Tag Archives: danny meyer

Writing great last chapters

Danny Meyer really gets it.  This is the last chapter in this week-long series on my new favorite business text, Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table.  See my July 28 post for details on the book.

Do you ever let “perfect” get in the way of very good?  Have you ever had a client or customer walk away from an experience with a bad taste in his or her mouth?  Or more likely, have you ever been on the short end of a customer transaction in which you were slighted?

Meyer and his teams practice what he brilliantly calls “writing great last chapters.”  The beauty of this idea is that it does not avoid, but embraces mistakes.  It is not foolishly naive.  It does not promote committing mistakes so you can look like a hero when you clean them up.

Instead, Meyer masterfully uses mistakes as opportunities to leave customers with a lasting last impression that is most likely to bring them back and make them loyal customers.

“Are you in it for keeps?  It’s almost always worth bearing a higher short-term cost if you want to win in the long run. . .  Generosity of spirit and a gracious approach to problem-solving are, with few exceptions, the most effective way I know to earn lasting goodwill for your business.”

So sayeth Danny Meyer, so sayeth the flock.

When you or your business comes up short — and you have to become much more critical of your performance to be sensitized to customer’s subtle body language or to be able to handle their outright criticism — use it as an opportunity to go to great lengths to let your true spirit shine through.

Meyer says to train your staff to be agents of your client, rather than gatekeepers for your business.  Look for solutions, not excuses.   Find ways to say yes, instead of apologetically saying no.

If you’ve already reached that point I wrote about last time out, where you decide to commit to your business, this should be straightforward.  In fact, it’s something of a gut check.

I don’t agree with, or fully get all of Meyer’s points.  For instance, it seems parsing your desired employee profile along a 51/49 fissure, skewed two percent toward empathy and emotional intelligence over skills, is difficult to quantify.  It almost seems gimmicky.  I agree that more empathy is important and that skills are easier to teach than interpersonal skills, but his ideas like trailing as part of his hiring process, is probably more effective than seeking 51 percent empathy scores.

However, for all the business books I have read, and all the service seminars I have attended, his philosophy perfectly suits my sensibilities and those needed for my work.

I appreciate that his ideals are steeped in good old-fashioned intuition and honed to a fine point by real-world experience and just-right mentoring along the way.

At the end of the day, you need to read the book for yourself and draw your own conclusions.  I hope this has been a worthy last chapter, even though its not borne of a mistake or customer service guffaw, but as I prepare to train a new employee in the coming months, you better believe I am going to teach them the importance of writing great last chapters.


Part III: Snowballing

This is the third post in a week-long series focusing on Danny Meyer’s book, Setting the Table. For information on ordering Meyer’s book from Amazon, see my July 28 post.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Meyer by now should be clearly recognized as more than a foodie with a dream of opening a restaurant with nary a business skill.  He is a visionary in the food, management and common sense arenas, and his book has satisfied much more than my gustatory needs.

But tonight, as this series enters the home stretch and I prepare to seek my next writing project, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight three points that gain momentum, each building on the previous point’s orbit, avalanching toward success.


First is Meyer’s “constant, gentle pressure” maxim.  As a manager of people with vastly different styles and strengths, I frequently find the need to apply correcting force to redirect, slow or undo challenges created by individuals pursuing their own vision instead of the one we built together (goals).  Or more often, they misinterpret the path of greatest promise in favor of the familiar.  Its easy to let “being perfect” get in the way of “being great.”

Meyer’s clarifying point really resonated with me.  It had not occurred to me that correcting the same issues repeatedly might just be normal.  I saw it as a flaw in my managerial DNA, and often wondered how to correct it.  I find it much easier to sleep at night knowing that my “daytime deja vu” is a byproduct of  different people and personalities mashing their own interests together.

One personal weakness I discovered was my willingness to “negotiate” . . . OK, soften, my vision.  My reasons were noble, but also a mixed message for staff who were committed.  I may have been too accommodating of voices that slowed progress by insisting that doing things the old way kept us from alienating the minority who valued those methods. I was trying to manage concerns that too much change, too quickly, would destroy what commitment to a sharply different set of priorities and principles I had built within the team

Where we once relied on staff to try to meet engagement goals, I wanted to focus on voluntary self-governance by, and constant feedback from, our constituents.  Where we once allowed monotonous, cookie cutter programming, I wanted to spice things up with a constantly-changing set of satellite events around the center of our universe — traditional alumni programs.  Where we previously found reasons to aim low and succeed at achieving that level of performance, I chose to give each staff member the opportunity to maximize his or her strengths.

But on one important count, I sacrificed the force with which I demanded constant commitment to my vision because those other changes compelled me to allow staff to weigh heavily in how quickly they transitioned to the new lexicon, the new pace of play – to use golf parlance, and to a new leader.

But after spending three years of applying gentle pressure, Meyer’s insistence that all three components are essential, I am committed to applying that gentle pressure more consistently.  I am more excited about this personal development goal than you can imagine.


The second point in this cascading roll toward growth is Meyer’s mentor — and my favorite character in the book — Pat Cetta.  He very visually and succinctly helped Meyer understand a critical aspect of managing people and priorities: re-centering the salt shaker.  Instead of describing it here, I encourage you to seek out Setting the Table, and feast on the wisdom and wit of Pat Cetta that is sprinkled throughout the book.  I will simply say this: its the managers job — the art of his or her job, in fact — to constantly re-focus staff on the single vision.   This leads naturally to discuss of creating the vision, hiring people who buy into the vision, and assuring that you constantly refine the recipe for success while allowing the essential success factors intact.


Finally, but most importantly, I emphasize commitment.  Tenacity.  Stick-to-it-iveness.  Grit.  Mental toughness.  Guts.  All the components of moving a career forward, especially for entrepreneurs, can be measured on paper, assigned a monetary value.  Overhead and fixed costs are known quantities, labor costs, marketing costs, even the highly volatile raw materials costs can be assigned a value within a tight margin of error.  The single variable that MasterCard would call “priceless” is commitment.  Many business start-ups have failed chiefly because the owner was more interested in owning a business than he or she was committed to making the vision real.

My favorite demonstration of the difference between commitment and interest is the story of the pig and the chicken deliberating whose role was more important in preparing breakfast.  As the chicken explained how breakfast just didn’t measure up without the eggs she produced, the pig chuckled smartly, and quickly put an end to the matter.

The difference between us, said the pig to the chicken, is that you are interested in making breakfast a success, while I am outright committed.  You will live to lay many eggs on many days, but I?  I must make the ultimate sacrifice for breakfast.

Similarly, leaders must always choose between being interested in their business or being committed to it.  And so in closing, I leave you with perhaps the most meaningful Meyer quote in the entire book.  One that speaks to me so personally, I almost wonder whether he has been inside my brain as I have pondered career opportunities and choices throughout my life.

“Often [during a particularly trying period in his career], I wanted to throw in the towel, and I fantasized about traveling back to 1985 . . . But I had chosen the appropriate path and I knew there was no going back.”

Meyer is defining that point where your journey offers you two options.  And without making comparisons to Frost, instead of having to choose a path, I suggest you must choose your level of commitment.


Is it time to turn around and start over, returning to a simpler, easier time?  Or is it time to commit and see what greatness might lay ahead?  Avalanches, like fire, can have a cleansing effect, a clarifying impact on your vision and your chances of making it a reality.  Are you committed?  If not, isn’t it time to do something powerful for yourself?

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