Me vs. the Walt Disney World Smiling Police
Published: September 2, 2010 at 10:38 AM
Here's the scene: My son and I are walking out of one of Epcot's Future World pavilions, just before lunchtime. We're heading over to The Land, but the August mid-day heat's already baking the park. As soon as we walk outside, the hot air slams us and my son just starts to melt. He'd been having a great time, but the high heat and humidity - coupled with a rumbly tummy - are draining him.
We walk past the cast member stationed at greeter.
"Hey, you need to smile!" he orders my son, while sporting a huge grin. "No need for a grumpy face."
This comment immediately changes my 10-year-old son's mood from tired and hungry to seriously ticked off. All he wanted to do was hurry across the hot plaza to a nice air-conditioned lunch. But now he's got some Disney World cast member riding him, because he doesn't look happy enough.
I've had Disney employees pull this on me in the past, too. Yes, Disney wants its cast members to smile. And it very much would like its guests to be happy and smiling, too.
But, dear Disney cast members, while it is your job to smile, it's not ours. You are getting paid to be there and smile. We're paying out the wazoo to be there, and can sport any facial expression we want, thankyouverymuch. Your job is to give us reasons to smile - not to order us to do so.
Worse, by telling a guest to smile you are, in essence, criticizing him or her - which was an absolute, you're-getting-a-verbal-now no-no back when I went through Disney University.
I suspect that the Disney University lesson that cast members should try to get guests to smile has morphed into a belief among some trainers that cast members should tell guests to smile. That's a training error that Walt Disney World management needs to address and correct.
I'd like to encourage that greeter to find ways to put smiles on the faces of the hot, tired and hungry people emerging from his pavilion. Wearing that big grin himself was a great start. Asking people if he can help, complementing them on their clothes or souvenirs, or even simply wishing them well all can initiate a positive interaction between cast member and guest.
But telling someone to smile sounds like an order - and that's a negative interaction, something cast members should be working hard to avoid.
I've not ever encountered this demand at other companies' theme parks. I attribute that to Disney's obsession with promoting guest happiness in its parks, shown by mass smiling. While that's a noble goal, giving people a reason to smile and telling them to smile are two very different things.
I just wish that all Disney cast members would recognize that.