1: World renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer had just opened up his new restaurant Blue Smoke in New York City.  As he was walking around, he noticed something.  A couple in the back was “gazing out at the trees in the courtyard,” he recalls in his terrific book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.

“I could sense that they were debating whether they liked their ribs, so I went over to greet them,” Danny writes.  “Where are you from?” he asked. 

“We’re from Kansas City,” the man said. 

“We’re going to have a tough time living up to the barbecue standards of your hometown,” Danny replied.  As they chatted, he learned they had just moved to Manhattan and they were excited to have a real pit barbecue restaurant in their neighborhood.

“You know, in Kansas City they give you more than one kind of sauce. Would you ever consider serving a sweeter and spicier sauce than this?” the man asked.

Danny’s hunch was right: something had been on their minds.  Now he knew what it was.  And, most importantly, he now knew how to make a connection. 

“It’s interesting to hear you say that,” Danny said, “because we’re actually working on a Kansas City–style sauce right now in the kitchen.  Would you like to be the first guests to try it?”

Of course they would!  From that moment forward, the couple from Kansas City would have “a sense of ownership in the restaurant,” Danny reflects.  

2: This encounter is an example of what Danny calls ABCD: Always Be Collecting Dots.  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.  At each restaurant, Danny and his team are always collecting “dots.”  

What are 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.”

Providing world-class hospitality is all about paying attention.  “Whenever I see that the direction of someone’s eyes is not bisecting the center of the table, then a visit may be warranted.  I am not certain that something is wrong, but I am certain that there is an opportunity to make a connection without feeling like an intruder.”

Being aware.  Being perceptive.  In these exchanges, Danny is collecting information about who his guests are and how they feel about their experience.  Many times, it’s very simple, says Danny:  “Hospitality can, in the right instance, involve little more than standing nearby and allowing my body language to smile at the guests,” he writes.  

Danny encourages all of his managers to take ten minutes a day to take a special interest in the clients.  The math is straight-forward: Make three gestures each day that exceed expectations.  “That translates into 1,000 such gestures every year, multiplied by over 100 outstanding managers throughout our restaurants.”  

That adds up to a lot of repeat business.

As leaders, Danny also encourages us to watch our staff members and colleagues: “Are they enjoying one another’s company?  And are they focused on their work?” Danny reflects.  “If the answer to both questions is yes, I feel confident that we’re at the top of our game.  Think about every time you’ve walked into a restaurant or an office, or even looked into the dugout at a baseball game.  When the team is having fun and is focused, the chances are very good that the team will win.”

3: It all gets back to finding meaning and purpose in our work.  

“I realize that I don’t have to do this kind of thing, but there is simply no point for me—or anyone on my staff—to work hard every day for the purpose of offering guests an average experience,” Danny writes.  “I want to hear: ‘We love your restaurant, we adore the food, but your people are what we treasure most about being here.’  That’s the reaction that makes me most proud and tells me we’re succeeding on all levels.”


Reflection:  How can I take Danny’s ABCD (always be collecting dots) and apply it in my life or in my organization?

Action:  Discuss with a colleague or my team.

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