Cliff Notes: Setting The Table by Danny Meyers

By September 19, 2016Book Notes
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Within moments of being born, most babies find themselves receiving the first four gifts of life: eye contact, a smile, a hug, and some food.

I’ve learned how crucially important it is to put hospitality to work
In order to succeed, you need to apply—simultaneously—exceptional skills in selecting real estate, negotiating, hiring, training, motivating, purchasing, budgeting, designing, manufacturing, cooking, tasting, pricing, selling, servicing, marketing, and hosting.

This is not a typical business book, and it’s certainly not a how-to book. I don’t enjoy being told how—or that—I ought to do something; and I’m equally uncomfortable doling out advice without having been asked for it.

I’ve done no research, gathered no evidence, and interviewed no one else. But I hope that admission won’t stop you from enjoying it.

In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships.

Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.
I’VE LEARNED MORE OF what I know about life from people than from books, and I’ve learned much of what I know about people from the food they eat.

the first thing I do in my first free moments in a town is visit its food markets, pastry shops, butchers, and grocery stores.

I read menus posted outside restaurants. I watch the residents argue back and forth with the merchants over the virtues of their wares. When I meet people who look like locals, I ask them where they’d eat if they had only one or two days in town, as I do. Cultures that care deeply about food I’m constantly on the lookout for local idiosyncrasies, ways of eating that exist nowhere else. And I’m always energized by a hunt for the best version of any local specialty.

I walk into butcher shops—not necessarily to buy, but to observe how people select their cuts of meat and and sausage.
From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been eating with my eyes, nose, and mouth.
When I brought my lunch from home to elementary school, I swapped and shared sandwiches, not because the other kids’ lunches were better, but because this was the best way I knew of to learn about another family.

I observed that some families chose Heinz ketchup, while others used Hunt’s or Brooks. I got to know and cared about the differences in the flavors of these ketchups.

My discoveries have also convinced me that there’s always someone out there who has figured out how to make something taste just a little bit better.

When I decided to create Tabla, our Indian-inspired restaurant, I wrote a list of ten things that one could ordinarily expect of an Indian restaurant in New York—they included a predictable menu; ornate décor with background sitar music; and austere service and hospitality. Then I asked myself what Tabla might add to these expectations—what it could perhaps add to the dialogue New Yorkers already had with Indian restaurants.
my passion is always to explore the object of my interest in depth

Creating restaurants or even recipes is like composing music: there are only so many notes in the scale from which all melodies and harmonies are created.

The trick is to put those notes together in a way not heard before.
For us, the ongoing challenge has been to combine the best elements of fine dining with accessibility—in other words, with open arms.

The hug that came with the food made it taste even better!
Hospitality is the foundation of my business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction.

Dad also took risks as a businessman. He was always coming up with exciting new ideas based on his love of travel and food, and on his constant drive
The value he added was to offer highly imaginative itineraries and use the underlying buying power of group travel to create an extraordinary rapport between price and quality.

He was a terrific writer and editor, and his direct mailings inspired me—years later—to
He was always after me to correct every grammatical mistake I made or delete every superfluous word
Once again, he had to inform his family—his second wife, Vivian, and his three children and their spouses—about a failure. Because each of his doomed experiences was marked by overly rapid expansion, I have always been afraid to expand my business too quickly.

Still, I’ve been willing to make a $1 million bet on a new restaurant. I’m far more inclined to take risks when I’m essentially betting on myself, but I can do that only because I’ve surrounded myself with highly talented people of solid integrity.

My father, on the other hand, never felt compelled to surround himself with people who were better or smarter at anything than he believed he was He had a greater need to feel important, to be agreed with, to be the king.
It was no coincidence that he named his company after Caesar. While I, too, love sitting in the captain’s chair, my greatest joy comes not from going it alone, but from leading an ensemble.
Hospitality is a team sport.
I would be able to “leave the campsite neater than I had found it.” (That concept remains, for me, one of the most significant measures of success in business, and in life.)

I believe that anyone who is qualified for a job in our company is also qualified for many other jobs at the same pay scale.
The joy I was experiencing each day by setting my own personal and professional agenda made it increasingly clear to me that I would never go to work for someone else.

I worked for myself out of my own walk-up apartment on the East Side. I had built my own little business within a business,
creating my own schedule, plotting my own tactics, and exceeding whatever goals were set for me.

