Old-School Disney is Definitely Not Old-Fashioned

The Disney organization is the greatest practitioner of Guest Experiences around today. Books have been written about what the cast members at Disney do to make people feel welcome (I know – I’ve read all of them, and own most of them). As good as books are, sometimes you need to experience learning.

On a recent fact-finding trip to Walt Disney World I had a chance to “open and close” the Magic Kingdom. For those who aren’t quite the Disney fanatic as me, it means I was onsite in the parking lot for the Travel and Transportation Center at 5:45 AM, coincidently parking in the first spot. I was the first guest in the park at rope drop. It also means I was one of the last ones out of the park during Extra Magic Hours – leaving past 2:00 AM the next day. If you’re counting, that’s almost 20 hours observing, talking with, and photographing cast members in action.

Once again, I was amazed at the exceptional attitude of the cast members.



Observing hundreds of Cast Members, dealing with tens of thousands of Guests, there’s only one word to describe their attitude: Magical.

What’s the secret behind the magic?

It’s no secret – or magic – but it is a lot of intentional thought, refined and updated over the last 6 decades!

During my lunchtime walk/podcast time yesterday, I was listening to Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President, Operations, at Walt Disney World speaking on the subject of Disney’s 7 Guest Service Guidelines. As Cockerell talked about in his podcast, at one time these seven guidelines were even re-scripted into Disney language by connecting each behavior to one of the Seven Dwarfs – as in, Be Happy… make eye contact and smile! Here are all seven:

7 Guest Service Guidelines

So I’m sure you won’t mind if we go backstage and back in time at Disney to learn about their 7 Guest Service Guidelines – a list of actions that every Disney team member learned during their orientation.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, Disney was looking for a set of generic behaviors that ensured that cast members knew how to act courteously and respect the individuality of each Guest. Over the first ten years, the four values of Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency became the foundation from which all succeeding service standards were developed.

During the 1960s, these standards were translated into a set of behavioral actions called Guidelines for Guest Services, which became the centerpiece of training for all Disney cast members.

7 Guidelines for Guest Services

  • Make eye contact and smile
  • Greet and welcome each and every Guest
  • Seek out Guest contact
  • Provide immediate service recovery
  • Display appropriate body language at all times
  • Preserve the “magical” Guest Experience
  • Thank each and every Guest

These seven phrases serve a variety of purposes.

  • First, they define behavior in terms of Guests.
  • They also communicate team member responsibilities.
  • Finally, they showcase ways to customize service to individual Guests.

As Cockerell talked about in his podcast, these seven guidelines are applicable to almost any organization – even churches.


Even though these Guidelines don’t exist in this form anymore, my experiences over that long day reminded me that the spirit of the Guidelines are very much in practice by cast members today.

Application to Your Church

Your church won’t have tens of thousands of people coming through your doors every day – but the principles Disney uses as a baseline starting point for training its cast members are very appropriate in the context of your church.

  • Do your hospitality teams have service behaviors or guidelines in place?
  • Are they taught as a part of initial team member training?
  • Are they reinforced through regular ongoing training?
  • Do you celebrate examples of the behaviors or guidelines in action?
  • How can you make the behaviors a part of your culture?

inspired by and adapted from Be Our Guest, by The Disney Institute

Be Our Guest revised

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