Unreasonable Hospitality (2022) illustrates how surpassing expectations can take your service-based business to the next level. Through a collection of anecdotes and firsthand experiences, it imparts valuable insights into customer service, as well as employee management.
Introduction: Discover how to leverage unreasonable hospitality to elevate your business.
For many business owners, an outstanding product is the holy grail of their enterprise. Countless hours are spent scrutinizing every detail, perfecting the latest gadget, refining the most delectable cuisine, and crafting the hippest fashion accessory. The relentless pursuit of product perfection is often the driving force behind their endeavors.
But contrary to popular belief, the greatness of a business doesn’t rely solely on the excellence of its product. There’s one other ingredient most leaders forget to throw into the mix: the people. Everyone is so laser-focused on making the what that they forget the who. Yes, you can have the most perfect product ever but it would still fall short if you didn’t consider the people receiving that product. For your business to stand out, you need to value your customer experience as much as your product.
How? By practicing what Will Guidara calls unreasonable hospitality. And no, it’s not limited to people in the hospitality industry. Anyone whose job is to serve a customer can practice unreasonable hospitality, from a car salesman to a receptionist at the doctor’s clinic.
In this summary, you’ll learn exactly what unreasonable hospitality is all about and how you too can start practicing it in your business.
Unreasonable hospitality and its effects on your business
Unreasonable. This word has long screamed negativity, whether it’s your kid insisting on buying an expensive toy, a coworker who doesn’t compromise for the good of the project, or your mom refusing to listen to your sentiments. But what if you learn that being unreasonable could actually be a good thing?
In the service industry, hospitality is all about making people feel cared for, but when you add “unreasonable” to the mix, it takes things to a whole new level. Unreasonable hospitality is all about providing your customers with a unique, tailor-made service that makes them feel not just cared for but like real VIPs.
It’s not just about meeting expectations, it’s about exceeding them. And this act of going above and beyond creates an unforgettable encounter that’ll linger in people’s memories long after the experience is over.
Think about it. When you dine in a Michelin three-star restaurant, what stands out to you the most? Is it the dishes you can’t even pronounce or the fancy table-side food preparation? No, more likely it’s actually the smallest details that made you feel special. It’s the server who got you an off-menu dessert because he saw you were a little down in the dumps or the maître d’hôtel who went out of their way to retrieve the shopping bag you forgot at a nearby store. Those are the moments that stick with you, and they define exactly the nature of unreasonable hospitality.
You can create this kind of moment in any service-based business, from retail to health care. All you need to do is look for opportunities where you can give your customers more than they initially came for.
Once you’ve integrated unreasonable hospitality into your business, you can expect to reap a whole range of rewards. It can help you build a loyal customer base that will sing your praises to anyone who’ll listen. These happy customers will keep coming back to you and even bring their network along, ultimately making your bottom line skyrocket.
So dare to be unreasonable when it comes to hospitality because it’s an investment that can pay off in a big way. Now the question is, how do you become unreasonably hospitable?
First, apply unreasonable hospitality to your staff
Since time immemorial, the adage “the customer always comes first” has served as the North Star for the service industry. Workers are trained to put the customer’s needs and desires at the forefront of every decision. And while there’s no denying that making the customer happy is a critical part of the job, it’s time to shift your focus to the people who make it all happen: your staff.
By first showing your staff unreasonable hospitality, you’re not only making them feel appreciated, but you’re also equipping them with the tools and knowledge they need to provide the same level of exceptional service to your customers. When employees feel that they’re being taken care of, they’re more likely to go the extra mile in their work.
Unreasonable hospitality for employees can look like a lot of things. The first is offering them a listening ear. When you stop and listen to your staff members individually, it shows that you deeply value them and that you’re interested in what they have to say.
Being unreasonably hospitable to your workers also means trusting them with bigger responsibilities. Let them take the reins even before they think they’re ready for it. You’ll be surprised by how perfect they turn out to be in their new role.