I had begun to understand that business and life have a lot in common with a hug.Also, the owners ran the restaurant more emotionally than professionally,
I scribbled in my journal, chronicling and decoding every component that defined the distinctive allure of a trattoria or ristorante.

Beyond describing dishes I had loved, the journal entries included notes and sketches for lighting fixtures, menus, architecture, flooring, and seating plans, and—tellingly—notes about how I felt treated wherever I slept or dined.
I was developing my vision of my future restaurant by getting to know myself
My culinary education in Europe had provided the necessary foundation with which to communicate clearly about food with chefs in their own language.

(To this day, getting an assignable lease is the first piece of advice I give any new restaurateur.) In my search for the ideal Back then, an excellent restaurant was too often confused with an expensive restaurant.
I sensed a lot of upside and felt protected against the downside.

That is an awesome accomplishment, but replicating something already in existence isn’t where my own business or design sense has ever guided me.

One of the core business lessons I have taken from the continued success of Union Square Cafe is that willingness to overcome difficult circumstances is a crucial character trait in my employees, partners, and restaurants.
My brain was looking for people with restaurant skills, but my heart was beseeching me to cultivate a restaurant family.

The job application form I wrote was idiosyncratic. I typed questions like, “How has your sense of humor been useful to you in your service career?” “What was so wrong about your last job?” “Do you prefer Hellmann’s or Miracle Whip?” If you’re trying to provide engaging hospitality and outstanding technical service, there must also be a certain amount of fun involved, and those bizarre questions gave me an idea of whether or not applicants had a sense of humor.

Were my tears in part about his not being there? Or were they because I now knew that I didn’t need him to be there? In any case, this was my moment to achieve something on my own.

IN THOSE FIRST WEEKS and months it didn’t take me long to learn that very little makes guests madder than having to wait for their reserved table or their food.

I was developing what I would call an “athletic” approach to hospitality, sometimes playing offense, sometimes playing defense, but always wanting to find a way to win.

“I really want you to know how important it is to me that we earn back your trust,” I pleaded. “I know we made you wait too long for your food. Your time is valuable and I feel horrible. Is there anything I can do to earn back your patronage?” “There’s nothing you can do,”
innovation. I wanted to blend the best of European fine dining with the ease and comfort of American style.
when I had been urged to read the menu “from right to left”—that is, prices first.
4. I was appalled that in America some restaurants charged $18 for entree portions of only passable pasta. And I saw offering value as a great opportunity to distinguish us from the rest of the pack.
service. “We have fun taking service seriously,” he said. “And as for perfection, we just hide our mistakes better than anyone else!”

Then I’d arrive, be seated, and after a while look disbelievingly at my watch and say, “It seems my guest isn’t showing up.” This approach worked at a series of highly rated restaurants, all of which had initially refused to take “just me.” These experiences led to a determination that in my restaurant solo diners would be treated with extra courtesy and respect.

I was viewed either as an economic nuisance, occupying a table that could otherwise have generated more revenue, or as someone paying the restaurant a compliment by choosing to eat there.

I summoned the haughty sommelier and proceeded to order a very expensive bottle of wine, bringing my tab to far more than what a typical deuce would have spent. Not surprisingly, I was soon deemed worthy of his attention. He may not have learned a lesson, but I had. I swore always to treat the guest who orders Soave exactly as I would the one who orders Chassagne-Montrachet.

I knew that treating solo diners as royalty was both the right thing to do and smart business.
I have always felt that solo guests pay us the ultimate compliment by joining us for a meal. Their visit has no ulterior motive (it involves no business, romance, or socializing). These guests simply want to do something nice for themselves, chez nous. Why wouldn’t we reward that?

What mattered most to me was trying to provide maximum value in exchange not just for the guests’ money but also for their time.Anything that unnecessarily disrupts a guest’s time with his or her companions or disrupts the enjoyment of the meal undermines hospitality.

I appreciate the grace with which a table can be properly cleared. I admire the elegance with which a bottle of wine can be appropriately opened, decanted, and poured. There’s aesthetic value in doing things the right way.
Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success.
Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel.

Service is a monologue—we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service.
Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.

When you are seated at the precise time of your reservation at the exact table and with the waiter you requested, that is a reflection of good service.When the right food is delivered to the right person at the right table at the right temperature at the right time—that’s service.

