Danny Meyer: Do it here in NYC

Danny Meyer

May 9th, 2012 brought the inimitable Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group to the Newman Library for the last Zicklin Leadership luncheon of the semester.

Mr. Meyer spoke with a breezy comfort and started with a perennial topic — leadership. It is everything you learned as a kid: picking a winning team.  Who’s gonna be on your kickball team.  That’s what he does. Picks the best team he can.  And 25 James Beard awards in 25 years says something about that team and the value of that strategy.

It comes down to who you want on your team.  The difficult part is how do you pick.  Mr. Meyer looks for potential (i.e. Hospitality Quotient or HQ) and those that are always looking for improvement.

Meyer continued on the nature of his leadership team.  Great business teams have 4 components.  Take the Beatles as an example:  Ideas for what is next (John); Analysis of those ideas (George); Getting things done (Paul); and Getting along (Ringo).

The shelf-life of innovation has nearly completely evaporated. Whatever you do will be instantly copied in this age of Twitter, FourSquare, and the like.  Soon that innovation becomes the price of entry for that business.  Hospitality, however, is path-dependent and can’t be copied.  That’s your competitive advantage.

You already know the fundamentals.  We learn hospitality from the moment we are born:

  • Eye Contact:  Shows that you are important;
  • Smile: Shows that the persons is happy to see you;
  • Hug: Shows that giving pleasure is mutual;
  • Good Food:  Well, enough said.

Questions from the Audience:

How do you keep your best people?  First you try your best to pick not only the best people, but also those that will fit into your culture. Second, I make one rule paramount: “Take care of each other.”  People work with people.  You better be able to count on those around you and be sure that they can count on you.  Taking care of each other directly translates to the customers. They see it.

If you had to open your first restaurant today, would you do so in NYC? It was crazy in ’85 and people told me so. It was hard with the City being the way it was.  We survived.  Today you have so many advantages.  First, if it’s your first restaurant, nobody knows you, so there are no limitations or expectations.  Second, NYC has so many advantages compared to other towns.  The talent pool here is deep and is the best anywhere.  Critically, there is a wide and sophisticated customer base with means. And there is the media glare. So why look anywhere else.  You are already here.  Do it here in NYC.

Where will your growth be?  Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.  There will be no “shake shack in the sky” at 1 WTC.  We are one of many teams pursuing that opportunity.  It is our hospitality group (i.e. catering) teaming with other companies going after the observation deck.  The goal is to innovate and to create an experience that takes in the view at many price points.

Thank you Mr. Meyer for stopping by. May we see you next at TED. And always many thanks to the staff members who made all this possible.  You can hear the entire program soon on CUNY Radio.


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