Praise is also a big part of unreasonable hospitality. As a leader, don’t hold back on giving out compliments to your staff. Let them know what an awesome job they’re doing and make sure to do this in front of their peers to give them that extra boost of confidence. It’s also important to direct any external praise their way and not hog the credit for yourself as their boss. For instance, if a customer raved to you about the outstanding attention to detail Mandy put into their order, let Mandy hear the compliments from the customer herself.
Unreasonable hospitality is also about giving your staff VIP treatment when they become the customers themselves. For instance, if your chef is dining at your restaurant or your sales agent is buying their own car from your dealership. Give them over-the-top service, the kind they also provide to your customers. Receiving unreasonable hospitality will inspire them to give it, too.
So before you go above and beyond for your customers, remember to take care of your employees first. Then, sit back and watch as they take care of your customers in return.
Personalize each customer’s experience
Picture this. You’ve broken your phone and gone with it are the hundreds of photos you’ve treasured for years. While buying your new phone, you casually mention this little tidbit to the salesperson and, by the end of the transaction, they surprise you with a complimentary premium subscription to a cloud storage service, so you never have to lose another photo again. That’s unreasonable hospitality at its finest.
When you personalize your customer’s experience, you bring unreasonable hospitality to life. You don’t just provide them with the product or service they paid for but also show that you care about their needs and go out of your way to address them. By making a gesture that’s specific to a customer, you give them the feeling that they’re heard and seen and not just another number in your profit report.
That’s exactly what Guidara did when he was working as the general manager of Eleven Madison Park in New York. One day, he was bussing a table of four Europeans who’d soon be leaving the city. As he cleared their plates, he couldn’t help but overhear their conversation about missing the chance to eat a street hot dog. Guidara saw that as an opportunity to showcase unreasonable hospitality and out he went to buy a two-dollar hot dog. When he served it to the customers, they were undeniably stoked. They never expected to eat a street hot dog at a four-star restaurant, but Guidara made it happen and that experience will live on with them forever.
There are dozens of opportunities like this in every business. But for you to be able to find them, you need to keep your eyes and ears peeled. Be present in the sense that you’re laser-focused on your customer the moment you face them. Give them all your attention as if they’re the only thing that matters. Only then will you get to understand and meet their specific needs.
Sure, you might need to shell out a bit of cash to fulfill a guest’s particular wish, but not every gesture of unreasonable hospitality needs to be luxurious and grand. It just needs to be thoughtful because at the end of the day, it’s not the gift that makes an impact – it’s how you made the customer feel.
Integrate unreasonable hospitality even in recurring situations
While there’s nothing more heartwarming and rewarding than giving out unique services to each of your customers, you’ll inevitably come across repeating patterns in your business. In real estate, for instance, you’ll have more than one newlywed couple looking for a new home. In health care, there’s always going to be a little girl meeting the dentist for the first time. And in hotels, families with kids will likely be on your reservation list every month.
But just because you encounter these kinds of customers several times doesn’t mean they don’t get to be special. You can apply the magic of unreasonable hospitality even in such cases and that’s with the help of a tool kit.
Your kit contains items prepared beforehand and can readily be given to your customers. No, don’t confuse them with generic boring stuff such as the champagne real estate agents give to every homeowner or the bathrobe and slippers the hotel provides to every guest. Your tool kit is still given to specific customers; they just happen to be applicable to more than one.
To explain this more clearly, let’s go back to the little girl at the dentist. Your tool kit could be a lovely strawberry-scented teddy bear that she can hug while the dentist works on her loose teeth. The dentist doesn’t give this stuffed toy to just any patient who walks through the door, but they’ll likely hand it out many times a day.
By creating a tool kit like this, you can scale unreasonable hospitality and offer some extra love to more than one customer without having to start from scratch every time. You just pull out your tool kit, and voilà: an instant thoughtful gift. This will free you up to concentrate on creating bigger, unique experiences for individual customers.