When you see a member of the waitstaff decanting a bottle of wine with care and grace, that’s service.
When your empty plate is cleared from the table in a graceful manner, that too is service.

But hospitality, which most distinguishes our restaurants—and ultimately any business—is the sum of all the thoughtful, caring, gracious things our staff does to make you feel we are on your side when you are dining with us.
I had already learned that the trick to delivering superior hospitality was to hire geniune, happy, optimistic people.

Hospitality cannot flow from a monologue. I instruct my staff members to figure out whatever it takes to make the guests feel and understand that we are in their corner.
cringe when a waiter asks, “How is everything?” That’s an empty question that will get an empty response.
“Are you still working on the lamb?” If the guest has been working on the lamb, it probably wasn’t very tender or very good in the first place.

the waiter should not answer, “No problem.” Since when is it necessary to deny that delivering excellent service is a “problem”? A genuine “You’re welcome” is always the appropriate response.
To this day, I always want any new restaurant I open to become a “lunch haunt” for some core group of loyal customers.

IN THOSE EARLY DAYS, I benefited hugely from an unexpected mentor who helped me clarify and execute my vision.
Pat wanted people to have a great time in his restaurant, and he focused all his energy and passion on making certain that his staff missed no detail.

(In later years, that gave me the confidence not to fret too much over the long lines at Shake Shack. They’re part of the experience.)

Robert Chadderdon is, to be sure, a man who steadfastly walks down one path in life: his own.
Each bottle is a living extension of a living human relationship. Thanks in part to Bob, I first discoveredR
To this day, Union Square Cafe remains the purest expression of me and most clearly represents the mission of all my restaurants:

There’s always a story behind a story if you look for it; and you can augment your success at “hooking” customers by taking the care, time, and interest to look.
my rounds in our dining rooms, I’m constantly turning over rocks, hunting for those details—a guest’s impatient look or a glance at a watch, an untouched dish, a curious gaze at our artwork. These details could indicate that someone is bored, impatient, in need of affection, puzzled, interested, or just

It’s human nature for people to take precisely as much interest in you as they believe you’re taking in them. There is no stronger way to build relationships than taking a genuine interest in other human beings and allowing them to share their stories. When we take an active interest in the guests at our restaurants, we create a sense of community and a feeling of “shared ownership.”

Shared ownership develops when guests talk about a restaurant as if it’s theirs. They can’t wait to share it with friends, and what they’re really sharing, beyond the culinary experience, is the experience of feeling important and loved.

For example, it’s amazing how powerful it can be simply to ask guests where they are from. Often, that leads to making a connection because we know someone in common, or we’ve enjoyed the same restaurant, or we can share a sports story.
I went to the kitchen for a pitcher of that sauce and brought it back out to the table. The man poured some on his brisket (something a Texan would never do). “This,” he said beaming, “takes me home!” I asked for his business card, and later wrote him a note when Blue Smoke began offering Kansas City–style barbecue sauce.

I’m certain that this couple felt a sense of ownership in the restaurant after our encounter. As far as they were concerned, they were in part responsible for our putting the new sauce on the table. That’s the kind of dialogue we want to have. Hospitality can exist only when there is human dialogue.

I’m not there just to greet and shake hands. I’m building daily communities within the restaurant’s larger community. I urge our managers to ABCD—always be collecting dots.
Dots are information. The more information you collect, the more frequently you can make meaningful connections that can make other people feel good and give you an edge in business.

Using whatever information I’ve collected to gather guests together in a spirit of shared experience is what I call connecting the dots.
When the team is having fun and is focused, the chances are very good that the team will win.
Whenever I see that the direction of someone’s eyes is not bisecting the center of the table, then a visit may be warranted.

I am not certain that something is wrong, but I am certain that there is an opportunity to make a connection without feeling like an intruder.

I consider that the ultimate compliment, and I’m also hoping that today’s solo diner will host tomorrow’s party of four.
in our other restaurants are presented with both a check and a comment card, an idea I had first seen while I was at Early on, I responded personally to every comment card, but today that is the job of our chefs and managers, who read up to 100 cards a week. It’s an excellent way to build trust, encourage and enrich dialogue, and give our guests the confidence that,

One of the oldest sayings in business is “The customer is always right.” I think that’s become a bit outdated. I want to go on the offensive to create opportunities for our customers to feel that they are being heard even when they’re not right.

