Greeting Guests and the First Impression

First impressions count!

Knowing how to greet a guest is one of the most important skills you can have when working in hospitality and tourism. The first impression a guest gets is going to set the tone for their entire stay, so it’s important that they feel welcome, understood, valued and respected. The problem is, guests come from different countries, cultures and backgrounds that all have their own unique social codes. What may be an acceptable phrase, gesture or act of body language to one guest, may be offensive to another. So how do you cater to each individual guests’ needs and expectations? Let’s find out!

Three Things to Keep in Mind

The best way to make sure that a greeting is going to make the guest feel welcome, accepted and valued is by following these three guidelines: Smile warmly, make eye contact and don’t wait too long to acknowledge the guest. By smiling at the guest, you are showing them that they are welcome. Eye contact shows them that they are the centre of your attention. Acknowledging them promptly shows the guest that their needs are a priority. Failing to follow these three principles could give the guest the impression that they’re not welcome, their needs aren’t important and you have better things to do. 

While following these three principles are broadly accepted principles to creating a welcoming atmosphere, catering to each guest’s particular needs takes more fine tuning. You must be knowledgeable about other cultures and countries to truly be able to meet, and exceed, each guest’s expectations.

Cultural Differences

What is acceptable in one culture, may be rude in another. For example, certain hand gestures may be offensive in different cultures. What is considered acceptable eye contact varies across cultures. Some cultures are very aware of personal space and don’t like to be crowded. It is up to you to research and educate yourself on the different cultures and countries of the world so you can be aware of them and try your best to honour and respect them so your guests can feel comfortable and respected. However, it can be very difficult to determine where someone comes from just by looking at them. That’s where generalizations come in.

Stereotypes vs Generalizations

Stereotyping is when you lump a certain group of people into a rigid expectation that doesn’t take facts and logic into account. Stereotypes assume that all members in a group are the same and they are judgemental towards that group. An example of a stereotype would be “All men like sports.”. A generalization is when you sort people into loose groups based on facts, logic and a non-judgemental frame of mind. For example, “Many men like sports.”

Generalizations mean taking previous knowledge and context into account. Instead of taking a quick look at them and making a snap decision, look for clues that can help you identify where the guest comes from and what they might expect when you greet them. For example, are they wearing a suit or casual clothes? Are they wearing any pieces of clothing or jewelry that is religious? Are they alone? Do they have children with them? Do they look comfortable or do they seem a little overwhelmed or confused? What time of year is it? Are their any special events or festivals being celebrated by a certain community happening near the hotel? All of these observations can help you make loose generalizations about your guests that you can use during your interactions.

Observation- An act or instance of noticing or perceiving.

What to Say

Now we’ve gotten to arguably the most important part of the greeting; the greeting itself! Knowing what to say can seem pretty difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep the language professional but friendly. For example, “Hello, Ni hao! Welcome to the Hotel Josephine! How can I help you today?”. Make sure you’re not using language that is informal like “morning”, “yo”, “what’s up?” or “far out!”.  Speak clearly and use a welcoming tone and rhythm. Speak through your smile, it will help you sound warm and inviting.  Be careful with terms such as ma’am, sir, Mister, Miss and Mrs. as some people can find these terms offensive. Try to keep greetings personal instead of saying the same greeting over and over again. However, it is OK to have a few stock phrases in mind.

Here’s a few greeting ideas you can use:

  • “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening! Welcome! How can I help you?”
  • “Hi there! I can help you here if you’re ready.”
  • “Hello! Welcome to the Hotel Josephine! How are you?”
  • “Hello! I’d be happy to help you here!”

Check out the 3A Hospitality English textbook to learn more!

The most important thing to remember when greeting guests is your goal; make them feel welcome, respected, and valued. You set the tone for their experience. Show them with your words and body language that you’re happy they’re there and that you want to make sure that they have a wonderful experience. While this may mean something different to every guest, following these basic guidelines and using your intuition, knowledge and previous experience should get you pretty close to starting the guest’s on the path to a great experience. Good Luck!