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Lessons from a hospitality hero.

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

If you believe food, service and decor are what make up the special sauce in being a successful restaurant, “You are dead wrong!”, proclaims veteran restaurateur and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer. Those are technicalities around a restaurant’s performance, and even if you score a “perfect performance,” it only counts for 49 points in the winning formula. The real game changer is hospitality which counts for 51 points in Danny’s book. Literally. He explains this concept in his book.

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This past month, some of the 1 Box Hospitality leadership team were in Orlando attending the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers show, and we had the pleasure of hearing Danny Meyer speak about his journey in the restaurant business and how he built his hospitality empire.

His talk opened with an intriguing statistic and analogy. All wine is 98.6% the same, with a common base of water, leaving only an opportunity of 1.4% to be unique and hopefully, better. This small detail, however, is the difference between a $2.00 “Two- Buck Chuck” wine and a vintage Bordeaux selling for thousands of dollars. He believes the same spilt applies to any industry and especially to the restaurant business.

Meyer’s entry into the restaurant industry was somewhat unorthodox. After getting a degree in political science, he struggled to find his true career path. While getting ready to take the bar to become a lawyer, he and a friend signed up to take some restaurant classes. Meyer first became interested in food as a child, having spent time in Italy and France with his family. In the classes, they both enjoyed the exposure to the biz beyond the front of the house dining. They learned about food costs, operations and even marketing.

Then, one day, Danny’s friend had some bad news. He told Danny his father would not let him pursue the restaurant business as a career, believing it was not a legitimate trade and banking was his calling. Danny was very disappointed, but not surprised because in the early eighties, the restaurant business was viewed differently. There were not celebrity chefs, TV food networks or the Internet. These have transformed the industry from labor with food, into the rock star status that society and business views today. There was a silver lining, though as Danny’s friend (now working for USBank) had a client and connection to a successful restaurant group, and he made the introduction. He was made an assistant lunch manager at an Italian place called Pesca on 22nd street in NYC. That was Danny’s first job.

Fast forward to 1985, Danny had operational experience from Pesca, additional culinary training from his travels to Europe and a nice cash cushion from his stint selling anti-shoplifting tags to retailers. This helped to finance his first restaurant, the Union Square Cafe. Within three months, the restaurant (competing with over 25,000 others in NYC) was earning praise from top restaurant critics including the New York Times. Danny recalled their business spiked almost 300% from the one review and the rest is history as the snow ball of success was in high gear.

Today the group operates at least eight concepts, a catering group and consulting arm in the US and abroad. Danny’s book has been a best-seller, and he travels around the globe sharing his philosophy and lessons he has learned while developing the winning recipe for doing business which he calls “Enlightened Hospitality.” Emphasizing putting the power of hospitality to work in a new and counterintuitive way: The first and most important application, of hospitality is to the people who work for you, and, in descending order of priority, the guests, the community, suppliers, and investors. This way of setting priorities stands the traditional business models on their heads, but Danny considers it the foundation of every success gained by he and his restaurants.

Here are just 9 gems from Danny’s presentation. If you have not read his book Setting the Table, you should, it’s a masterpiece full of good ideas.

1) While all customers are important, the first time diner is a priority. Their first experience will influence their likelihood of returning and becoming a loyal fan. Think of them as coach class customers. What can you do to upgrade their experience at that buying level? He also believes solo diners should be treated as VIPs and royalty, not as stray cats.

2) You should get to know your customers. They are likely from a tribe (as Seth Godin refers to as a group with common interests). Early on, Danny and his team would identify like industries and seat them near to each other, not on top of each other because privacy needs to be respected, but close enough, so that when guests saw others in their industry. They thought, “This is the place to be” for say, for example, publishers or jewelers. By planting this seed, the garden will grow.

3) Before Danny opened his first restaurant he attended the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago. He credits this trip as instrumental in his restaurant business journey.

4) Danny suggests you give high value to what you learned as a kid. Danny cites his childhood experiences growing up learning about respect, how you make people feel, and kindness as fundamentals in his success.

5) There are peaks and valleys in business and in life. Don’t run from mistakes, but embrace them. They often hold the keys to the next big opportunity.

6) Figure out what you do well, not what you need to change.

7) The best example of hospitality is a hug. It’s a two way thing. Hospitality is high touch, smiles, eye contract and thoughtfulness. It’s about making people feel good. Hospitality can trump good food any day. He thinks of service as a monologue and hospitality as a dialogue.

8) Managing stress is critical, and stress happens in the restaurant business. Meyer’s recalls his stress level was so high when he opened his first place in 1985 it likely contributed to him getting Bell’s palsy a painful condition which causes facial paralysis.

9) Customers are not the most important people in the restaurant’s world. They are number two while employees are number one. Invest in them, train them, teach them, recognize them, empower them, and customers will come.

A true recipe for success.

Welcome aboard.

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

1 Box Hospitality welcomes two seasoned professionals to the leadership team.

Cara Kirby

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Cara Kirby, Director of Hospitality also comes from Outback Steakhouse and leads our training and guest service programs. Kara’s smile, warmth and genuine care for people empowers teams to excel and deliver a stellar customer experience every time.

April Steele

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April Steele, a veteran hospitality administrator is named Director of Administrations for the company. April is also known as the Chief Plate Spinner as she administrates human resources, marketing and operations for the company. And she occasionally puts out small fires too.

Welcome to the team!

What’s up with that new name anyway?

Friday, April 19th, 2013

From the beginning, we’ve built our restaurants around a solid reputation and brand for delivering delicious Southern cuisine, down-home hospitality and exceptional customer service—and this will not change.

We’ve also operated on values and principles that make our organization a strong business entity. We strive to be an organization and employer that put a high regard on family, work/home balance and integrity.

Our new name 1 Box Hospitality comes out of our commitment to these principles. We believe that one should not have different sets of principles for the various aspects of their lives—work, family, friendships, community, etc. Consistency in living with the timeless, moral values everyday, in every relationship and in every situation is what we call living in 1 Box. We are firmly committed to this philosophy and hope that this shows through to others and has a positive impact in everything and everyone we touch.

“The name 1 Box Hospitality centers on our three important stakeholders; the employees, the customer, the communities we serve, and a six sided box philosophy.”

1 Box name and logo mark symbolizes a holistic approach to business and life where balance, fulfillment and rewards are grounded by a belief in creation, through which man was endowed with a nature that is creative, rational, has a conscience and is free.

This 6-sided dimensional logo mark reflects the way we approach everything.

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The contemporary design communicates our fresh thinking while the colors imply our friendly, warm and natural goodness. This new name and brand will also further position our organization as a respected hospitality leader in our industry.


Exciting changes spice up company | April 25, 2013

It is with great pride I’m introducing a new name for our management company and the first edition of our […]

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