Video: Danny Meyer’s Speech on His Book–Setting the Table

Danny Meyer’s is arguably one of the leading authorities on delivering a great guest experience. His secrets, discussed fully in his book Setting the Table, all stem from the overarching notion of service vs. hospitality. In the video, Meyer starts by explaining great hospitality is ‘how staff make people feel during the delivery of service—the staff are always on their side’. He then continues by explaining the importance of hiring staff with high ‘untrainable hospitality IQ’, which is 51% of the story. This is similar to Jim’s idea that all of us working here have a hospitality DNA—it’s the drive of hospitality that employers cannot train in staff. Either it exists, or it doesn’t. The other 49% of service skills can be trained and duplicated. Not only do his concepts completely support what we are trying to do at Coyle, he is clearly someone who ‘gets it’, and any business operator, hospitality industry or not, can benefit from Meyer’s teachings.

Here are a few highlights from the video and the book:

Great Service is Not Enough
“We are in a very new business era” says Meyer. “I’m convinced that this is now a hospitality economy, no longer the service era. If you simply have a superior product or deliver on your promises, that’s not enough to distinguish your business. There will always be someone else who can do it or make it as well as you. It’s how you make your customers feel while using your products that distinguishes you.” He points to companies like the Container Store, Timberland and Jet Blue, thriving enterprises that he claims share his philosophical approach to business. “Yes, they have an excellent product; yes, they know how to deliver, but that’s not what bonds customers to them. It’s the experience. Service is a monologue: we decide on standards for service. Hospitality is a dialogue: to listen to a customer’s needs and meet them. It takes both great service and hospitality to be at the top.” This is the essence of hiring the best people to deliver the best service.

The Customer Comes Second
Meyer’s business model, known as the ‘virtuous cycle of hospitality’, intentionally inverts classic capitalist priorities. He believes that to be successful you must first meet the needs of employees, then guests, followed by the community, suppliers and finally investors, in that order. “If you are devoted to your staff and can promise them much more than a paycheck, something to believe in,” he says, “you will then get the best service for customers, which will in the long run provide the best return to your investors.” Investing in staff, then, is Danny’s number one priority, which in turn satisfies guests, resulting in a great guest experience.

ABCD—Always Collecting the Dots
Meyer collects as much information, or dots, as he can about his guests. If a diner is eating at one of his restaurants for the first time, the staff is alerted. If it’s a repeat customer, preferences (likes corner table, allergic to shellfish) and any past errors in service (overcooked salmon on 7/16) will have been entered in a database. “The more dots you collect, the more chances you have to make meaningful connections that make people feel good and give you a business edge.” This is an important concept on how to hire and train staff with this innate quality to serve. The staff are people “who get fed by feeding others.”

The 51% Solution
“You can teach technical skills, but you can’t train employees emotionally,” says Meyer. “But you can teach managers how to hire for a specific emotional skill set.” When selecting new hires, Meyer looks for candidates whose strengths are divided 51%-49% between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. “I like to call them hospitalitarians. People who are naturally kind, empathetic and curious, along with having a strong work ethic. They get fed through the process of providing hospitality.”

See the video here.

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