On Setting the Table

I’ve been meaning to read NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer’s 2006 book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business for months. And now that I’ve finally picked it up, I can hardly put it back down.

The story of how Danny Meyer built one of the most successful restaurant organizations in the country from scratch makes for compelling reading. Refreshingly, Meyer doesn’t paint himself as a genius or a saint: he tells about the time he got into a fistfight with a customer at his first restaurant (he was overworked and underfed), and admits that he spilled a glass of wine all over actress Mariel Hemingway because he was ogling her cleavage.

But it’s when Meyer talks about things like how he prioritizes business stakeholders that things get really interesting. (Seriously.)

Meyer names five primary stakeholders to which the company offers “the most caring hospitality,” and ranks them in this order: 1) employees 2) guests 3) community 4) suppliers and, finally, 5) investors.
That employees come first, even ahead of customers, in such a service-oriented field frankly surprised me a little. But as Meyer explains, his restaurants can only earn raves and customer loyalty if employees are jazzed about coming to work.

Well before our staff members can extend any kind of meaningful hospitality to our guests, they need to first understand the primary importance of being on each other’s side. Mutual respect and trust are the most powerful tools for building an energetic, motivated, winning team in any field. And the most talented employees are often those attracted to companies that can provide them with the most important job benefit of all: other great people with whom to work.

There’s so much to chew on in Setting the Table, I’m going to bring more of it to you over the next couple of weeks. In courses, so to speak.

Next up: Why reaching out to the community is in a company’s best interest.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.