Book Review: Setting The Table by Danny Meyer

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This book was recommended from many of my educators as the book to read to learn about hospitality and best practices for customer retention. Naturally I wondered how a book about the restaurant hospitality industry could be relevant to my health & wellness pursuits, but as it was mentioned many times over the years from lots of smart people, I decided to give it a go

Danny Meyer is the founder and owner of multiple restaurants starting with the Union Square Cafe in New York in 1985. His best known global restaurant which he opened and started in 2004 would be Shake Shack, although he no longer has vested interest in this.

Meyer is clearly a humble man who doesn’t brag, even though he has much to brag about. He tells his story very much like it is, often referring back to his father’s failings within the same industry. Having watched his father’s restaurants fail more than once, Meyer junior was forever cautious not to fall to the same overreaching mistakes.

I found it fascinating that Meyer’s philosophy on employees is identical to mine and how I would hire within the logistics industry. I was never overly interested in what a resume said. Sure you can get an overview into a person’s education and employment history, but it doesn’t tell you anything about their personality and how they will fit into a team. 

Meyer often refers to what he calls “enlightened hospitality”. It is his own strategy that prioritises employees over customers, and draws a clear distinction between service and hospitality. He writes “Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of the product makes the recipient feel”.

When applying that employment strategy throughout his organisation, it ensured managers focused on finding employees who have stronger emotional skills over technical ones. In the same way I would look to employ a person whose personality fits into a role, as opposed to their technical knowledge of the industry. Shipping and logistics is not rocket science and is easily learned, so the personality for the job in question always took precedence.

The problem is finding these people, as it is very difficult to train for emotional skills. The key therefore is in the manager being able to spot these people, which Meyer calls the 51 percenters. These are the people who’s greatest pleasure in life is to do a great job, and make the person they serve feel really good about the whole experience.

In a world of corporate greed where companies sole focus seems to be the bottom line and return on investment for their shareholders, it is a breath of fresh air to read Danny’s guiding principles for every decision he makes which is shared and lived throughout his organisation. His order of prioritising the five primary stakeholders within his organisations are as follows:

  1. Employees
  2. Guests
  3. Community
  4. Suppliers
  5. Investors

By following these five tenets of enlightened hospitality, Meyer ensures all of his employees take care of each other, which in turn makes the guests feel happy and part of a community, which naturally takes care of suppliers and investors alike.

 

Conclusion

It’s always interesting to learn about other industries, particularly where there is a clear recipe for success as Danny Meyer has written about here. You can feel for yourself when you walk into a  restaurant how invested the staff are in your enjoyment of the experience. 

It’s a strange phenomenon in Hong Kong that you rarely feel wanted when walking into a restaurant. Strange because the food and beverage industry is such an important part of Hong Kong society. But hospitality is weirdly lacking. Maybe it comes from the dim sum culture where plates and bowls are thrown onto your table. Maybe it’s the general busyness of this diverse bustling city which doesn’t allow people the time to be hospitable.

Whatever it is, many restaurant owners would do well to apply these principles within their own restaurants. And many other business owners would do well to apply these same principles, particularly within a service industry.

If you have interest in starting a restaurant, or any service industry, this is essential and necessary reading. For the casual observer who is just interested to learn new hospitality techniques and methods, this is a worthy and valuable read.

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