“Setting the Table” Sets You Up for Success

April 24, 2012

At first glance, you might think Danny Meyer’s discourse on the ins and outs of the restaurant biz, presented in “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business”, is nothing more than one man tooting his own horn. But if anyone has a horn worth tooting it is Meyer, who started a restaurant in New York City’s Union Square in his twenties and went on to found Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), currently one of the most successful restaurant organizations in the world, with famous and beloved establishments all over New York City (a notoriously difficult locale to hit with restaurants). Meyer and the USHG have won James Beard Foundation Awards (for excellence in the culinary industry) 24 times since 1990, Zagat listed three USHG restaurants amongst the top five in New York last year, and the Union Square Café has been cited as the number one restaurant in New York City a whopping eleven times. So there’s no question that Meyer has the credentials to counsel anyone who wants to become a restaurateur. But his audio book has a lot to offer business owners of every stripe.

While listeners will learn a lot about Meyer from this audio book, which could best be described as having a memoir format, there’s a lot more to it than a chronological recounting of the events of one man’s life. By taking you through his journey from culinary school, to opening his first restaurant, all the way to becoming the CEO of a highly profitable and ever-expanding empire, he offers a glimpse at the philosophy that helped him to become successful in an infamously difficult industry in one of the toughest cities in the world to compete. And while there is plenty for foodies to love here (it is rife with descriptions of cuisine), the main tenet of his professional doctrine seems to center on hospitality (as you may have gleaned from the title).

While he doesn’t discount the importance of delicious food in making a restaurant successful, he realized early on that people don’t necessarily dine out purely for the joy of putting food in their mouths (which they can easily do at home). They want the experience that comes with the food, from the atmosphere of the establishment to the rapport with the wait staff. Patrons love a restaurant (or hate it) because of the way it makes them feel. There’s something you can’t learn from business simulation games! Even Restaurant Empire, which claims to let players “control all aspects of a restaurant business” can’t relate just how to make a visitor to your business feel comfortable, welcome, and pampered. But Danny Meyer can.

In truth, his philosophy is not new. There’s a reason restaurants are included in the “hospitality” industry. And Meyer has never forgotten that it’s the feel of a place that keeps people coming back even more than the product. Along these lines, his experience can offer valuable insight and even concrete directives to anyone looking to create brand ambassadors and ensure repeat business. So whether you want to start your own restaurant or engineer memorable and compelling customer interactions that build ongoing patronage, you really should pick up a copy of “Setting the Table” and take a listen.

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