Service of a Cheery “Hello”

September 29th, 2014

Categories: Attitude, Customer Service, Mood, Negativity, Positive Thinking, Voice

smiling cashier 4

Wall Street Journal columnist Joe Queenan doesn’t like friendly employees. If he returns to his local drugstore in a day, he resents it when cashiers wish him “a good one” for the fifth time. He expects them to remember that he’d been there recently.

And he wants greetings to be genuine. In “Save That ‘Hello’ for the Next Customer,” he wrote: “Not everyone at the drugstore is equally adept at being ‘spontaneously’ hospitable. A couple of staffers had not said hello to me or anyone else since the Clinton administration, but then one day some manager obviously cracked the whip. Suddenly, they started saying ‘Good morning’ in an android-like fashion, as if they had a gun cocked to their heads.”

smiling cashier 3Some of the cashiers admitted, when he asked, that they’d been instructed to be “extra nice to customers.” He observed that their tone especially grated when he went to the store after a funeral.

He complained that supermarkets give similar instructions to their cashiers who must tell a customer to have “‘a good one’ even if they look like they might smack you.” In addition to insincere employees who are cheery because they are told to be, he dislikes strangers who say “hello.”

He continued, “There are several issues here. Misanthropes—and there are a lot of us out here—think of hyper-effusive greetings as an invasion of privacy, almost as a casus belli. That’s why we like to vacation in France, where you hardly ever run the risk of encountering belligerent conviviality at the retail level.”

Smiling cashiers 1So he could be left alone he wishes that a store’s rewards card could be programmed to indicate to staff that this customer doesn’t like to be greeted with a smile.

I wasn’t able to tell how much of Queenan’s tongue was in his cheek. I complained to management at an upstate gas station convenience store about its belligerent staff because they ignored not only my greeting but me. One of the things I resented was the total silence in reaction to my “hello,” or “good morning,” as well as “might I pay for this please?

Do you like it when retail staff greets you with a smile and happy word or does it rub you the wrong way? How can you tell if a greeting is genuine? Does it matter? Should a cashier be expected to remember that a customer has been to the store several times in a day?

smiling cashier 2

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9 Responses to “Service of a Cheery “Hello””

  1. Jeremiah Said:

    I agree entirely with Mr. Queenan.

    I intensely dislike the artificiality of that “Have a good day” which is the product of a business school marketing trained latter day Simon Legree cracking his whip over his staff frightened for their jobs–justifiably surly minimum wage serfs. I intensely dislike all chain stores of all varieties, but in modern America, one now has no choice but to patronize them. If you need ink for your printer, where else can you find it?

    The individual proprietors have all been driven out of business by that unholy alliance of big business, big labor, big politicians, big military and big media which now controls the country through its legions of lobbyists and diverse lackeys.

    Oh, for the good old days! Fortunately, I live in New York City where one can still find some small, single owner stores and restaurants. What a pleasure it is to be warmly greeted and well served because I’m a paying customer who is cheerful, undemanding, does not cause trouble and tips well.

    Up the Revolution!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I once worked for a firm with a receptionist who answered the phone gruffly. It was embarrassing. A friend who visited the company said that most of the staff walked around looking whipped. He was right.

    I think that even if you don’t feel cheerful it can help if you try to act cheerful–it’s contagious. And I didn’t go to business school.

    Perhaps retail staff doesn’t have to be terminally cheerful but can be polite and in a good mood if a customer addresses them in kind. There’s nothing worse than being responded to by silence when you say something in greeting or in conversation to another person only a few feet away, even if they work in a big box or giant store. It’s still a person with stress, good and bad days just like you.

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    A very hard question.

    I get my morning “Joe” at Grand Central Station’s “Joe” self serve stand. ALL The ‘Baristas’ are super friendly and extra “sincere”. Do I care if they really “mean it” or are acting? Since many really ARE professional actors, its hard to say…

    I do feel like they are original in their greeting and they respond ‘on topic’ to my return comments. YES. They make the morning fun, whereas staff in other places sound like ‘broken records’ of sincerity. Sorry for all the “Quotes,” but this topic seems to SCREAM for them!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love a place like that–no wonder there’s a line every time I pass! I bet one works off the other and is creative and having fun which lightens the load for both customers and colleagues, making the day go by quickly. I’ve read about the owners of this business and they are enlightened.

    I DISLIKE being corrected in other coffee places when I deliberately ask for a “small” coffee and am reprimanded, in expression and tone of voice, and told “you mean grande?” Not all the branches are staffed with grouches, but enough are.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    The journalist appears to be carried away by his own importance, and should move to a small community if so greatly in need of recognition. Trouble is, most everyone else is also known, and he will have to look for another way to be insulted. That’s right, life is unfair, even if you see yourself as a Wall Street Pooh-Bah!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can’t imagine how anyone would be so self-important to think that a cashier in a busy store would have time to even look at the next person in line much less remember that a person had been back a few times in a day or a week….Most cashiers are busy checking out items, getting money and making change or servicing credit cards, handling store reward cards and food stamps, answering questions and sometimes answering the phone! That’s why I wondered whether his column was written tongue in cheek.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Not so in a small community where the staff becomes familiar with the customers – something which sometimes causes inconvenient delay of service as they chat about the weather & etc.

    You are right, this could be a humorous piece. Anything’s possible!

  8. JBS Said:

    The most offensive thing that has happened to me is when a clerk refers to me as “honey” or “sweetie.”

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think training either at home or at work is the only way for people to know the difference between inappropriate familiarity and respectful courtesy.

    In so many of these instances the cashier or retail person is trying hard: He/she doesn’t know how to interpret corporate edicts about how to be welcoming and friendly and translate them into inoffensive behavior.

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