HAVE ALWAYS VIEWED excellence as a journey rather than a destination.
It is the athlete’s nature to call on all resources to compete and win.

If I see a new area code or zip code on our reservations list, or if I notice that some guests come from as far away as, for instance, St. Paul, Minnesota; Highland Park, Illinois; or Cambridge, Massachusetts, I will make sure that these guests get special attention. We might ask them how they heard about us. We might ask them if they are in town on business or a vacation.

We will ask where else they’ll be dining while they are in New York. That opens a dialogue with them, as well as an opportunity to send them to one of our other restaurants—where they can expect to get another special welcome.
If you own a restaurant and you’re fortunate enough to persuade someone to give it an initial try (no small feat), you’d better make a great impression and win the first round. I think that most businesses are better at coddling regulars than they are at focusing on first-timers.

Even so, our batting average is pretty good. I’d guess we succeed at earning repeat business over 70 percent of the time.
I’m deeply grateful when regulars who dine with us three or four times a week think of our restaurant not just as another destination but also as their club—or better still, as an extension of their family and home. My goal is to earn regular, repeat patronage from a large number of people—40 percent of our lunch business and 25 percent of our dinner business—who will dine at our restaurants six to twelve times a year.

Almost any watch tells time; every car can get you from point A to point B; and every restaurant can feed you. Just as my choice of a watch to wear and a car to drive (and be seen driving) says something about me, so too does my choice of where I dine frequently.

We want as many of our guests as possible to be proud to identify themselves with our restaurants. Our job is to give people a story worth telling.

When a reservation indicates that a guest is dining at one of our restaurants for the first time, we’ll make sure the host knows.
I encourage each manager to take ten minutes a day to make three gestures that exceed expectations and take a special interest in our guests.

Every time somebody makes a reservation on the Internet, that’s one less telephone call for our reservationist to handle.
can know what their favorite table is, or if they have a favorite (or least favorite) server. I can know when a guest’s birthday or anniversary is. I can know if guests are regulars at our other restaurants—in which case I’m even more pleased to see them coming in to try another one of our restaurants for the first time. All this adds up to a gold mine of information, which allows us to connect all sorts of dots.

Our job is not to impose our own needs on our guests: it’s to be aware of their needs and to deliver the goods accordingly. In hospitality, one size fits one! Always start with the one who most need feel important!”
Mary Kay would teach the sales people that everyone goes through life with an invisible sign hanging around his or her neck reading, “make me feel important.”

The most successful people in any business that depends on human relationships are the ones who know about that invisible sign and have the vision to see how brightly it is flashing. And the true champions know best how to embrace the human being wearing the sign.

People immediately feel good and are surprised that I would know this. But why wouldn’t I? If I want our guests to take an interest in us, I’d better take an equal interest in them.

The ABCD strategy—always be collecting dots—had I will throw myself into a new venture only when certain criteria are met: I am passionate about the subject matter (i.e., early American folk
I know I will derive some combination of challenge, satisfaction, and pleasure from the venture.
It presents meaningful opportunities for professional growth for my colleagues and
indicate the possibility of sufficient profit and returns on our investment to warrant the risk we’re undertaking.
My ultimate mission for any new restaurant is always to begin with a subject I love,
zero in on what I enjoy most about it, and then envision a new context for it.
take something that is already accessible (such as frozen custard) and try to make it better; or I take what’s excellent (a selection of artisanal cheeses or a wine list) and try to present it in a more user-friendly context.
I’m never out to invent a new cuisine.

Instead, I’m interested in creating a fresh “hybrid” dining experience; and then, like a museum curator, I strive to put a complementary frame around it, find the right wall to hang it on, and aim just the proper lighting on it.
“Who ever wrote the rule…?” Who ever wrote the rule, for example, that you shouldn’t be able to enjoy a refined dining experience, with the finest ingredients, served on Limoges china, in a rustic tavern?

Or that you can’t serve slow-smoked pulled pork with a glass of champagne or Chianti Classico, just off Park Avenue?

Whether the topic is poached striped bass, tuna tartare, a BLT, or a cup of hot chocolate, I challenge my chefs to tell me exactly what they’re planning to do differently from or better than the next guy.
I always ask our chefs to explain why they think this or that presentation is just right for their restaurant.
“What makes ours different and special?

