The Reason Some Businesses Refer to Customers as Guests

Being called a 'guest' of a retail business is not really grammatically correct.
Being called a 'guest' of a retail business is not really grammatically correct. / Hispanolistic/iStock via Getty Images

For decades, retailers and other businesses referred to customers as customers. (If they were rude, possibly as jerks.) Increasingly, some proprietors like to call patrons guests. It happens at Target, Walgreens, and other locations. It’s exceedingly polite and slightly strange. How and why did it start?

You can probably blame Disney.

In 1955, when Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, employees occupying the Happiest Place on Earth were instructed to refer to park attendees as guests. It was part of the company’s devotion to going the extra mile to create a welcoming fantasy atmosphere.

Where Disney goes, others follow. Executives at other businesses took lessons on their approach at the Disney Institute in the 1980s in the hopes of emulating their success. In 2015, a Target spokesperson confirmed to The New York Times that Target employees began using guest to refer to customers in 1993 as a direct result of Disney’s policy.

It may be comforting, but it is grammatically correct? Not really. Guest means someone being entertained at the house or table of another, paying for services rendered. It’s more appropriate to use in the context of patronizing a hotel or restaurant, not a retail business. Customer, a noun meaning someone who visits a place to make a purchase, is far more fitting.

Thanks to Disney, it may stick anyway. After all, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast even featured a song, “Be Our Guest,” partially inspired by their philosophy.

[h/t The New York Times]