Enlightened Hospitality

As promised, this is the first in a week-long series of reactions to the Danny Meyer book Setting the Table.

The first of his concepts I will address is, for me, the central theme of his book. By dealing with it first, you can better wrap your mind around the fundamental, but brilliant, observations about being in the business of taking care of people.

Meyer says enlightened hospitality begins with treating your colleagues right as a first priority (p. 109). While many people today have embraced the notion that the customer is always right, I agree with Meyer’s implication that customers are not always right, but that in order for a business to take care of its customers, it must first put the front line employees in a position to succeed.

Too often, staff are viewed as cogs in a machine; people whose opinions are marginalized, their strengths exploited with little recognition, and their weaknesses amplified obscenely. And yet we insist that these people put their best foot forward to present a united, positive image for the organization.

But Meyer makes a brilliant observation: customers will always be better served by an empowered, positive, motivated staff. Amen.

Enlightened hospitality goes beyond that, though. It extends to capture the spirit with which a great team of employees or service providers approaches serving the person or people in front of them. I like to call this the “one step forward” approach.

If every member of a team felt empowered and motivated, they would insist on always taking one step forward to meet their customer. Moreover, they would flex their observation muscles to determine how to address the person. They would use their trained empathy not to coddle the guest, but to ensure they handled their needs with the right amount and tone of intimacy, humor, speed and interactivity.

Once the employee is cared for, the customer is better served. Once the customer is best served, the succeeding priorities are serving the community, serving their suppliers, and finally, ultimately, serving investors.

Its a profound reversal of the type of corporate behavior that has crippled so many companies in the United States. It refutes the type of corporate behavior that leads to ethical and moral conflicts. Its a model for doing business that syncs with my own sense of propriety.

Look forward to the next chapter tomorrow. But first, let me know what you think about enlightened hospitality. Where does it fall apart? What is not well explained? Will this impact the way you approach your customers?

For excerpts from Meyer’s book, or to purchase (I get no benefit): visit

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5 responses to “Enlightened Hospitality

  1. I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work 🙂

  2. Matt.. wow the author and YOU totally get it… it is totally frustrating as an employee who views the customer as you mention but has to FIGHT multiple departments who interpret customer care in a different fashion. It is tiring, immobilizing and so incredibly frustrating.

    Now.. it is important that you not set yourself up as the only one that “truly cares” for the customer (i know that is not the case..there are just so many interpretations of where the customers rights begin and end) so dialogue is so important.

    I think back to life in a leadership role in the church where it is all about making the “guest” know they are special…you walk a fine line between giving everything to them and having nothing for youself and those you care for… so..there is balance to be had…there in lies the problem… teaching companies and organizations, churches included, to strike the balance where all work together to bring the desired results.. people serving people and feeling so incredibly wonderful (and empowered) while doing it!

  3. I enjoyed getting feedback from Dan and Diana. I was very interested in Dan’s site, and its a great tie-in to the things I have on my mind these days. I will keep up with his site.

    As for Diana, who knows me well, she strikes upon one of the great challenges of providing exceptional service: what if I am the lone arbiter of quality and/or get taken advantage of.

    Her points led to an almost automatic response that I had to temper with a quick logic-check. In the end, I am going to argue that providing extraordinary service is not a means to an end, but an end unto itself. In other words, never provide quality service with the expectation that you will somehow be rewarded. Further elaborating, Diana is absolutely right about the problems of instilling that kind of attitude througout large organizations. Its a major risk, but if you give it your best shot, you can’t lose. You might find you are not a good fit for that organization, but you will have proven yourself a superbly inspiring leader. Best case scenario, you will have transformed that organization from good to great. If you do nothing, you will fester in your own unfulfilled dreams, quickly accepting bitterness where promise once prevailed.

    Whoo, that will scare the socks off the pure ROI folks out there. I think, though, that there are compensating intangible benefits such as personal happiness and satisfaction, plus the adrenaline rush of knowing you just really made someone else’s day. That is a gift all by itself. I have never found myself lacking for anything after helping someone else. Within practical limits, which is Diana’s point, its pretty easy to differentiate between compulsive abusers of your hospitality, and those who genuinely need it. And if I err, it will always be on the generous side. And if you know Diana, you know she will too. She speaks from experience, but I hope she keeps that fire lit deep inside. The world, especially the business world, needs that.

    I would love to hear from other people who have been, or are, leaders in the service sector, be it religious organizations or not. Stories of having your generosity abused? Of having it pay off in amazing benefits to the beneficiary?

    Thanks for the comments. Keep them coming!

  4. Matt, keep up the great work! Your site and business is amazing, and the fact that this is being developed outside of your day job boggles my mind. This is something I struggle with constantly: how to stay in motion after leaving the office for the day, after being drained of any desire for extracurricular work or development of my own personal business acumen. Like Conrad Hilton said “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving.” You, my friend, are living the pursuit!
    -G

  5. Thanks Gary. I definitely see this, right now, as a pursuit of passion, and that makes all the difference in how easy it is to spend my nights and weekends working on this business. Its as much of a change of pace and relaxing for me as watching TV, which I find myself doing a lot less. So there’s a health benefit too, I suppose.

    Thanks for checking in and keep on visiting. Now when are we playing golf?

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