Why “enlightened hospitality” is the key to business success

1: “From the moment I first went into business, I was far more focused on excellence and hospitality than on profitability,” writes acclaimed restaurateur Danny Meyer in Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.  

Danny and his team have created some of New York’s most beloved restaurants, cafes, and bars (currently 18 venues) in the toughest, most competitive restaurant market in the world. He is also the founder of wildly popular Shake Shack which now has restaurants in more than 50 [CHECK] cities around the U.S. 

Danny believes profitability is “the fuel that drives everything else we do.”  Yet, in terms of importance, Danny intentionally ranks his investors fifth behind his colleagues, his guests, the community, and his suppliers.  

2: He calls this way of setting priorities “enlightened hospitality” and he believes it is the key to building loyalty.  “Our investors understand—and believe—that by taking their place in line behind our other chief stakeholders, they stand an even better chance to reap sound, ongoing financial rewards,” notes Danny.  “They are buying into a business whose employees, customers, community, and suppliers have been given good reason to support our success.”   

Hospitality is at the heart of Danny’s business strategy.  “The beautiful choreography of service is, at its best, an art form, a ballet,” he observes.  “I appreciate the grace with which a table can be properly cleared. I admire the elegance with which a bottle of wine can be appropriately opened, decanted, and poured.”

To deliver this type of service consistently requires prioritizing his team members as his #1 priority. It all begins by surrounding himself with “highly talented people of solid integrity.”  

He contrasts this approach with that of his father who was also an inventive entrepreneur, but one who went bankrupt twice.  His father “never felt compelled to surround himself with people who were better or smarter at anything than he believed he was,” Danny writes.  “He had a greater need to feel important, to be agreed with, and to be the king. It was no coincidence that he named his company after Caesar. 

“While I, too, love sitting in the captain’s chair, my greatest joy comes not from going it alone, but from leading an ensemble,” notes Danny.  “Hospitality is a team sport.”

3: From the beginning, Danny has looked for people who love to serve others.  “The job application form I wrote was idiosyncratic.  I typed questions like, ‘How has your sense of humor been useful to you in your service career?’  ‘What was so wrong about your last job?’  ‘Do you prefer Hellmann’s or Miracle Whip?’  If you’re trying to provide engaging hospitality and outstanding technical service, there must also be a certain amount of fun involved, and those bizarre questions gave me an idea of whether or not applicants had a sense of humor.”

Danny’s approach was informed by his first job out of college where he served as a field coordinator in a political campaign.  “Learning to manage volunteers—to whom, absent a paycheck, ideas and ideals were the only currency—taught me to view all employees essentially as volunteers.  Today, even with compensation as a motivator, I know that anyone who works for my company chooses to do so because of what we stand for,” he writes.  “It’s up to us to provide solid reasons for our employees to want to work for us, over and beyond their compensation.”

More tomorrow.

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Reflection:  In what order would my organization rank team members, clients, community, suppliers, and investors?

Action: Discuss with my team or with a colleague.

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