Book Review: 'Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business' by Danny Meyer
Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business Danny Meyer HarperCollins (2006)
Note: Perhaps 30-35 years ago, probably in an article for Harvard Business Review, Peter Drucker said something to the effect, “If you don’t think you’re in the hospitality business, then you won’t have anybusiness. People must feel appreciated before they will buy anything from you.” This book written seven years ago, is — in my opinion — the single best source for understanding what hospitality is and how to provide it.
The Nature and Value of Authentic Hospitality
This book will be of great interest and even greater value if one or more of the following is relevant to you:
1. You have direct and frequent contact with customers. 2. You personally train and/or supervise those who do. 3. You need to improve your “people skills” in your business and personal relationships. 4. Your organization has problems attracting, hiring, and then keeping the people it needs to prosper. 5. Your organization has problems with others who, for whatever reasons, consistently under-perform.
It is no coincidence that many of those on Fortune magazine’s annual list of most admired companies reappear on its annual list of most profitable companies. Moreover, both customers and employees rank “feeling appreciated” among the three most important attributes of satisfaction. Now consider the total cost of a mis-hire or the departure of a peak performer: Estimates vary from six to 18 times the annual salary, including hours and dollars required by the replacement process.
Until now, I have said nothing about Danny Meyer nor about the restaurant industry so as to reassure those who read this brief commentary that, although Setting the Table does indeed provide interesting information about him and his background, the book’s greater value derives (in my opinion) from the lessons he has learned from his successes and failures thus far, both within and beyond the kitchen.
One of the most important concepts in this book is hospitality. Here’s what Meyer has to say about it: “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. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side. The converse is just as true. Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens toyou. These two simple propositions – for and to – express it all.” According to Meyer, service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel about the transaction. This is precisely what Leonard Berry has in mind when explaining what he calls “the soul of service.”
Another of the most important concepts in this book is “connecting the dots” which Meyer views as a process by which information accumulated “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 shared experience is what I call connecting the dots.”
Of special interest to me are those whom Meyer characterizes as mentors to whom he has turned for sound (albeit candid) advice. For example, on one occasion he enthusiastically “showed off” to Pat Cetta (co-owner of Sparks Steakhouse) a new dish just added to the Union Street Café menu: Fried oyster Caesar salad. Cetta’s response? “This dish is nothing more than mental masturbation. You’re clearly doing it just to get noticed by Florence Fabricant [in the New York Times]. And the bad news is that she won’t even like it. I guarantee you that shit is coming off your menu within two months – and if I were you, I’d take it off in two minutes. You know better than that, luvah!” Meyer agreed and quickly retired the dish.
As indicated earlier, I think the lessons which Meyer generously shares in this book, especially those learned from errors of judgment (“the road to success is paved with mistakes well-handled”) are of substantial value to managers in all organizations, regardless of size or nature. If there were a rating higher than Five Stars when I reviewed it for various Amazon websites, I would give it to this thoughtful, eloquent, and entertaining book.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.