By Dennis and Danny Snow

One of the most popular songs from the Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, was the song, “Be Our Guest.” Belle, the heroine of the film, is enthralled by the magical preparations of a spectacular dinner as the animated candelabra, Lumiere, sings “Be Our Guest.” It’s a fitting song for a Disney film since the company has a long history of referring to its customers as “guests.”

Service vs. Hospitality

Walt Disney’s philosophy at Disneyland was that they didn’t have customers, they had welcome guests. Keep in mind that prior to Disneyland, amusement parks were often dirty and unsafe places, staffed by gruff, surly employees. Walt’s vision was for Disneyland’s visitors to feel that they were guests in his home, and he expected every cast member to treat them that way.

This wasn’t going to be a transactional or “service” mindset that you could find at any carnival where they simply take your ticket and you ride a ride. At Disneyland the focus is on the interaction and relationships (in other words, “hospitality”) with the guests and delivering an overall experience that makes every guest feel like they are family as opposed to just a visitor in the park.

While Walt’s philosophy for service has remained in place decades beyond his passing, the details of the service philosophy has evolved to include the following guidelines:

  • Make eye contact and smile
  • Greet and welcome each and every guest
  • Seek out guest contact
  • Provide immediate service recovery
  • Display appropriate body language at all times
  • Preserve the “magical” guest experience
  • Thank each and every guest

Let’s break each one of those items down because in reality, there’s no reason you can’t apply them to your own operation.

Make eye contact and smile.  Some of these are just so basic that you’d think they would be standard practice within every single organization. This is probably the easiest one on the list and requires little to no effort. Making eye contact with a customer shows you’re present and focused only on them. I’m not talking about getting into a staring contest. I’m talking about letting the customer know that they have your full attention. And a sincere smile says that you’re there to serve. 

Greet and welcome each and every guest Disney does this for hundreds of thousands park visitors per day combined across all Disney parks around the world.  Now, they have an incredibly large number of cast members (employees) to help accomplish this goal, but this is a worthy goal for any organization to strive for. While it’s highly unlikely that every employee will be able to greet every guest that comes through your door, it’s important that someone greets them. If everyone on your team is on the lookout to interact and welcome a guest, odds are someone is going to make contact along the way.  

Seek out guest contact.  This builds on the greeting of every guest. Have everyone on the team be on the lookout to engage your customers in one way or another. Disney cast members trade pins with kids and adults, offer to take photographs so everyone in the party can be in the picture, joke with a rival sports team if they’re wearing sports attire or strike up conversations about where someone is visiting from. These often occur in a matter of seconds as guests are moving through the lines.

Provide immediate service recovery Disney cast members are empowered to provide immediate service recovery (within reason).  If a child drops his/her ice cream cone, a cast member can go and get a new one for them at no charge. Or, if a guest is upset about something, cast members can offer a Fastpass to one of the rides or get them prime seating for a show in the park. More often than not, just listening to a guest complaint and offering suggestions can help to resolve the issue. 

Display appropriate body language at all times This is another easy one that we should all be able to achieve. I get that being on your feet for hours at a time can be challenging. Sometimes we’re just having a crummy day and our facial expressions and body language make it easy for everyone around to tell. I’ve had those days and I know that you have as well. But at Disney, when you’re onstage the show is on, and your body language and facial expressions must be open and welcoming no matter what. Backstage problems and concerns are to stay backstage. 

Preserve the “magical” guest experience At Disney, the entire focus is on delivering an outstanding experience for their guests. Every single one of their cast members knows that they play a special role in delivering and preserving the Disney magic. For example, complaining about personal or job-related issues while in front of guests is unacceptable. Guests should never see backstage areas such as broom closets, breakrooms, etc. 

Thank each and every guest This one is just way too easy.  Yet, how many companies have you frequented that didn’t thank you? No matter what, we should always take a moment to thank our customers for visiting us or shopping with us. Customers should feel that you appreciate their business and feel valued. Thanking customers doesn’t necessarily mean saying “thank you” every time, it’s more the idea of a fond farewell at the conclusion of an interaction. One of the options Disney cast members have is to say, “Have a magical day” as a way of saying thank you. 

Customer vs. Guest

The image of a customer is often one of a transactional nature. The company provides a service or product and the customer gives the company money.

But the image of a guest is very different. It’s the difference of how you might treat a door-to-door salesperson versus how you treat an invited guest to your home.

When a guest is visiting we are likely to do the following in order to leave them with a positive impression of their experience with us:

  • Clean the house, put out the good china, and plan the meal around the likes of our guests.
  • Greet them at the door with a warm welcome and a sincere smile.
  • Invite them in enthusiastically.
  • Do everything we can to make them feel comfortable.
  • Keep them entertained.
  • Invite them to come back.

Be Our Guest

The guest philosophy is applicable to any business, whether or not you call your customers clients, members, patients, residents, or customers. Thinking of customers as guests helps to move away from a task mindset to a mindset focused on building relationships. 

Imagine if your customers were treated that way during every interaction with your organization. Imagine how they would feel about your company and how they would describe it to others. Imagine how it would affect their loyalty.

I’m not advocating actually starting to refer to your customers as guests, although I’m not against it. What I’m advocating is adopting the mindset of treating customers as welcome guests. That mindset can’t help but change the way a company interacts with its customers.

Are you inviting customers to “Be Our Guest?” Are you treating them that way?

Need help getting started?  Give us a call at (407) 294-1855 to learn how Snow & Associates can help your organization.  You can also email us at