But while tool kits are a terrific way to provide a special touch to recurring situations, it’s important to use them wisely. You don’t want them to become an expected part of your service or it’ll defeat the purpose of creating a personalized experience.
Take the time to assess whether your tool kits still have that distinctive impact on your customers. If you find that they feel outdated and overused, don’t be scared to change them. Remember that the goal is always to exceed your customers’ expectations.
Change existing rules that hinder genuine interaction
If there’s one thing most people are scared of it’s change, particularly change that involves upending established traditions and long-standing rules. The fear of disrupting the status quo can be paralyzing, and there’s a natural tendency to cling to what’s familiar and comfortable.
But by refusing to embrace change, you risk jeopardizing your goal of giving your customers unreasonable hospitality and connecting with them better. Take the podium at the entrance of a restaurant, for example. This has been an age-old tradition at almost every restaurant, but while it does its job of welcoming customers, it literally stands between the maître d’ and the guests and prevents your staff from giving your customers the warm and personal greeting they deserve.
The old-school podium is just one of the rigid standards you follow only because it has always been that way. Sure, these strict rules ensure that you give your customers technically perfect service, but in your serious effort to achieve excellence, you fail to see that some of your traditions and standards don’t make you more unreasonably hospitable.
So, be brave enough to bend the rules, if not change them completely. Step back, look at your steps of service, and question whether each one adds value to your goal of giving unreasonable hospitality. If not, make sure to improve them.
It’ll also be more impactful if you become open to any ideas your staff have. They likely notice things you don’t, and having more eyes will give you a wider perspective of things.
Use hospitality even in problem-solving
At this point, you now know how to use unreasonable hospitality to keep your employees and customers happy. But unreasonable hospitality has one other superpower that most people often overlook: problem-solving. Believe it or not, the solutions to your problems can sometimes lie in being unreasonably hospitable. By going above and beyond, you can turn a problem into a positive experience.
Let’s say a customer comes to you with a defective laptop they purchased from your store. You could get it over and done with by offering a simple refund. But to be unreasonably hospitable is to give your customers more. So instead of just refunding them, take things a step further. Maybe upgrade the product for free or add a one-year subscription to their favorite photo editing software.
Similarly, unreasonable hospitality can be a handy tool for addressing internal issues in your business. If a worker is struggling with a new role or simply feeling overwhelmed, give them additional support or resources. It could be as simple as granting them a few extra days off or signing them up for a training course to enhance their skills.
Unfortunately, finding a hospitality solution isn’t always an easy feat. It requires you to think outside the box and squeeze out your creative juices. But at its core, unreasonable hospitality is about giving more than what’s expected. So keep that in mind as you brainstorm solutions to problems.
Unreasonable hospitality is all about putting in the extra effort to make your employees and customers feel pampered. It’s not superficial gestures or basic courtesy but a genuine commitment to sprinkle some magic dust into someone’s day.
To be unreasonably hospitable to your employees means listening to them intently, trusting them without hesitation, and giving them recognition as often as possible. Unreasonable hospitality to your customers means delivering an experience that’s specific and personal to them, one they’ll forever cherish and share with others.
Part of practicing unreasonable hospitality is also challenging conventional norms when you know it doesn’t serve you and your customers. Dare to break away from tradition and standards in pursuit of creating a more welcoming environment for the people you serve.
When done right, unreasonable hospitality has the power to do more than just give your employees and customers satisfaction. It can also solve your business problems, whether that’s an unsatisfied customer or a burned-out worker.
Go the extra mile to integrate unreasonable hospitality into your service-based business and watch it drive your business in ways you haven’t expected.
About the author
WILL GUIDARA is the founder of Thank You, a hospitality company that develops world-class destinations and helps leaders across industries transform their approach to customer service. He is a former co-owner of Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad, and is the cofounder of the Welcome Conference, an annual hospitality symposium. He has coauthored four cookbooks, was named one of Crain’s New York Business’s 40 Under 40, and is a recipient of WSJ Magazine’s Innovator Award. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, Christina, and their daughter, Frankie.
