Danny Meyer is the restaurant mogul behind such chains as Shake Shack and Union Square Café.
In an incredibly cut-throat business, Meyer has survived and thrived where others have failed. His concept is ‘enlightened hospitality,’ and revolves around respect and relationships.
It starts with hiring naturally empathetic people, what he calls ‘givers’ which creates a culture that sets his restaurants apart from the competition. Sure, the menu and décor matter, but for his company it all starts with replicating his staffing approach and culture in each new restaurant or chain.
“When he looks at you, he sees you. He’s not playing the role of executive…he’s a hugger. He trusts his gut (intuition) and his gut is always working.” Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic claims that “another restaurant might try to impress diners by suggesting an esoteric sweet wine…the servers at (Meyer’s restaurants) don’t want you to be impressed. They want you to be happy.”
Meyers started in the business with a dream of simply creating an atmosphere which would make the customer feel comfortable to ask the servers anything, and for people to walk in without a reservation to still feel welcome and special. He was sure he could teach people that he liked to become the restaurant professional he wanted. His basic premise was that he could teach a nice person to open a bottle of wine, but couldn’t teach a person who knows how to open a bottle of wine to be nice.
The 51% rule describes his personality-type hiring principle that Meyers conceived by instinct. Potential hires are awarded a ‘hospitality quotient’ score that’s based on traits such as optimism, warmth, and empathy (hello Blues?). 51% of the weighting is given to those factors and 49% to technical skills. “there’s extra percentage points on the emotional side that can’t be taught!” explains culture & learning director Susan Reilly Salgado. “Union Hospitality hires for THAT.”