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Service and Hospitality With Danny Meyer

Take a moment and think about one of your favorite places to eat, or your favorite place to shop…and now, think about your favorite airline and why you like to fly with them.

If you think I’m setting you up for something—you’re right, I am. I’m willing to bet that the businesses you like to support are those that have great products paired with even better service.

Of course, I’m not saying anything new when I say that good service goes a long way.

But stick with me.

Say you do provide good service in your restaurant. Your host seats guests immediately, the food comes out on time and at the perfect temperature, and guests can be found smiling with cleaned plates. By all standards, service was flawless—so why do the guests fail to return? Or yet, why can’t you get those positive online reviews?

At the 2nd Annual Colorado Restaurant Show, on the morning of the first snowfall in Denver for the 2017 winter season, Danny Meyer spoke to a full house not on the power of service in the industry, but rather, hospitality.

The 2017 Colorado Restaurant Show | Photo Credit Ruben Karel
Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and the founder of Shake Shack | Photo Credit Ruben Karel

After securing the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service in 1992 for his restaurant Union Square Café, Meyer reflected, “Emotionally, I always felt like an imposter in our industry.” Funny words to think about, coming from the Founder of hugely popular Shake Shack and the Founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) which currently boasts 18 successful restaurant concepts. But at the time, when Union Square Café lacked the tuxedo-clad servers found in other establishments, Meyer realized that perhaps their growing accolades had less to do with the technical delivery of the product, and rather the emotional component of the entire experience, “I said, ‘Maybe the word “service” is being confused with hospitality.’ Service is a great word to describe the tech deliverability of a product, but hospitality is about how did you make me feel.”

Excellent service, as it would be measured by Meyer, would get you just 49% on your test—but hospitality would be worth the remaining 51% on a 100-point test. Sitting down with another notable (and local!) hospitalian, Bobby Stuckey of Frasca Food and Wine, Meyer gave us a glimpse into what hospitality is, and why you should be practicing it.

Danny Meyer speaks with Bobby Stucker, Founder and Owner of Frasca Food + Wine, Pizzeria Locale, and Tavernetta

What’s On Your Invisible Sign?

For Meyer, the real key to providing hospitality is reading individuals well, “Every person that walks into the restaurant is looking for a reason why they’re there,” says Meyer. Wearing a sort of “invisible sign” around their necks, guest needs are distinct; you have to become a bit of a mind reader to figure out what these needs are. Maybe guests just want to be left alone, or maybe they want to tell you how much they know about food—the skilled hospitalian will be able to read each guest accurately and thoughtfully, anticipating the needs of customers and responding to them appropriately.

Is everyone currently on your staff capable of being a good hospitalian?

Maybe not.

Be Picky

You’ve heard the mantra, Hire Slow Fire Fast.

Meyer emphasizes that it’s impossible to teach someone emotional skills that they don’t have. Technical service operations like taking orders, carrying trays of food or processing payments can be learned. But holding open a door, or helping a guest to his/her car with an umbrella in the rain is a level of awareness that individuals either possess, or they don’t. When assembling your dream team, figure out what skills you pride and look for them during the hiring process.

Still, hiring the right, enthusiastic people to start is just the beginning. Can that level of hospitality and enthusiasm maintain itself over time? Life happens, and an employee’s initial level of enthusiasm could drop—and that’s perfectly natural. But it’s easier to tackle problems if you spot the downward trajectory early on. It’s up to managers to consistently evaluate themselves and the team and recognize if an employee’s “Jazz Level” is too low. For Meyer, the proverbial ‘life/work’ balance isn’t real, “the real balance is mind, body, spirit and heart.”

Check in with employees regularly and be just as intuitive and empathetic to your staff as you are with your guests. In many cases, employees may not be fulfilled with what they’re doing anymore, which is why Meyer insists that you provide employees with enough runway for their own career. “Burn out” is common across all sectors, and the risk of that happening increases even more when a business scales. One way of combating employee fatigue is updating the organizational chart for the business more frequently. “More people and more layers isn’t always the answer,” says Meyer, “You disempower everyone when you add too many layers.” Current goals for Meyer include pushing more talent back into the restaurants and in front of the guests.

Pioneering a New Category With Shake Shack

Serving up burgers, fries, frozen custard and more, to some Shake Shack is nothing more than a glorified burger joint.

But to others, it’s a phenomenon that’s gathering believers across the country. Growing from its humble roots as a hot dog stand in New York’s City Madison Square Park in 2004 to more than 136 locations nationwide, Shake Shack is becoming a cult favorite that even surprised Meyer himself.

Still, he attributes the success of Shake Shack to one simple concept.

Calling it, “fine casual,” Meyer believes that there are plenty of people who want good food delivered in less time and at less cost than at a full service restaurant—and judging by the long lines at Shake Shack, he’s right. Keeping the same high quality purveyors for his fine dining restaurants, Meyer ditched the full service costs of a pastry chef, service manager, sommelier, reservations system, tablecloths, flowers and more. The result? Diners get “about 80 percent of the quality that you would have gotten in a fine-dining restaurant,” says Meyer to 60 Minutes’ Anderson Cooper, “[and] we’re gonna save you about 80 percent of the money you’d spend in a fine-dining restaurant.”

I can think of another contender in the Fine Casual space—local favorite Larkburger, which bills itself as “culinary for the people,” makes everything on the menu from scratch and feature an outstanding waste diversion program. Pioneers like Larkburger and Shake Shack are literally “shaking” up the industry—and if you’re like me, you’re pretty excited about it.

Get Started!

Meyer’s diverse portfolio of restaurants dispels the notion that practicing good hospitality is specific to concept or brand. It doesn’t matter if you operate a fine dining restaurant, a fast casual one or a “fine casual” concept, good food, good service and good hospitality is the winning trifecta that will forever remain sector-agnostic.

It’s a simple concept really, but one that requires consistency and discipline. Because at the end of every day—and the key word here is “every”—your customers should feel better when they leave your restaurant than when they come in.

About Natalie Fauble

Natalie Fauble is the Online Marketing Manager - Content & SEO for Tundra Restaurant Supply. As a digital marketer with a passion for the restaurant industry, Natalie helps companies shape their brand through thoughtful, fun and innovative content strategies. When she isn't blogging for Tundra Restaurant Supply you can find her in her vegetable garden or in the kitchen whipping up one of her favorite dishes.

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