That is one of the most important and powerful questions we can ask in business. 

1: Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, would teach sales people to understand “everyone goes through life with an invisible sign hanging around his or her neck reading, ‘make me feel important,'” Danny Meyer writes in Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.  

“The most successful people in any business that depends on human relationships are the ones who know about that invisible sign and have the vision to see how brightly it is flashing.  And the true champions know best how to embrace the human being wearing the sign.”

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.  With few exceptions, their restaurants have enjoyed increased revenues each successive year they’ve been open.  “The older our businesses become, the more popular they become,” Danny writes.

2: What is the secret to this incredible run of success?  

It starts with ABCD Always Be Collecting Dots.  “Dots are information. The more information you collect, the more frequently you can make meaningful connections that can make other people feel good and give you an edge in business,” Danny observes.  “The information is there. You just have to choose to look.”

Danny challenges his team to use the ABCD strategy to express more caring and creativity than guests expect: To connect and provide hospitality “by listening, using our imagination, and executing.”

There is always a story behind the story.  To find it, we have to be intentional about paying attention.  “On my rounds in our dining rooms, I’m constantly turning over rocks, hunting for those details—a guest’s impatient look or a glance at a watch, an untouched dish, a curious gaze at our artwork,” Danny notes.  “These details could indicate that someone is bored, impatient, in need of affection, puzzled, interested, or just daydreaming.  But each gesture is a potential opportunity for me to visit the table and provide some hospitality.”

3: Danny’s goal is “shared ownership” with his clientele.  For them to talk about a restaurant as if it’s theirs: “They can’t wait to share it with friends, and what they’re really sharing, beyond the culinary experience, is the experience of feeling important and loved,” Danny writes.  “That sense of affiliation builds trust and a sense of being accepted and appreciated, invariably leading to repeat business, a necessity for any company’s long-term survival.”

Danny notes that automobile companies and watchmakers have long understood people purchase their products not just because of how the product performs, but to tell a story about themselves.  “We want as many of our guests as possible to be proud to identify themselves with our restaurants.  Our job is to give people a story worth telling.”

And how do we do this?

By being genuinely interested in other people.  People take precisely as much interest in us as they believe we take in them.  “There is no stronger way to build relationships than taking a genuine interest in other human beings and allowing them to share their stories.” 

Danny constantly reminds his staff whenever appropriate to initiate a relationship with the guests they are serving.  “For example, it’s amazing how powerful it can be simply to ask guests where they are from. Often, that leads to making a connection because we know someone in common, or we’ve enjoyed the same restaurant, or we can share a sports story.” 

Danny writes: “If you own a restaurant and you’re fortunate enough to persuade someone to give it an initial try (no small feat), you’d better make a great impression and win the first round. I think that most businesses are better at coddling regulars than they are at focusing on first-timers. But both are crucial to any business; although it’s obviously important to keep your steady clientele happy, life depends on auspicious beginnings!”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Danny’s ABCD (always be collecting dots) strategy applies in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.  How might I put this idea to work with my spouse, kids, parents, or friends? 

Action:  Journal about it.

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