Hospitality Advice on Service – Do You Have Guests or Customers?

Hospitality dictates that customers are “Guests”in our business

We all strive to excel in customer experience management.  Judging by my last post, there is a lot of interest involving the words that we use and the phrasing of our words when focusing on the customer experience.  Words make up only 7% of our communication (body language is 58% and tone of voice is 35%).  So, that means we need to choose our words wisely.

I was meeting with a prospective client yesterday and we discussed this very topic.  Her family owns four restaurants in town.  During our conversation,she referred to the patrons as customers, while I referred to them as “guests.”  She asked me why I was making the distinction between the two words.

Since we were in the restaurant setting, I used the analogy of people coming to her home to eat dinner or to her restaurant to eat dinner.  I asked her how she would treat the people coming to her house.  She replied “I treat my guests very well.  I try to make them feel like family.”  As soon as those words were out of her mouth, she understood what I meant.  Especially since we were talking about the same meal, just served in two different places.

The guests coming to her house were most likely not paying her to serve them dinner.  They were invited guests that she was looking forward to spending time with.  Take this same thought into her business – a restaurant.  She is looking to increase marketing to increase business. By referring to the customer as a guest, it makes them feel special, that she was looking forward to serving them a meal, and increases the positive feelings of the dining experience.  Remember, it is the feeling that our customers/guests have that determine if they will return to us.

While not all industries can use the term guests appropriately for customers, many can.  Use your good judgement.  It may be the difference that makes the difference. Theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and the entire hospitality industry use the word “guest” as opposed to “customer” whenever possible.  Mirriam-Webster defines “guest” as a person to whom hospitality is extended.  My advice to any client, manager, or business owner is to be as hospitable as possible when interacting with customers.

Because customers are paying you to treat them well while they are doing business with you, all business should treat them as guests.

8 Replies to “Hospitality Advice on Service – Do You Have Guests or Customers?”

    1. You’re right, Tim. Every customer should be treated that way. That is one of my favorite posts also because it reinforces that treating people as if they are the Pope takes just a little bit of ingenuity and very little cost.

      I’m glad you like the content and am looking forward to your next comments. Please be sure to let me know which topics you’d like to see covered. I truly enjoy the feedback, ideas, and suggestions.

  1. In my medical office we have suceesfully implemented this strategy in the environment by having a living room and dining room with an herbal tea station as opposed to a traditional waiting room. Our clients feel much more like guests being invited to have tea in the living room instead of being instructed to sit in the waiting room.

    Mary Ann Settembrino says:
    1. Mary Ann,
      I think that is a fantastic idea to have a “living room” setting in a medical office.

      This is good practice on so many levels –
      1- It puts them at ease before the visit and can prepare them to be more engaged with the physician or provider simply because they are feeling “at home.”
      2 – You are taking an ordinary experience and making it memorable. Anytime you can add a positive aspect to a mundane situation, you distinguish yourself and your business in the eyes of the customer or guest. That is what people today are really looking for – What makes you different and why should they come back to you.

      So, on top of them receiving good quality patient centered care, they are also left with a positive indelible memory and feeling.

  2. What an interesting article and really holds true. The more I think of my experiences dining in restaurants and working in them (I managed a restaurant) I can really see how this works. I used to go to one place that was run by a family and whenever you arrived it felt like visiting a friend at their home. We consequently kept going back. Another company that does our corporate hospitality manages to make you feel like a guest and not a customer. I think this should be a key part of all training for people in many areas of hospitality and customer service. It is after all just a mind set that will have amazing knock on effects.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Clare. You used an interesting word – experience. That is what it is all about. We want to create an experience for our customers/guests that will make them want to go out of their way to do business with us. When customers enjoy the experience we provide when doing business with us, we can earn their loyalty for life simply because they like the way they feel when interacting with us.

  3. Frank, I appreciate you returning to comment.

    I think that it adds so much more delight to the experience when we pay attention to the smallest details, even the words we use. It can add such a nuance. In your retail examples above, can you imagine Nordstrom referring to someone as a shopper?

    The Ritz-Carlton does an excellent job at creating a unique experience with their wording in their credo – “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” That language creates both an expectation of who is serving and how they will serve the guests.

    Thanks again for your comments. I truly appreciate it.

  4. Your comparison of serving guests in your home and serving them in your restaurant is right on target. Servers should become accustom to using the same reference even among themselves. It could change their attitude from waiting on tables to serving guests.

    It’s an interesting choice of words. In a restaurant customers are guests. At a drive-thru with little interaction, you are still a customer. In the hotel you can be a guest. At the dentist office, you are a patient but can be treated like a guest in the waiting room and a customer when paying the bill. At Nordstrom, you are a preferred customer and a quasi-guest, and sometimes treated with such extraordinary care you can feel special. In the funeral home, you are family and hopefully cared for like family. Yet with all these different handles, in each situation the business at hand has an opportunity to create a positive impression and a positively perceived experience for their buying consumer.

    Frank M. says:

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