Psychology, Marketing, Sales, Entrepreneurship, Management, Leadership, Corporate Culture, Business, Food, Personal Development, Self Help, Memoir, Biography, Hospitality, Travel and Tourism, Customer Relations, Motivational, Entertainment, Dining and Hospitality Industries, Organizational Behavior, Recreation and Entertainment Industries, Restaurant Industries, Industry Profiles, Consumer Industries
Table of Contents
A Letter from Simon Sinek ix
1 Welcome to the Hospitality Economy 1
2 Making Magic in a World That Could Use More of It 9
3 The Extraordinary Power of Intention 21
4 Lessons in Enlightened Hospitality 25
5 Restaurant-Smart vs. Corporate-Smart 32
6 Pursuing a True Partnership 49
7 Setting Expectations 57
8 Breaking Rules and Building a Team 77
9 Working with Purpose, on Purpose 89
10 Creating a Culture of Collaboration 100
11 Pushing Toward Excellence 118
12 Relationships Are Simple. Simple Is Hard. 131
13 Leveraging Affirmation 147
14 Restoring Balance 155
15 The Best Offense Is Offense 163
16 Earning Informality 180
17 Learning to Be Unreasonable 184
18 Improvisational Hospitality 199
19 Scaling a Culture 218
20 Back to Basics 235
I Appreciate You 255
Essential lessons in hospitality for every business, from the former co-owner of legendary restaurant Eleven Madison Park.
Will Guidara was twenty-six when he took the helm of Eleven Madison Park, a struggling two-star brasserie that had never quite lived up to its majestic room. Eleven years later, EMP was named the best restaurant in the world.
How did Guidara pull off this unprecedented transformation? Radical reinvention, a true partnership between the kitchen and the dining room—and memorable, over-the-top, bespoke hospitality. Guidara’s team surprised a family who had never seen snow with a magical sledding trip to Central Park after their dinner; they filled a private dining room with sand, complete with mai-tais and beach chairs, to console a couple with a cancelled vacation. And his hospitality extended beyond those dining at the restaurant to his own team, who learned to deliver praise and criticism with intention; why the answer to some of the most pernicious business dilemmas is to give more—not less; and the magic that can happen when a busser starts thinking like an owner.
Today, every business can choose to be a hospitality business—and we can all transform ordinary transactions into extraordinary experiences. Featuring sparkling stories of his journey through restaurants, with the industry’s most famous players like Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer, Guidara urges us all to find the magic in what we do—for ourselves, the people we work with, and the people we serve.
“Guidara makes his nonfiction debut with an enthusiastic guide for leaders [and asserts] sage advice about leadership.” – Kirkus Review
“Will Guidara is one of the very best in the hospitality business, but this book is for everyone. His insights on how to be a great entrepreneur cut through the noise.” – David Chang, chef and founder of Momofuku, and host of Ugly Delicious
“Working alongside Will Guidara is the ultimate masterclass in how to thoughtfully improve the lives of those around you. He is now sharing his truly remarkable gift with the world in this keenly observant and heartfelt must-read, for anyone looking to stand out from the pack.” –Dan Levy, Emmy® award winning writer, actor, director, and producer of Schitt’s Creek
“One of the five best management books I have ever read. Plus, it is the most engaging and entertaining – by a wide margin. This is, flat out, not a book to miss.” – Roger Martin, writer, strategy advisor and management thinker
“Will Guidara weaves heartfelt stories and keen observations to illustrate how purposeful, no-holds-barred hospitality satisfies our essential need to belong. An exceptional book for anyone or any organization aiming to excel at human connection.” – Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and author of Setting the Table
“In this book, Will Guidara shows us how to lead and to serve at the next level by building a foundation of hospitality, and creating a people-first “working together” culture. It’s an inspiring book for businesses in every industry.” – Alan Mulally, former CEO of Boeing and Ford
“In dining rooms, in conference rooms, and in all corners of hospitality, Will Guidara has made a career out of going above and beyond, giving people what they want, even when they don’t know they want it. This book puts his story, and more than a few of his trade secrets, in your hands.” — Questlove
“Will gives us the best reason to be unreasonable—the people we serve. His approach to hospitality is novel, noble, and not at all exclusive to the restaurant industry. If you want to revolutionize the way you do business, you need this book!” — Dave Ramsey, bestselling author and radio host
“Making people feel welcome, accepted, appreciated, seen, known… what could be cooler than that? This is what Will has unlocked in this book: that hospitality is as thrilling and inspiring to give as it is to receive, both in work, and in life.”— Christina Tosi, founder and CEO of Milk Bar
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Welcome to the Hospitality Economy
At home, we were on top of the world.
