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The Road To Success…

Danny Meyer is a true entrepreneur. He has recently published a must-read book: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. From Publishers Weekly:

Meyer opened Union Square Cafe in 1985 when he was 27 years old. It hit its stride three years later when he hired chef Michael Romano, and Meyer charts its evolution from a neighborhood to international institution. Initially cautious about expansion, he opened Gramercy Tavern with chef Tom Colicchio three years later, eventually broadening his New York City restaurant empire to 11 establishments including Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke, Shake Shack and the Modern.

Can you say successful? Danny has had to satisfy a lot of customers to drive such success.

The quote that brought me to this book was:

The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.

The quote is credited to legendary retailer Stanley Marcus (yes, of Neiman Marcus fame, who took over the family business in 1926 at the age of 21 after getting a Harvard business degree), and oh does it ring true. Startups will make lots of mistakes along the way. The best ones survive in large part due to their "response reaction" to those mistakes. We are entering a period of greater transparency in business. I think it's great, and the companies that can become more transparent and more honest with every aspect of their business will be the ones that thrive.

The food industry is certainly a service business (aren't they all?). What I like about Danny is that he doesn't think of it that way. It's a hospitality business (aren't they all?). While foodies will enjoy this book for the memoir-style, I think other business owners will get just as much out of it. If more startups could follow Danny's lead here and not think about customer service but hospitality delivery, I have no doubt that their customers will respond (and rejoice!).

Meyer makes a distinction between service ("the technical delivery of a product") and the "Enlightened Hospitality" at the core of his business strategy—both necessary for restaurant success. He notes that hospitality "is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel" and shares tips like hiring "51 percenters," or staff with "skills divided 51-49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence," and the "Five As" for addressing mistakes: awareness, acknowledge, apologize, act, additional generosity.

Danny's other insights:

  • Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. These two simple concepts -- for and to -- express it all.

  • Context, context, context, trumps the outdated location, location, location.

  • Shared ownership develops when guests talk about a restaurant as if it's theirs. That sense of affiliation builds trust and invariably leads to repeat business.

  • Err on the side of generosity: You get more by first giving more.

  • Wherever your center lies, know it, name it, believe in it. When you cede your core values to someone else, it's time to quit.

In a related story, take a peek at Dan Meyer's Response to Restaurants Are A Service Business. Gothamist covers it in Battle of the Book Readings. The Wall Street Journal talks about it in Hospitality for Everyone. 800-CEO-READ covers it in Setting the Table. New York Magazine covers it in Danny Meyer Walks Into A Pub.

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