Review of Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table” by Michael R.

25 06 2008

Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table: Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (HarperCollins, 2006) presents a unique take on the restaurateur’s life in the hospitality industry and the lessons he has learned from it. Though it contains elements of autobiography, it is not simply a recounting of his experiences in the cut-throat field of food service in New York City. He relates his philosophy of providing hospitality for profit as it has evolved over the past two-plus decades since the opening of Union Square Café through his other successful ventures such as Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, The Modern, and Hudson Yards Catering.


Meyer has an amazing track record—none of his restaurants has failed. He contends that the reason this is so is because of what he calls “enlightened hospitality”. The priorities of his business model are the inverse of the traditional restaurant: the most important are the employees, followed by the guests, community, suppliers, and finally the investors. He contends that if you strive to make your employees’ jobs and lives more interesting and rewarding, everything else will fall into place. Given his success, he’s got to be on to something. For instance, he provides meal vouchers once a month for all employees who have worked in his restaurants for at least three months. These vouchers allow staff to eat at any of the other restaurants for free, in exchange for the employee completing a detailed survey about their dining and hospitality experience.


Some of the aphorisms Meyer provides in the book give a hint at his business philosophy. For instance, “Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. These two concepts—for and to–express it all.” And, “Context, context, context, trumps the outdated location, location, location.” “Err on the side of generosity: You get more by first giving more.” Even the title to Chapter 10 is a lesson: “The Road to Success Is Paved with Mistakes Well Handled.”


I highly recommend this book for anybody who wants to work in, manage, or open a restaurant. You might not want or need all the information provided in it, but I am convinced that you will find several concepts that will be applicable and profitable.




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