Our restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, had recently received four stars from The New York Times, and a couple of James Beard Awards, too. But when my chef-partner Daniel Humm and I arrived at the cocktail reception the night before the awards for the 2010 World’s 50 Best Restaurants, we understood: this was a whole different ball game.
Imagine every famous chef and restaurateur you’ve ever heard of milling around, drinking champagne and catching up with friends-and not one of them was talking to us. I’d never felt so much like a freshman at a new high school trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria, not even when I was a freshman.
It was a huge honor to be invited. The 50 Best awards had begun in 2002, but they’d become immediately meaningful in the industry. First of all, they were decided by a jury of a thousand well-regarded experts from around the world. And nobody had ever considered before how the best restaurants on the planet ranked against one another. By doing so, the awards gave these restaurants a push to become even better when they might have been content to rest on their laurels.
The awards ceremony itself was held at London’s Guildhall, so regal and imposing it might as well have been a palace. As Daniel and I sat down, more than a little intimidated, we foolishly tried to gauge where we were going to land on the list based on where we were sitting relative to chefs like Heston Blumenthal of England’s Fat Duck, or Thomas Keller of Per Se, both of whom had been in the top ten the year before.
I guessed forty. Daniel, always more optimistic, guessed number thirty-five.
The lights went down, the music played. The emcee for the night was a handsome, debonair Brit. And while I’m sure there were all the usual formalities and introductions and “thank you for comings” before the bomb dropped, in my memory there was little preamble before the man said, “To kick it off, coming in at number fifty, a new entry from New York City: Eleven Madison Park!”
That knocked the wind right out of us. We slumped over and stared at our feet.
Unfortunately, what we couldn’t have possibly known (because it was our first year at this event, and because we were the very first restaurant called) is that when they call your name, they’re also projecting your image onto a gigantic screen at the front of the auditorium, so that everyone can see you celebrating your win.
Except we weren’t celebrating. We were at the very bottom of the list! Mortified to see our dejected faces on the thirty-foot-tall screen, I elbowed Daniel, and the two of us mustered a smile and a wave, but it was too little, too late: an auditorium filled with the most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs in the world-our heroes-had already borne witness to our devastation. The night was over for us before it had even begun.
At the reception afterward, we ran into Massimo Bottura, the Italian chef of Osteria Francescana, a Michelin three-star based in Modena-and number six on the list (not that we were counting). He saw us, started laughing, and couldn’t stop: “You guys looked pretty happy up there!”
Fair enough, but Daniel and I weren’t laughing. It was an honor to be recognized as one of the fifty best restaurants in the world; we knew that. Still-in that room, we had come in last place.
We left the party early and headed back to our hotel, where we grabbed a bottle of bourbon from the bar and sat, ready to drown our sorrows, on the steps outside.
We spent the next couple of hours moving through the five stages of grief. We’d staggered out of the auditorium in denial-had that really happened? Then we got mad-who the hell did they think they were? We breezed through bargaining and spent the better part of the bottle on depression before settling into a state of acceptance.
On one level, it’s absolutely ridiculous to call any restaurant “the best restaurant in the world.” But the importance of the 50 Best list is that it names the places that are having the greatest impact on the world of food at a given moment in time.
