1: Imagine dining at an expensive restaurant.  

“Everything is delivered perfectly, cleared perfectly, decanted perfectly,” writes Danny Meyer in Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.

Yet, something is missing.  

“It’s not fun. It’s not sincere. There’s no soul. It’s a perfectly executed but imperfect experience,” he writes.

“It’s remarkable to me how many businesses shine brightly when it comes to acing the tasks but emanate all the warmth of a cool fluorescent light,” Danny observes. “That explains how a flawless four-star restaurant can actually attract far fewer loyal fans than a two-or three-star place with soul.”

2: Danny and his team have created some of New York’s most beloved restaurants, cafes, and bars (currently 18 venues). What is one of the biggest reasons behind their incredible track record in the most demanding, most competitive restaurant market in the world?

Hire 51 percenters.

When hiring, most organizations focus on skills and experience. And certainly, technical excellence is important. 49 percent important.  

What’s even more important? 51 percent important? Innate emotional skills and hospitality.

“I first learned this concept of ’51 percent’ from the dynamic restaurateur Rich Melman of Chicago,” Danny writes. It’s “now it is a cornerstone of my business. . . I tell new employees right off the bat that for their salary review, 51 percent of any raise or bonus is set by how they’re faring at the emotional skills necessary to do their job well, and 49 percent is tied to technical performance. That’s the perfect balance for us, and it’s the currency of our company.”

51 percenters are the secret ingredient to creating a business with soul.

“Somehow in our society a mindset took hold many years ago, whereby the only way for a restaurant (or any business, for that matter) to be taken seriously was to act serious,” Danny reflects.

He takes a different tact: “I encourage my staff to express and reveal their humanness, learn from their mistakes, lighten up, and relax. This is a contribution to the dialogue on hospitality that we work at quite consciously,” writes Danny. “A good sense of humor—about oneself, one’s business, and life in general—goes a long way toward fostering good feelings to accompany excellent performance.”

The idea of hiring people with the emotional skills to their job well is similar to the concept of Emotional Intelligence or EQ which is described as our “ability to recognize and understand emotions in [ourselves] and others, and [our] ability to use this awareness to manage [our] behavior and relationships,” write Dr. Travis Bradberry and Dr. Jean Greaves in their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0

Does EQ have an impact on our professional success?  “The short answer is: a lot!” write Travis and Jean.  “EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58 percent of performance in all types of jobs.  It’s the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.”

Being a 51 percenter is a similar concept to EQ.  What does Danny believe is the one thing all 51 percenters share?

They are driven by a desire to be the very best at what they do. “The ability to derive enjoyment from the pursuit of excellence is the best way to measure the team’s 51-49 ratio, and it allows me to feel assured that we’re doing our job as well as we can,” Danny observes.

3: Why is this approach so important? Because the stakes are high.  

“The human beings who animate our restaurants have far more impact on whether we succeed than any of the food ingredients we use, the décor of our dining rooms, the bottles of wine in our cellars, or even the location of the restaurants,” Danny notes.  

Hiring 51 percenters is a winning strategy. “Over the years, the most consistent compliment we’ve received and the one I am always proudest to hear is “I love your restaurants, and the food is fantastic. But what I really love is how great your people are.” 

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Think about my organization’s hiring criteria. Do we intentionally seek to hire people who demonstrate Emotional Intelligence?

Action: Discuss with my team or with a colleague. 


Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Dr. Travis Bradberry and Dr. Jean Greaves

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