Saturday, November 21, 2015

What if Your Organization Changed Customer Service to Enlightened Hospitality?

Dessert, Gramercy Tavern, October 2015
Danny Meyer, the prominent New York City restauranteur, first came to my attention when my daughter was at the Culinary Institute of America. She was so moved by Meyer and his philosophy, she sought to do her externship at Eleven Madison Park (EMP). Her experience at EMP had a huge impact on her. I saw first hand how Meyer's way of running restaurants attracted great staff and moved them to create great experiences for their guests. I wanted to understand Meyer's way of running his business as well as his leadership style reading Meyer's Setting the Table... 

Meyer shares stories from growing up to birthing his first restaurant (Union Square Cafe, New York City) to lessons learned in opening other restaurants now part of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). He shares his adventures, mistakes and most of all, his vulnerability. Meyer touches the reader’s soul by sharing his soul. Meyer is different in a positively healthy, nurturing good way. If you are looking for a winning business philosophy, here it is!

For example, he treats solo guests as royalty rather than a problem as some other restaurants do. To him, the solo guest is paying his restaurant a compliment. He sees a positive attitude and attention to the solo guest as an investment in a long-term relationship. This is the key message of Setting the Table …create and nurture relationships, both internally and externally. Having won multiple awards and stars from Zagat, James Beard, The New York Times, Wine Spectator, and Michelin for his eleven restaurants as of this writing, his way of doing business has paid off.

Meyer has moved the bar from customer service to enlightened hospitality. He doesn’t call patrons of his restaurants customers, but guests. A whole different set of images and feelings come from being called a guest rather than a customer. Staff are referred to as hospitalitarians! This is not the typical “how to create and run a business” book. The reader comes across words like soul, goodwill, abundance, graciousness, elegance and art form. Setting the Table is on par with books, Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by The Disney Institute and Theodore Kinni and Fish: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Lundin, Paul and Christensen (Pike Place Fish Market, Seattle, WA.) The only disagreement I have with Meyer, and I know he means well, is when he calls hospitality a team sport (page 16). In sport there are winners and losers. In hospitality, there are no losers.

Enlightened hospitality asks the question, “Whoever wrote the rule…?” Enlightened hospitality is context and context is everything, according to Meyer. Enlightened hospitality lives by one size fits one! Enlightened hospitality nurtures and touches all parts of USHG including its nonnegotiable core values, goal setting, management philosophy, hiring and training hospitalitarians, the way it treats hospitalitarians who affect guests who affect community who affect suppliers and finally investors. Look at our attitude toward the financial industry, who put investors first! Enlightened hospitality speaks to handling mistakes and failures!

Meyer has made an art of correcting mistakes with guests in what he terms, “always write a great last chapter.” He and USHG not only own a mistake, even an unintentional one, but respond as quickly as possible with grace and add a heaping dose of generosity! That great last chapter approach creates guests for life! For-profit and non-profit businesses would do well to learn and embrace this behavior!

Could Setting the Table change your organization?
Notice the picture of the salt shaker on the front cover

of the book? There is a story behind the salt shaker. You need to know your “center,” your core values and principles. It’s the job of staff and guests to move your salt shaker off center. Your job is not to get upset, but to move the salt shaker back to center. Center is what you stand for and what you won’t stand for. Do not let others decide where your center is. Perhaps if Kodak, Blockbuster and Blackberry had known, understood and lived their core values and purpose, they would be vibrant businesses today.

“The 51 Percent Solution” is about emotional intelligence and it's importance in finding it in the hiring of people for USHG. Meyer points out technical performance of the hospitalitarian is 49 percent and emotional performance is 51 percent. “The only way a company can grow, stay true to its soul and remain constantly successful is to attract, hire and keep great people.” page 139. Hire people who have the 51 percent. Those who possess the 51 percent are agents who make good things happen for others. People with the 51 percent are aware of “golden moments” that offer the opportunity to “WOW” the guest. Choose people with a great attitude and weak skills over people with a poor attitude and great skills. Attitude is the convergence of strong emotional intelligence, living the Golden Rule and gratitude. While skills can be taught and learned, not so with attitude. Let’s face it, people with the 51 percent make management’s job much easier and rewarding. It’s a game changer!

Bottom line
If service is the right thing to do, then hospitality is the compassionate thing to do. What would happen to morale, turnover, productivity and the bottom line, if your organization moved from offering good customer service to gracious hospitality?