The techniques that Spanish chef Ferran Adriˆ pioneered at El Bulli introduced molecular gastronomy to the world. RenŽ Redzepi championed foraged and wild-caught foods from the land and water surrounding his Copenhagen restaurant Noma, and a local food movement was born. And if you’ve eaten out or walked down the aisles of your local grocery in the last ten years, you’ve felt the impact those innovations have had on my industry and beyond.
These chefs had the courage to make something no one had made before, and to introduce elements that changed the game for everyone.
We hadn’t done that yet. We’d worked our butts off to earn a spot on that list, but what, really, had we done that was groundbreaking? The more we talked, the more it became clear: nothing.
We had everything we needed: the work ethic, the experience, the talent, the team. But we’d been operating as glorified curators, picking the best features of all the great restaurants that had come before us and making them our own.
Our restaurant was excellent and made a lot of people happy. But it hadn’t yet changed the conversation.
When I was young, my dad gave me a paperweight that read, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” That’s what I was thinking about when Daniel and I wrote, “We will be Number One in the world,” on a cocktail napkin.
It was very late, and the bottle was mostly empty by the time we stumbled back to our respective rooms. I was exhausted, but my mind kept racing back to that napkin.
Most of the chefs on the 50 Best list had made their impact by focusing on innovation, on what needed to change. But as I thought about the impact I wanted to make, I focused on the one thing that wouldn’t. Fads fade and cycle, but the human desire to be taken care of never goes away.
Daniel’s food was extraordinary; he was undeniably one of the best chefs in the world. So if we could become a restaurant focused passionately, intentionally, wholeheartedly on connection and graciousness-on giving both the people on our team and the people we served a sense of belonging-then we’d have a real shot at greatness.
I wanted to be number one, but that desire wasn’t just about the award; I wanted to be part of the team that made that impact.
Just before I drifted off to sleep, I smoothed out the napkin and added two more words:
Service Is Black and White; Hospitality Is Color
When I was younger, I took a lot of pride in coming up with interview questions.
I now believe the best interview technique is no technique at all: you simply have enough of a conversation that you can get to know the person a little bit. Do they seem curious and passionate about what we’re trying to build? Do they have integrity; are they someone I can respect? Is this someone I can imagine myself-and my team-happily spending a lot of time with?
But before I had the experience to let the conversation flow, one of my favorite questions to ask was, “What’s the difference between service and hospitality?”
The best answer I ever got came from a woman I ended up not hiring. She said, “Service is black and white; hospitality is color.”
“Black and white” means you’re doing your job with competence and efficiency; “color” means you make people feel great about the job you’re doing for them. Getting the right plate to the right person at the right table is service. But genuinely engaging with the person you’re serving, so you can make an authentic connection-that’s hospitality.
Daniel Humm and I spent eleven years turning Eleven Madison Park, a beloved but middling two-star brasserie serving seafood towers and soufflŽs, into the number one restaurant in the world. We got on that 50 Best list by pursuing excellence, the black and white, attending to every detail and getting as close to perfection as we could. But we got to number one by going Technicolor-by offering hospitality so bespoke, so over the top, it can be described only as unreasonable.
We had a radical idea of what the guest experience could be, and our vision was unlike any other out there. “You’re not being realistic,” someone would invariably tell us, every time we contemplated one of our reinventions. “You’re being unreasonable.”
That word “unreasonable” was meant to shut us down-to end the conversation, as it so often does. Instead, it started one, and became our call to arms. Because no one who ever changed the game did so by being reasonable. Serena Williams. Walt Disney. Steve Jobs. Martin Scorsese. Prince. Look across every discipline, in every arena-sports, entertainment, design, technology, finance-you need to be unreasonable to see a world that doesn’t yet exist.
Chefs at the finest restaurants in the world had long been celebrated for being unreasonable about the food they served. At Eleven Madison Park, we came to realize the remarkable power of being unreasonable about how we made people feel. I’m writing this book because I believe it’s time for every one of us to start being unreasonable about hospitality.
