If any family members or good friends were to come to me and say they want to open a restaurant, I would beg them to pick another business. But Danny Meyer, owner of the Union Square Cafe in Manhattan and author of Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, has somehow survived — and even thrived — in one of the most competitive markets in the world. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing him speak, which provided some insight into his success.
I believe many of his philosophies, some of which are listed below, apply to all of us in business. As always, I will offer some editorial comments:
- Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.
- Hospitality is the foundation of Meyer’s business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction.
- Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of Meyer’s success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes the recipient feel. (Editorial comment: In the past, I’ve shared David Maister’s famous concept of the difference between quality service and quality work.)
- Meyer credits several mentors for his success. (Editorial comment: Who are your mentors? The older I get, the more I am reminded of the impact made by those who mentored me, including my dad. I find myself quoting my dad, a career postal worker, more than ever.)
- Invest in your community. A business that understands how powerful it is to create wealth for the community stands a much higher chance of creating wealth for its own investors. (Editorial comment: As I’ve learned, investment in the community is also very important to your team members, especially those under 30.)
- Meyer has a list of traits he looks for in his managers, and it includes an infectious attitude, self-awareness, patience and tough love, and not feeling threatened by others.
- Meyer provides a great list of trust versus fear, including empowering v. ruling, giving v. selfishness, listening v. telling, and hopeful v. cynical.
When I heard Meyer speak, the comment that impacted me the most was related to his 5-step plan for addressing mistakes with a customer: Awareness, Acknowledgement, Apology, Action and Additional Generosity. It was this last step that really resonated with me. Meyer instructs his team to do something special for a guest whose experience has been less than stellar, such as offering them an extra dessert or even a complimentary meal, depending on how bad the mistake was. In my experience, this is where many of us fall short. We may already have lost money on the transaction, so giving more away isn’t natural — but I think Meyer is on to something.
Especially in today’s tech-dominated world, I strongly believe businesses that are able to provide a personal touch have a major competitive advantage. As an example, I have a client who recently purchased a pontoon boat, and he received a phone call from the owner of the boat manufacturer. How do you think he felt? How many other potential boat-buyers has he told — and will he tell — about his experience? Better yet, this client started calling his own customers, which has led to great success.