New Jersey does not have a reputation as a warm and fuzzy state. We're tough and proud of it.

But the state's legendary crustiness doesn't work very well in the hospitality business. And the workers at Atlantic City's casino hotels and other shore resorts may need to be reminded of this.

Both a recent column ("Atlantic City needs lessons in Disney-like hospitality," Feb. 15) and a letter to the editor ("Hospitality is missing in N.J.," Feb. 21) made it clear that some resort workers - and their bosses - are just not doing a great job of making guests feel welcome.

That has to change if Atlantic City is going to prosper.

Yes, we know, casino hotel workers have reason to be a little cranky right now. Hours and benefits have been cut back; layoffs are a constant fear.

But at least part of the solution is to make sure every single person who walks in the door of a casino hotel leaves wanting to come back - and bring friends.

So when a casino is offering free show tickets with a $50 purchase, why not go out of your way to mention that? An appreciative customer might even leave a bigger tip, rather than having to fight with management.

And when a visitor wants a sandwich at 2 p.m., the solution should be helping them find one, not telling them that their choice is the dinner menu or leaving.

We know the problem is not just employees. It starts at the top. For decades, the casinos grew rich on gambling revenue alone. They got away with focusing on gambling because the next closest casino option involved cross-country airfare.

Today, the city's now-former visitors have options that are newer and closer to home. That means everyone who does make it to Atlantic City must be treated like a high-roller.

Atlantic City - indeed, the entire shore - has always had a love/hate relationship with our visitors, loving their money but hating their noise and sheer numbers. But when even local residents begin to resent how they are treated at area casinos and restaurants, it's a strong message that the treatment has to change.

Good hospitality is giving visitors more than they expect - even if it can't always be what they want. It's showing you appreciate their business. It's making them want to come back.

And it only takes one rude remark or inconsiderate action by an employee to undo all the "DO AC" marketing efforts.

That means that the front-line employees and their supervisors in Atlantic City are the ground troops in the war to attract more people to the resort. But right now, some of them are apparently their own worst enemy.

As we encourage visitors to "DO AC," let's make sure the city's workers "Do Nice."