It's All in a Name

I'm convinced the great majority of people don't call other people by name because they don't know how much it means to a person. It's a mark of respect when a person calls you by your name. The person went to the trouble of remembering your name and using it. It makes you feel good that the person showed this recognition when so few bother to do so.

When you walk up to a restaurant counter and are addressed by name (“Hi, Mr. McCarthy, how are you this evening?”) it gets the conversation off to a great start. But why do you get this recognition so seldom? It must be that people just aren't aware of the importance of name recognition.

Name recognition gets you back

I've often said if three or more people in a hotel call you by name, you'll always come back. Even if you try the new place up the block, it doesn't take long to realize you don't get the same recognition as at the hotel where you get the friendly smile and greeting.

The “Cheers” theme song said that everyone likes to go to “a place where they know your name.” Why? Because it's in such contrast to the cold shoulder we get at most places.

What happened to the restaurant in our neighborhood?

I went to my cleaners yesterday and noticed that the deli/restaurant next door had closed. I couldn't believe it because it had been one of my favorite places to stop for lunch. I asked the guy next door and he said that competition from several new restaurants had forced him out of business.

I asked myself why they had closed after 15 years in business. They had a great product. The place was clean and had excellent décor. Service was exceptionally good. The servers had attractive uniforms and were well groomed.

Then it hit me. In 15 years, the owners and help had never shown me one example of recognition. When I walked up to the counter on my 100th visit, it was as if it were my first. Not only didn't they know my name, their faces didn't show any recognition.

A way to build business at no cost

When I was a young man, I worked at three places where they knew the importance of a name and worked at building recognition.

The restaurant in which I worked during college would mystify guests by calling them by name. One waiter or busboy who knew the customer would tip off others with the customer's name, even though we had never waited on the customer ourselves. Many times I heard a customer remark, “I wonder how he knew my name.” Of course, we never told.

When I worked at the front desk of the Philadelphia Warwick, Jim Mulderig, my supervisor, would mention the name of the person about to check in so I could use the name to greet the guest. Do that often enough and it doesn't take long to know all the regulars.

Another thing we did on the desk was introduce new guests to other key employees. We would take them over to the assistant manager, restaurant hostess, bell captain and others that crossed our path.

At the Beverly Hilton, we greeted every guest by name when they picked up the phone. Our manager Fred Hayman, who later founded Giorgio's of Beverly Hills, knew this was the right thing to do before hotels had equipment to display the name of guests automatically.

The reaction was unbelievable on that first day in 1958 when everyone was called by name when they picked up the phone and heard, “Yes, Ms. Jones, may I help you?” To say it was an immediate hit is an understatement.

At least show recognition when you don't know the name

When you don't know a person's name, at least show facial recognition as you address them, “Nice to see you again.”

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and is a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at or 703-379-4488.

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