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Danny Meyer is widely regarded as the dean of restaurant hospitality in the U.S. His New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group includes some of the most highly acclaimed and thriving restaurants in The City, including Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, Tabla, Shake Shack, and Café 2 and Terrace 5 at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as El Verano Taqueria and Box Frites at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
Ellen Koteff , Editor-in-Chief of FoodChannelPRO, sat down for an in-depth interview with the NYC foodservice maestro to try to probe into Meyer’s recipe for success in the volatile restaurant business.
Treat guests as guests
What we discovered is that he is a great listener—a man who connects with and really cares about people. He treats employees and colleagues with warmth and respect and his restaurant patrons as cherished guests.
When Meyer started the Union Square Café 25 years ago at the age of 27, he admits he didn’t know how to budget or how to do a P&L sheet, and basically didn’t know what else he didn’t know.
But he had an idea for a new restaurant. He had a gut feeling this restaurant would make people happy. It was a gutsy decision at a young age, the first of many, and he’s learned to trust his instincts in his career.
Your gut is usually right
“You’ve got to trust your gut,” Meyer says. “But I’ve learned it’s also important to surround yourself with good people, and to consult with those people who can prove that my gut instinct makes good business sense.” Still, Meyer won’t downplay the importance of his instincts. “Your gut is usually right,” he insists. “It’s so important to listen to it.”
In the restaurant business “you have to be risk willing,” Meyer explains. “To be a good entrepreneur you have to be able to infect other people with your enthusiasm, so that they want to come along for the ride.” As you grow, he says, it’s important not to lose that contagious “spirit of entrepreneurship.”
Don’t dwell on past success
When complimented on his success and business growth, Meyer tends to wave it aside. “Don’t get caught up in your own success,” he advises. He claims he doesn’t really think about success that way. “I feel like I’m always running for election,” he says. So he’s always campaigning, always showing guests and employees how much he cares.
You can’t phone it in
When Meyer’s operations began to expand, his initial thought was to keep them in close proximity, within walking distance—which most of them still are. “The restaurants at MOMA are a two-mile walk,” he admits. The basic idea is, Danny Meyer wants to be a regular presence at all Danny Meyer enterprises. In fine dining, “you can’t phone it in,” he says.
Hiring the right people
In any business, the ability to hire the right people is vital. No big secret, that. But Meyer looks for something else: the ability to care about others. In the hospitality business, he believes, you’ve got to “employ people who want to be in the business of taking care of people.”
FoodChannelPRO™ is the new beta site where food professionals can go for inspiration, menuing information, education and more. Partners in the new venture include Johnson & Wales University, CultureWaves®, MenuMax, Mintel International, Penton Media, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), Manifest Digital, and Noble.
Top Ten Things Seen at the 2010 NRA Show (abridged)
The National Restaurant Association just concluded its annual confab in Chicago. Here’s a quick look at some of what was seen and heard at the massive show at McCormick Place.
Honey as a flavor ingredient. We saw it in cheesecake, ice cream, cookies, marinades, drinks (hot and cold), candy and more.
The street trucks. These Twitter-talking trucks are fun to watch, particularly when you see their acceptance by mainstream restaurants. So, who’s out there starting the next big idea?
One of the coolest food items we saw was Twist Potatoes, a Korean invention that uses a simple and inexpensive machine to turn potatoes, zucchini, and carrots into an eye-catching side dish. Potatoes are twisted, fried, and then dipped in a choice of dried options, including bulgogi powder.
Coke’s new dispensing machines. They are all about personal choice and DIY. And everywhere we went, someone said, “Have you seen those cool Coke machines?”
The movement toward “whole animal” butchering and the use of all pieces and parts in the restaurant. We watched as a whole hog was butchered in front of a crowd and learned how Chef Rob Levitt of Mado, for one, sees pork sirloin as the next big cut of meat.
Okay, that’s five of the top ten. Here’s a link that will take you to the other half.
New Online Operator Resources Available from U.S. Foodservice
U.S. Foodservice has launched two new websites to help restaurant operators improve sales and efficiency by leveraging industry best practices. Foodsight™ and Beyond the Plate™ offer articles, tools, testimonials, product solutions and interactive features created to assist foodservice professionals in building their businesses. The digital resources inform, educate, inspire, train and connect restaurant operators with peers and consumers.
“Foodsight is based on our 150 years of experience in the industry and offers insightful, incisive and inciting information for the foodservice professional,” said Mark Eggerding, senior vice president, Street Sales, U.S. Foodservice. “The website includes the most insightful research in the industry and incisive recommendations that will incite restaurant owners to pursue a higher level of success.”
The site has six main sections:
Featured Category: In-depth articles on a different product category each quarter,
Market Insights: All the latest industry trends and research,
Business Solutions: A wealth of management tools,
Operator News: Operator profiles and success stories,
Additional Products: Information on other U.S. Foodservice exclusive brands, products and supplies, and
Resources: Valuable partner links and program information.
Beyond the Plate is an online, interactive resource center where foodies and professionals can learn about and discuss new products, marketplace trends and the art and enjoyment of good food. Visitors can access a wide range of food information, including recipes, training videos and interesting articles about food, dining and the culinary lifestyle. There is also a special “Ask the Chef” feature where visitors can get answers to their questions from U.S. Foodservice expert chefs.
This quarter, both Foodsight and Beyond the Plate are focusing on fresh produce and the challenges of offering healthy dining options.