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 a rustic tavern couldn’t be a setting for truly outstanding modern food?” had yet to learn how critically important it is to lead by teaching, setting priorities, and holding people accountable.

It was time to win, at any cost. It was time for me to become even more precise in describing what kind of managers we’d hire, and even more articulate in communicating what was expected of them.
That idea reflects one of my core business philosophies: invest in your community, and the rising tide will lift all boats.

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.

I have yet to see a house lose any of its value when a garden is planted in its front yard.
And each time one householder plants a garden, chances are the neighbors will follow suit.
“Who ever wrote the rule that
“Whatever it is,” I said, “I want it to be a leader within its niche.”
We had made a fundamental mistake by trying to extend an original brand without having first established the core brand.

It wasn’t so much that people were tied to their desks; it was that they had no clear idea what Eleven Madison Park represented as a dining experience
Know Thyself: Before you go to market, know what you are selling and to whom.
It’s a very rare business that can (or should) be all things to all people. Be the best you can be within a reasonably tight product focus. That will help you to improve yourself and help your customers to know how and when to buy your product.

The experience was a vitally important illustration of inappropriate brand extension, wrongheaded priorities, and inadequate focus on a core product.

We had found a wonderful maître d’ who was expert at recognizing guests.
I’ll allow myself to be open to new ideas, particularly when they’re presented by good people I know and trust.
People do want to feel transported when they go to a restaurant.
There could not be even a hint of a theme park. We included a genuine New York element: an exciting, comprehensive listing of microbrew beers, bourbons, classic cocktails, and world-class wines by the glass—not your typical accompaniment to barbecue.

As always with our new ventures, the idea was to draw on the best elements of the classic, make it authentic for its present context, and then try to execute it with excellence.
“Who ever wrote that rule that you can’t push the envelopes of excellence and hospitality for something as ordinary as a hot dog cart? Could a hot dog cart ever be anything more than just a hot dog cart?”
in early September 2001, we had actually lost nearly $5,000 operating the cart. While demand had been high and lines were always long, we’d addressed my requirement for excellence and hospitality by hiring too many people, working in a very inefficient system.

We encouraged our young, energetic staff to create “plus ones” or “legends of hospitality”—offering those in line free samples and cookies; and spotting, say, a regular man on a park bench, making him his usual order, and bringing it to him just as he started to head for the line. Though they were spending $2.50 for a hot dog, the satisfaction and loyalty of these guests was no less important to us than that of our regulars at Gramercy Tavern or Tabla.

As we imagined our new kiosk, we thought about a lot more than food. We understood that people don’t go out just to eat; they also select restaurants in order to be part of a community experience. Starbucks took the notion of drinking good coffee (and standing in line to buy Coffee sells (and is habit-forming), but performing a daily ritual with a self-selected group of like-minded human beings also sells. A business that doesn’t understand its raison d’être as fostering community will inevitably underperform.

Square. I understood that it’s not enough to just restore a park: you must sustain its beauty and safety by providing good citizens with lots of reason to visit it. Otherwise, you’ve merely given the park a temporary face-lift.

But by using familiar elements of that genre and designing our kiosk for a specific environment, we allowed the Shack to become part of its neighborhood, rather than something imposed on
As soon as we’d won the bid, Richard Coraine (my most enthusiastic researcher of road food) and I set off to study burger-and-shake stands all across the country.

I trusted their motto, “In sight, it must be right.”
them. 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.”
The only way a company can grow, stay true to its soul, and remain consistently successful is to attract, hire, and keep great people. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.

We searched high and low for the rare employees who love teaching, know how to set priorities, work with a sense of urgency, and—most important—are comfortable with holding people accountable to high standards while letting them hold onto their own dignity.

I want to employ people I’d otherwise choose to spend time with outside work.
Their source of energy is rarely depleted. In fact, the more opportunities hospitalitarians have to care for other people, the better they feel.

We’re upfront about this process, and we tell candidates that we also expect them to audition us as prospective employers. We urge those who trail to ask themselves, Is this really the kind of place I’m going to want to spend one-third of my time? Is this place going to challenge me and make me feel fulfilled?

