‘Setting the Table’ with Danny Meyer

‘Setting the Table’ is Danny Meyers guide to the world of hospitality. Mr. Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) and has decades of years as a restauranteur in New York City. Working in arguably one of the most competitive environments for  restaurants, Danny Meyer has managed to make a name for himself, synonymous with good hospitality and impeccable quality.

His book, ‘Setting the Table’ gives us insight into his philosophy on hospitality. Without giving away all of his trade secrets, his philosophy is simple; treat people well enough that they keep coming back for more. But, how do we go about treating people well? There are loads of nice people in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee they are all successes. This is what Mr. Meyer tries to teach through stories of his own experience. Explaining the ins-and-outs of key moments in his business, instances of personal doubt and pivotal milestones. It’s harder than it looks but when done well, it looks effortless.

This book isn’t just a clinical lecture in managerial styles or a how-to guide on how to succeed in the restaurant world. It is an opportunity to learn from a master in the field. The lessons are complicated because the business is complicated. My biggest takeaways are;

  • Hospitality must be hospitable. This may seem obvious, but there are a lot of businesses where customers are made to feel as if they are being done a favor by supporting you. If you are in this business you are here to assist and make people feel good. If someone comes away feeling a little less happy or a sense of lacking, there is a problem.
  • Editing is key. Not everything in life is for you. Not every person or every experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an incredibly full life. It simply means you need to know what is for you. When you figure that out you can spend your time  focusing and taking care of the things that really matter.
  • You can always write your final chapter. Things happen in life. Some you can’t control but that doesn’t mean you can’t own your resposibility for what happened and make the best of it. When you handle tough situations with a bit of grace, ingenuity, hard work and sometimes humor, you would be surprised how you can flip them for a positive in the end.

Personally, this guide felt more like a self-help book than an exercise in management. I see Mr. Meyer more as a ‘Yoda like mentor’, even though I have never met him. His principles feel as a way to live a good and happy life anyone can use in their life. Granted, he makes it sound easy with his massive amounts of success and twenty/twenty hindsight, however how great would it be if we can all be happy and successful if we simply treated people right and looked out for our communities?

Ultimately, learning from someone else’s experience is very difficult. Danny Meyer makes it easy by taking us through his thought process. You may not agree with every decision he makes or all of his resolutions, but it’s not your job to judge. Your job is to keep an open mind, learn from his wisdom and decided wether or not it has any relevance to your situation. Regardless, of your views of his business and philosophies, Daniel Meyer deserves everyones respect for what he has accomplished in the restaurant world outlined in his book. He undoubtedly deserves a seat at the table.



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