February 12, 2005

I am a fan of "This Is Spinal Tap", but no, I am not stalking Christopher Guest; why do you ask?

Rose and some friends and I went to see the unfurling of the Gates in Central Park today (which was terrific -- photos will follow soon), and after the first few gates in our vicinity (we weren't at the Bloomberg/Christo/Jeanne-Claude gate) were unrolled, we few, happy, and underslept toddled over to Starbucks for sustenance before starting our meanderings through Central Park. While we were there, I noticed a weird verbal tic on the part of the clerks. Instead of saying "Next" or "Next customer, please" or whatever, they all said the same highly unnatural phrase: "Following guest?"

Clearly this is a mandated Starbucks phrase, but I wonder what the motivation behind it is. It didn't make me subliminally feel that Starbucks is classier than it is, as far as I could tell -- I just thought it sounded weird. But I can only assume that there were focus groups that disagreed with me on that. Anyone else have any thoughts about this?

Posted by Francis at 12:06 PM | TrackBack

I was recently interviewing a spokesman for Spencer Gifts, and she kept using the word "guests." At one point, I interrupted her and said, "Guests? You mean, customers?" And she said, "Yes, we call our customers guests." And I figured that once we acknowledged the language difference, she would revert to the term "customers," which is clearly more normal and understandable. But she didn't, which irritated me. No need to talk in code with me, lady. Guests are people you have over for dinner; customers are people you sell a book of dick jokes to, which is essentially all Spencer Gifts is good for. We both know that.

But I guess she'd get in trouble if she were quoted in a newspaper using the word "customer." Whatever, she's just doing her job. Like the Nazis.

Posted by: jason at February 12, 2005 03:06 PM

The use of "guest" is a slow, annoying trend. It started with a few places like Target, and slowly infiltrates its way into company policies and mottos. It may have been cutting edge at first--some sort of feel-good, psychologicial trick. But other places have picked it up, and it's no longer new.

And it doesn't just show up here. In some cases, there's trained behavior to correct tiny details. In one former job, I worked on phones for a company that had outlet stores in different cities. We were instructed to refer to these external stores inclusively as "us" and "our" and not "them," even if the store was a third-party retailer. I still used "them." (Nothing ever came from it, and nobody ever got fired for saying the wrong word, but it bugs me still.)

At least it's not a situation where a company insists on their style and grammar in official documentation. Worst of these is capitalization where it's not needed. Banfield, the Pet Hospital is an example. http://www.banfield.net/about/mission.asp. Though there's a lot of capitalization of terms used as registered trademarks, they insist on capitalizing Pet everywhere printed.

Posted by: Maelstrom at February 12, 2005 05:13 PM

Interesting. I look forward to hearing more and more awkward and/or inappropriate phrases to summon Starbucks customers to the counter:

"Subsequent patron?"
"Ensuing imbiber?"
"Yo, get your ass up to the counter, slowbie!"

Posted by: Francis at February 13, 2005 09:57 AM

I rarely frequent Starbuck's (or its B&N franchise, which is the closest such thing within an hour's drive from my home), but when I do I take a certain perverse satisfaction out of explicitly ordering a "small" or "medium" sized drink. The clerks used to try to "correct" my terminology, giving me an excuse to get snarky; I think a couple years ago the order came down from on high to just roll with customers who didn't speak Starbuckese though, and I haven't gotten corrected in a while.

Posted by: David. at February 13, 2005 02:25 PM