Restaurateur Danny Meyer opened Union Square Cafe in New York City when he was just 27 years old.  It was his first restaurant.  He had invested all of his savings and had raised money from friends and family to make his dream a reality.

Naturally, he was sensitive to restaurant reviews.

“I still remember a review in a column called ‘The Restaurant Rotator,’ he recalls in his book Setting the Table.  “The writer, who called herself The Rotator, compared her dining experience at Union Square Cafe to being served by the Stepford wives.  I had to look up the reference; at the time, I didn’t know what she meant.  She apparently found it objectionable and disingenuous that we were hiring naturally friendly people and allowing their personalities to shine through in the dining room. This cynical review stung me, but it didn’t hurt the restaurant or in any way change the way I chose to do business.”


Because “I had already learned that the trick to delivering superior hospitality was to hire genuine, happy, optimistic people,” Danny writes.

Yesterday, we looked at Danny’s business strategy which is focused on hospitality.  Today, we explore the difference between “hospitality” and “service.”

Understanding this distinction has been at the foundation of his success, Danny believes.

“It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top,” Danny observes.  “Service is the technical delivery of a product.  Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel.”

So what exactly is service?

“When you are seated at the precise time of your reservation at the exact table and with the waiter you requested, that is a reflection of good service,” Danny observes. “When the right food is delivered to the right person at the right table at the right temperature at the right time—that’s service.  When you see a member of the wait staff decanting a bottle of wine with care and grace, that’s service.  When your empty plate is cleared from the table in a graceful manner, that too is service.  When, in answer to your question, the waiter can explain the nuances of the wines on our list, that’s service.”  

Service is how an organization decides to do things and what standards are set.  Service is a monologue.  

“Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue.  To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response,” Danny writes.  “Hospitality, which most distinguishes our restaurants—and ultimately any business—is the sum of all the thoughtful, caring, gracious things our staff does to make you feel we are on your side when you are dining with us.”

Service without hospitality can feel clinical.  Danny references The Ritz-Carlton hotels which he believes are “deservedly famous” for the high level of service they provide to their guests.  

Yet… “as a guest there, I have occasionally sensed a rote quality in the process, when every employee responds with exactly the same phrase, ‘My pleasure,’ to anything guests ask or say.  Hearing “My pleasure” over and over again can get rather creepy after a while. It’s like hearing a flight attendant chirp “Bye now!” and “Bye-bye!” 200 times as passengers disembark from an airplane.”  

Hospitality, by contrast, is a two-way relationship.  “I instruct my staff members to figure out whatever it takes to make the guests feel and understand that we are in their corner,” Danny writes.  

There is a lesson here for all of us.  Delivering a high-level of “service” to our clients is obviously key to organizational success.  But there is a higher standard: hospitality where our clients feel truly cared for.


Reflection:  How might my organization deliver “hospitality” in addition to a high level of “service”?

Action: Discuss with a colleague or at my next team meeting.

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