Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City, sat down with Ellen Koteff, the FoodChannelPRO Editor in Chief, as part of the first in a series of leadership interviews entitled, “Leaders with Guts.”
This video series is part of the new FoodChannelPRO, and we think even those who don’t work in the food industry will hang on every word. It was my privilege to serve as producer; here’s a little of what I observed.
It took him 15 minutes to get through the dining room, and it could have been longer if he wasn’t trying to honor his appointment with us.
And, apparently, that’s normal for Danny Meyer. He’s the type of restaurateur who thinks that guests in his restaurants should be treated as, well, guests. They are cherished visitors to him, people who have decided to spend a little of their hard-earned money on the food and service his restaurants provide.
His attitude toward hospitality is just part of what made his interview so mesmerizing. It’s as though he has an inbred understanding of the rules of engaging with people with honesty.
1. He allows time. It’s so easy for busy people to look distracted, and to hurry through introductions. But my observation of Meyer is that he treats each encounter as important, and worthy of him stopping, listening, engaging. Yes, he has to move on, but he does it only after connecting.
2. He listens. Although we had him for three hours of mostly him answering our questions, there were times when you could tell he was listening intently to the nuances beyond the words. There was a stillness about him that told you, ‘He’s aware.’
3. He reacts. Whether it’s attending to the need of a guest, responding to a criticism or a compliment, or making the grand gesture of sending a beautifully plated appetizer to the table, he acknowledges your presence.
If all restaurant owners carried those traits, imagine the flocks of people waiting to get in for the evening meal. Because we all want to have someone make time for us, listen to us, and react to our needs and desires.
To Meyer, that’s at least part of the meaning of hospitality. And, as well as he appears to know those ‘rules,’ he’s also good at breaking other rules. His book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, mentions that part of his approach to business is asking the paradigm-shifting questions, such as ‘Who ever wrote the rule that the only way to enjoy luxurious fine dining is in the environment of a stuffy restaurant with tuxedo-clad waiters and a stiff, hushed atmosphere?’ And, ‘Who ever wrote the rule that if you love Indian spices and Indian breads, you should be able to enjoy them only in the context of a purely classical Indian restaurant?’
In our interview series on the new FoodChannelPRO, we bring you the full interview with Meyer, and you can see for yourself how he built Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, The Modern, Café 2, Terrace 5, Maialino and Hudson Yards.
By the end of the series, he’ll have you eating out of his hand; you’ll want to return time and time again. That’s the impact of a great host, one who demonstrates how hospitality works.
Read more about Danny Meyer.
|Part of the FoodChannelPRO™ special edition, featuring Leaders with Guts sponsored by:|