letitia Baldrige, the renowned protocol and manners expert once said, "People like to have their names and titles remembered and stated correctly, it's one of the 'emoluments' to which one feels entitled." I admit I had to look up the word emolument, but I loved its meaning of "a form of compensation" to capture the feeling of recognition and a form of reward from hearing one's own name.

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