Of course, I hope everyone in my own industry reads this book and makes that choice, but I believe this idea can result in a seismic shift if it extends beyond restaurants. For most of this country’s history, America functioned as a manufacturing economy; now, we’re a service economy, and dramatically so-more than three-quarters of our GDP comes from service industries. So whether you’re in retail, finance, real estate, education, healt hcare, computer services, transportation, or communications, you have an incredible opportunity to be just as intentional and creative-as unreasonable-about pursuing hospitality as you are about every other aspect of your business. Because whether a company has made the choice to put their team and their customers at the center of every decision will be what separates the great ones from the pack.
Unfortunately, these skills have never been less valued than they are in our current hyperrational, hyperefficient work culture. We are in the middle of a digital transformation. That transformation has enhanced many aspects of our lives, but too many companies have left the human behind. They’ve been so focused on products, they’ve forgotten about people. And while it may be impossible to quantify in financial terms the impact of making someone feel good, don’t think for a second that it doesn’t matter. In fact, it matters more.
The answer is simple, if not easy: create a culture of hospitality. Which means addressing questions I’ve spent my career asking: How do you make the people who work for you and the people you serve feel seen and valued? How do you give them a sense of belonging? How do you make them feel part of something bigger than themselves? How do you make them feel welcome?
There’s a long-standing debate in my profession as to whether hospitality can be taught. Many leaders I respect believe it can’t; I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, in 2014, I founded a conference for dining room professionals with my friend Anthony Rudolf, who was at the time the general manager of Per Se, with the intention of doing just that.
Chefs gathered at different conferences around the world, but there wasn’t a single one for the people who worked in the dining room. So we set out to create a space where like-minded, passionate people could form community, trade ideas, and inspire one another-and, in so doing, evolve our craft.
We called it the Welcome Conference, and it was an instant hit with restaurant people. Dining room professionals from all over the country attended lectures, networked over drinks, and went home reinvigorated.
By the conference’s third year, though, when we looked out into the audience, we saw sommeliers and servers sitting next to people who didn’t work in restaurants at all: tech titans, small business owners, the CEOs of huge real estate companies. These people believed, as I do, that how they served their clients was as valuable as what they served. And they knew that what they could learn from leaders in my business could supercharge how they ran theirs.
When you create a hospitality-first culture, everything about your business improves-whether that means finding and retaining great talent, turning customers into raving fans, or increasing your profitability. It’s my hope this book will be part of the movement ushering in this new era. But my motivation isn’t your bottom line-or not my only one, anyway. Because what I’d really like to do is let you in on a little secret, one that the truly great professionals in my business know: hospitality is a selfish pleasure. It feels great to make other people feel good.
In this book, I’ll share stories from the twenty-five years I’ve spent working every position in a restaurant, from dishwasher to owner, and everything in between. And I’ll share the lessons I’ve learned about service and leadership through the lens of hospitality-the little ones, the big ones, and the little ones that turned out to be big ones. Everything, in other words, you need to turn the world from black and white to color for you, the people you work with, and the people you serve.
Welcome to the hospitality economy.
Making Magic in a World That Could Use More of It
For my twelfth birthday, my dad took me to the Four Seasons for dinner.
At the time, I had no idea the Four Seasons was the first truly American fine-dining restaurant. Or that the elegant, mid-century modern interior was so iconic, it would eventually be designated a landmark by the City of New York.
I didn’t know that James Beard and Julia Child had consulted on the menu, or that President John F. Kennedy had celebrated his birthday there an hour before Marilyn Monroe serenaded him with “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” Or that celebrities, titans of industry, and heads of state could judge whether their star had fallen in the city’s ever-shifting power rankings by how close their table was to the Carrara marble pool at the center of the room.
What I did know was that the Four Seasons was the fanciest and most beautiful place I’d ever been in my life.