“Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” is restaurateur Danny Meyer’s new book. In a speech at NYU, Meyer explained his philosophy:

“The customer is not always right. While the customer is not always right, he/she must always feel heard.”

Meyer said his business strategy is built on both good service, defined as the technical delivery of a product, and “enlightened hospitality,” which is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel. He argued that hospitality is the distinguishing factor for success in this new, service economy. In the information age, competitors know how to offer the same products and services, but the culture and experience companies create for their customers will help them stand out. “It’s all about how you make the customer feel. You must make customers feel that you’re on their side,” he said.

To create this hospitable culture, restaurants must hire the right people, said Meyer. He hires “51 percenters” – staff with a high “hospitality quotient (HQ)” whose skills are 49 percent technical and 51 percent emotional. The emotional skills that are required to create a high HQ are: (1) optimism and kindness, (2) curiosity about learning, (3) an exceptional work ethic, (4) a high degree of empathy, and (5) self-awareness and integrity.

Meyer reinforced that the first and most important application of hospitality is to the people who work for you, and then, in descending order of priority, to the guests, the community, the suppliers, and the investors. “By putting your employees first, you have happier employees, which then lead to a higher HQ. A higher HQ leads to happy customers, which benefits all the stakeholders. The cycle is virtuous, not linear, because the stakeholders all impact each other.”

In an interview with Amazon, Meyer discusses “hospitalitarians” and the restaurant version of defensive design:

[A hospitalitarian is] someone with a very high “HQ”—or hospitality quotient. It’s someone whose emotional makeup leads them to derive pleasure from the act of delivering pleasure…

Don’t judge a restaurant by the honest mistakes it makes; do judge a place by how effectively and thoughtfully it strives to overcome those mistakes!...

People will generally forgive an honest mistake when someone takes responsibility for it with genuine concern.

Mark Hurst has invited Meyer to speak at GEL and yesterday posted an excerpt from the book where Meyer describes the difference between “service” and “hospitality.”

The Ritz-Carlton hotels are deservedly famous for their focus on service; they don’t call it hospitality. But as a guest there, I have occasionally sensed a rote quality in the process, when every employee responds with exactly the same phrase, “My pleasure,” to anything guests ask or say. Hearing “My pleasure” over and over again can get rather creepy after a while. It’s like hearing a flight attendant chirp, “Bye now!” and “Bye-bye!” 200 times as passengers disembark from an airplane. Hospitality can not flow from a monologue.