I knew instinctively what kind of employee I wanted. I had a simple formula: I knew I would be spending many, many hours working in the restaurant business, so I’d need to surround myself with employees who were fun, smart, and interested in learning, not
if you go to many fancy restaurants you’ll sense that something’s missing. There’s a facade of refinement—guests are leaning forward while speaking in hushed tones; tuxedoed servers are calling a woman madame and a man monsieur when everyone knows they’re both American. Everything is delivered perfectly, cleared perfectly, decanted perfectly, and yet it’s not fun. It’s not sincere.

There’s no soul. It’s a perfectly executed but imperfect experience.
Chronic lateness (whether it’s showing up late for appointments or not returning phone calls or e-mails promptly) is a form of arrogance—“I’m important enough to make others wait for me”—and it puts other team members in a bind because they have to cover for the tardy person or just wonder what’s going on.
Effective businesses remain true to their core, but also know how to hear, respond, and adjust to constructive feedback

If I buy a case of a newly released wine, I’ll usually drink a bottle right off the bat—even if I know it’s too young—just to have a point of comparison as I follow its development.
proved to be a serious miscalculation. I learned that no matter what our concept is, people expect three specific things of our brand: culinary excellence, knowledgeable service, and gracious hospitality.
dining. I am also well aware that people are pummeled with more information each day than our ancestors received in an entire lifetime. Therefore, our messages have to be useful and have to be sticky if we are to stand any chance of earning a piece of your mind share.

by quoting something my late grandfather, Irving Harris, always used to remind me. “People will say a lot of great things about your business, and a lot of nasty things as well. Just remember: you’re never as good as the best things they’ll say, and never as bad as the negative ones. Just keep centered, know what you stand for, strive for new goals, and always be decent.

THREE HALLMARKS OF EFFECTIVE leadership are to provide a clear vision for your business so that your employees know where you’re taking them; to hold people accountable for consistent standards of excellence; and to communicate a well-defined set of cultural priorities and nonnegotiable values.

Wherever your center lies, know it, name it, stick to it, and believe in it. Everyone who works with you will know what matters to you and will respect and appreciate your unwavering values. Your inner beliefs about business will guide you through the tough times. It’s good to be open to fresh approaches to solving problems. But, when you cede your core values to someone else, it’s time to quit.

ULTIMATELY, THE MOST SUCCESSFUL business is not the one that eliminates the most problems. It’s the one that becomes most expert at finding imaginative solutions to address those problems.
degree. Poor communication is generally not a matter of miscommunication. More often, it involves taking away people’s feeling of control.

The moment people become managers for the first time, it will be as if the following three things have happened: An imaginary megaphone has been stitched to their lips, so that everything they say can now be heard by twenty times more people than before. The other staff members have been provided with a pair of binoculars, which they keep trained on the new managers at all times, guaranteeing that everything a manager does will be watched and seen by more people than ever. The new managers have received the gift of “fire,” a kind of power that must be used responsibly, appropriately, and consistently.

I’m a bottom-up manager who subscribes to the concept of “servant leadership,” as articulated by the late Robert Greenleaf. He believed that organizations are at their most effective when leaders encourage collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and empowerment.

Managers who inspire high levels of performance in their employees know how to produce magical results that leave people in awe. Managers must be wizards—the way they “breathe fire” is a source of motivation that impels employees to imitate them, and to grow.

It’s delusional to think that the day-to-day performance of your business is anything other than a reflection of how motivated (or unmotivated) your managers make your line employees feel.

My passion and professional identity had been based on the pure pleasure I derived from greeting guests at the front door and in the dining room, as well as working closely with our restaurant staffs. But now my responsibilities had become far broader.

Wherever I saw the word corporate applied to restaurants, I saw cookie-cutter or at least derivative establishments with little soul.
I’ve always strived to create and develop distinct restaurants that each bear, over time, the handcrafted feel of a mom-and-pop venture.

My goal was to extend my reach over many restaurants by surrounding myself with a team of people who were more talented at any given specialty than I had ever been on my own.
Human resources—making sure we get the best (and right) people on our team, training them to succeed, and ensuring the kind of healthy culture and environment in which they can thrive. Operations—making sure that people and things work as excellently as possible and that we are executing to our fullest potential.

Accounting and finance—making sure we have a constant stream of timely, accurate information that reflects our past performance, and helping us make good, informed choices about our future through a culture of planning, budgeting, and analysis. Public relations and marketing—making sure we are telling the stories about our business and its employees that will keep our restaurants on the tip of people’s tongues, whether they be journalists, prospective guests, or employees; and building relationships with other like-minded companies with whom we can forge the kind of business partnerships where 1+1=3.

