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The Seater Greeter May 25, 2008

Posted by voolavex in Uncategorized.

Many years back my husband used the term “seater greeter” to describe what used to be called the maitre ‘d or host at better restaurants.  He doesn’t claim it as original – just a term he heard and found perfect to describe the job.  Expensive places used to have maitre d’s and hosts that lead one to a table – even clothing shops had sales people who saw to ones shopping (Are You Being Served on the BBC was a great example of this phenomenon.)  As we slipped quietly into the realm of fast food, discount stores and lately, rising prices – the role of the Seater Greeter has reemerged and seems to have become very important to corporate business.  Not to me.  The Seater Greeter is an insulting ploy.   I am trying hard to figure out just how stupid businesses think consumers are.  Do they imagine that some slack jawed, bored human at the door saying “Welcome to Buymart” is going to erase our knowledge that we are now paying higher prices for cheaper goods using more expensive gas to go out and do it?  That customer service is going to take the place of good value for money?  That we go to the parking lot in sticker shock but still talk about how nice the guy at the door treated us?  In one local supermarket it is impossible to turn a corner without some eager beaver stopping  you as you shop to ask “if you’re finding everything okay”.  Try asking for something specific and they won’t have a clue.  The other day a confused looking man was handing out grocery fliers as people left the store with a delightful grin spread across his face.


I remember when, about a decade ago,  a company for whom I worked decided to reinvent the wheel, add integrity  to its policy and recreate the employees as something else.  They had participated in a est like training program called Smart U.   To this end, they had a contest for the new name and since the business had a slightly nautical theme in its infancy (managers as Captains, First mates etc.) the names we all suggested were really hilarious.  I remember that catch of the day  was one, cabin boy  another and someone even suggested bait .  Accurate too because we all had a sense of becoming fish in a barrel.  They eventually called us “crew members”.  I suggested that had I wished to be a crew member I would have been a sailor or sailed a yacht.  No one laughed.  


This whole concept of course is lifted from the Japanese who have used it to great success in their corporate and retail ventures.  Elevator Girls in Japanese department stores take extensive lessons in in bowing and scraping and among corporate samurai the bowing in measured in the angle of the bow- the salary man is indeed part of a greater entity.  Why does anyone imagine this works in a country founded on a revolution and pioneer spirit. 


I suppose this stupidspeak  nomenclature is also designed to shortcon the employees themselves into a mythical squadron of dedicated workers who – for their low pay and minimal benefits – imagine that by being “team” members they are helping the company who hires them.  Corporate culture has taken on anthropological status in the last 20 years. Corporations have gotten obscenely rich on this exploitive sleight of hand.  Silly titles do not pay the rent.  Seater greeters are not in the fast track for promotion.  Gone are the days when the bag boy becomes the CEO.  It seems to me that the intelligent thing to do would be to eliminate the grinning and the greeting, train and pay the employees adequately, end the company pep rallies and figure out a way to have the prices of the goods balanced with the economy and the current cost of living.  That means actually living not camping in your car.  It is not prudent to buy more when people have less to spend.  It is not smart to fire ( oops, downsize) employees and then ask the consumer to get a warm fuzzy feeling about a company dedicated to increasing its profit margin by laying off minimum wage workers.  Frankly there is nothing demeaning about terms like clerk, cashier, stockperson, janitor or waitress.  Calling a sow’s ear a silk purse doesn’t make it true.  And there is nothing wrong with either one unless you try to compare them.  I would far rather be a very competent clerk for $20 an hour than a expendable team member for eight bucks an hour with little hope of adbvancement.   Screening for good manners isn’t discriminatory; smiling, saying hello and answering questions are pro forma.


By the time prices could go down we will be so accustomed to what they are we won’t even care. The rich will get richer and the rest of us will get new titles for less pay.  Or no pay at all.  And the guy on the street corner playing Three Card Monte will call himself a seater greeter instead of a hustler and no will notice or wonder why.


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