1: We never know when inspiration will strike or where it will come from.  

“I can’t believe I’m doing this LSAT thing tomorrow. I don’t even want to be a lawyer,” Danny Meyer told his uncle.  He was 25 years old and having dinner with his family at Elio’s restaurant in New York City.

“So why are you?” his uncle replied in an exasperated tone. “You know you don’t want to be a lawyer.  Why don’t you just do what you’ve been thinking about doing your whole life?” 

“What’s that?” Danny asked. 

“What do you mean, ‘What’s that’? Since you were a child, all you’ve ever talked or thought about is food and restaurants. Why don’t you just open a restaurant?” 

The idea felt “both foreign and like an absolute bull’s-eye,” Danny remembers in his book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.

Danny never applied to law school.  Instead, two years later he opened Union Square Cafe, which has been ranked eight times as “Favorite New York Restaurant” by the Zagat Survey.

Danny’s success as a restaurateur is legendary.  He’s “opened and operated five white-tablecloth restaurants; an urban barbecue joint; a feel-good jazz club; a neo-roadside stand selling frozen custard, burgers, and hot dogs; three modern museum cafés; and an off-premises, restaurant-quality catering company.” The roadside stand? Shake Shack.

2: To what does Danny attribute his success?

“Enlightened hospitality.”  Which is a way of setting priorities that turns traditional business approaches on their head.  

“Prioritizing,” Danny explains, “in the following order is the guiding principal for practically every decision we make, and it has made the single greatest contribution to the ongoing success of our company:” 

Our employees 

Our guests 

Our community 

Our suppliers 

Our investors

3: The bottom line?  Danny doesn’t focus on the bottom line first.  

“I place the interests of our investors fifth, but not because I don’t want to earn a lot of money. On the contrary, I staunchly believe that standing conventional business priorities on their head ultimately leads to even greater, more enduring financial success,” Danny explains.  

His model begins with focusing on the associates who deliver the highest level of service: “The interests of our own employees must be placed directly ahead of those of our guests because the only way we can consistently earn raves, win repeat business, and develop bonds of loyalty with our guests is first to ensure that our own team members feel jazzed about coming to work.” 

Team members who are “jazzed” about their work are more likely to deliver the highest level of service and connect with restaurant guests in a meaningful way.  

“Enlightened hospitality is a business model designed for long-term, sustained profitability,” Danny writes.  “To prioritize differently breaks the virtuous cycle of enlightened hospitality and seriously compromises the chances that your business will achieve excellence, success, good will, and soul.”

What’s at the heart of Danny’s philosophy of business? 

“In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships,” says Danny.  “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel.  It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

Much more about Danny Meyer this week. 


Reflection:  Force rank how we currently prioritize the five stakeholders listed above in our organization.   

Action:  Discuss with a colleague or at a team meeting.  Today.

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