Information technology (IT)—making sure we have the most effective software and hardware to allow us to communicate internally and externally, and to assess and improve our performance as a company.
Business development—making sure we’re not leaving money on the table with existing businesses, and analyzing and negotiating potential new business ideas to keep our employees and company vital and moving forward. Community investment—making sure our company and its employees are finding and taking ample opportunities to play an active role in helping our communities fulfill their greatest potential.

You can get the best productivity from your employees only when they believe that their leadership is open-minded, is accessible, and welcomes input.
I have yet to find any skills more pivotal to success than effective recruiting and hiring.

1. Infectious Attitude Does this person have the type of attitude I would want to have spread around? Would I want my staff to be imbued with it? If the answer is yes, I continue on.

2. Self-Awareness When I scan their resumés, I often tell management candidates that their career story is like an autobiography they have been writing for many years: “You’ve made a lot of interesting choices. I’m very curious about why a job with us strikes you as the logical next ‘chapter’ in the book of your life.

I also want to know why they feel they have finished the most recent chapter: “Why does this particular twist in the plot make perfect sense to you right now?” Candidates may convey a straightforward desire to move on to a better place.

3. Charitable Assumption Enlightened hospitality is a philosophy that works best with optimistic, hopeful, open-minded people at the helm. It tends not to work when the leaders are skeptics who think they already have all the answers
A charitable mind-set assumes the best in other people. Mind-sets tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. When you assume that people’s stumbles are honest mistakes that come from a good place, you get farther with them during their victories.

Every time I’m faced with a decision that involves an investment of money, I analyze the potential return by asking, “Will this yield today dollars, tomorrow dollars, or never dollars?”
am convinced that if you’re going to offer a gift, it’s important to give it graciously.
Mistrust tends to breed more mistrust
dishonesty.

If your bosses do not trust you to begin with, they unwittingly set up a game, or a trap: the employee is challenged to figure out ways to beat “the system.

The number one reason guests cite for wanting to return to a restaurant is that when they go there, they feel seen and recognized. Imagine if our hosts consistently conveyed, “I see you!” I’m fairly certain that’s precisely what most people want.

A great leader must repeatedly ask himself or herself this tough question: “Why would anyone want to be led by me?” And there had better be a good number of compelling reasons.
But the higher you climb the ladder of power, the less technical skills count and the more significant emotional skills become.

The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.

I like to think of our staff members not as servers, but as surfers. Surfing is an arduous sport, and no one pursues it involuntarily. No one forces you to become a surfer, but if you choose to do it, there’s no point in wasting energy trying to tame the ocean of its waves. Waves are like mistakes. You can count on the fact that there will always be another wave, so your choice is to get back on the surfboard and anticipate it. The degree to which you ride it with better form than the next guy is how you improve and distinguish yourself.

But the worst mistake is not to figure out some way to end up in a better place after having made a mistake. We call that “writing a great last chapter.” Whatever mistake happened, happened.

the guest will have no choice but to focus on how well we responded to the mistake when telling anyone we made it.
I have found that when you acknowledge a mistake and genuinely express your regret at having made it, guests will almost always give you a chance to earn back their favor.

THE FIVE A’S FOR EFFECTIVELY ADDRESSING MISTAKES Awareness—Many mistakes go unaddressed because no one is even aware they have happened. If you’re not aware, you’re nowhere. Acknowledgement—“Our server had an accident, and we are going to prepare a new plate for you as quickly as possible.”

Apology—“I am so sorry this happened to you.” Alibis are not one of the Five A’s. It is not appropriate or useful to make excuses (“We’re short-staffed.”) Action—“Please enjoy this for now. We’ll have your fresh order out in just a few minutes.” Say what you are going to do to make amends then follow through. Additional generosity—Unless the mistake had to do with slow timing, I would instruct my staff to send out something additional (a complimentary dessert or dessert wine) to thank the guests for having been good sports. Some more serious mistakes warrant a complimentary dish or meal.

Most mistakes, like this one, are simple enough to fix. But when we receive complaints of any type, our mission is twofold: first, to learn from the mistake and to profit from what we’ve learned; and second, to write a great last chapter that allows us to end up in a better place with the guest than if we had never made the mistake in the first place.

Always write a great last chapter. People love to share stories of adversity. Use this powerful force to your advantage by writing the closing statement the way you want it told. Use all your imagination and creativity in thinking about your response.

Learn from the mistake. Use every new mistake as a teaching tool with your employees.
Unless the mistake involved a lack of integrity, the person who made it has actually helped your team by providing you with new opportunities to improve

Make new mistakes every day. Don’t waste time repeating the old ones.
When we do learn about a mishap in one of our restaurants, I always want to hear the staff member’s side of the story before I connect with the guest, since our first responsibility in the culture of enlightened hospitality is to be on the side of our team.

If a complaint involves a server’s “bad attitude,” we will find out exactly what took place and then use that knowledge to help the staff member learn from what happened.
I said, “this woman is going to tell the whole world that she left her wallet in a taxi while she was on her way to Tabla. I know we can create a legend out of this somehow.”

I didn’t give Randy a script to follow. But he knew exactly what I meant by creating a legend.

Unbeknownst to the woman, we sent a staff member uptown to meet the driver and retrieve the wallet and cell phone, both of which were in her hands before the check for lunch was on the table. She was amazed and obviously delighted. We had turned a nightmare into a legend of hospitality. Our round-trip taxi ride had cost $31. I’d be surprised if the woman hasn’t already given Tabla 100 times that value in positive word-of-mouth.

“I know a lot about our wine list,” the maître d’ said. “Do you need some help selecting a great wine for your dinner?” “No,” the man said, “I have a technical question. We have a very special bottle of champagne at home to celebrate with after dinner. But the bottle was warm, so before we came here tonight I put it in the freezer. Is that bottle going to explode?” “Yes, it’s going to explode,” the maître d’ said. The man stood up in a panic and said to his wife, “Oh, my God, honey, I’ve got to go home and deal with this before that bottle explodes.” The maître d’ saw a great last chapter taking shape. “Listen,” he said, “you’re here for your anniversary, and we want you to have a great night. If you’ll give me your address, I’ll gladly go over to your apartment and take the champagne out of the freezer.” “All right, you’re on,” the man said. He called to alert his doorman, and our maître d’ took a cab to their address where he transferred the champagne from the freezer to the refrigerator. And next to the bottle, he set some dessert chocolates from the restaurant and a small tin of caviar along with a note that read, “Happy Anniversary from Eleven Madison Park.” These folks became dedicated regulars.
In handling mistakes, our goal is always to alter course to create a positive outcome and an experience that ends up being memorable for the right reasons.

We’re most interested in developing a good relationship that results from the way people feel about how we’ve overcome a mistake.

(That we went so far overboard with our apology is an apt illustration of how defensive we felt about our performance in those very early days at Blue Smoke.)

RUNNING (AND WORKING FOR) a company whose restaurants are known for their hospitality and superior service can sometimes be a double-edged sword. I’ll bet we get at least as many letters of complaint from guests as other restaurants do precisely because we set the bar for excellence so high.

The great majority of objections follow the same format: whatever has gone wrong always comes as a “complete letdown” because the guests had arrived with such high expectations, and we’ve let them down. They’re correct to let us know.
Contrary to my belief that you get more by giving more, they were concerned about how to get screwed less by protecting yourself more. generosity is the way I choose to do business in my restaurants, and so far it has always contributed mightily to our success.

Are you in it for keeps? It’s almost always worth bearing a higher short-term cost if you want to win in the long run. I’m convinced that you get what you give, and you get more by first giving more. Generosity of spirit and a gracious approach to problem solving are, with few exceptions, the most effective way I know to earn lasting goodwill for your business.

years. I’m quite explicit now in setting the table for our staff. I make it absolutely clear that if guests don’t like something they’ve ordered, it is removed from the check, period. It’s the server’s job to sense that guests are unhappy before they have to tell you.

THERE ARE FIVE PRIMARY stakeholders to whom we express our most caring hospitality, and in whom we take the greatest interest. Prioritizing those people in the following order is the guiding principal for practically every decision we make, and it has made the single greatest contribution to the ongoing success of our company: Our employees Our guests Our community Our suppliers Our investors
sustainable return for our investors. In the model of enlightened hospitality, only after you have first taken good care of your top four stakeholders will you be able to take care of your fifth group—your investors—and provide them with a sound and enduring return on their investment.