He made round-the-block lines for a hamburger and fries seem completely normal, was out front on a smoking ban and a tipping ban, and has used his customer-centric hospitality philosophy to run 15 different restaurants under his Union Square Hospitality Group empire.
But Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer’s advice is as relevant for the boardroom as it is for the kitchen.
Like all successful businesses, the hospitality industry is founded on the idea that happy customers need more than the product you’re trying to sell; they also need a good experience you’re providing along with that product if you want them to return.
And as Meyer explained to Anderson Cooper on a recent “60 Minutes” segment, he adheres to a number of business philosophies that help his staff — and could help you — in every client interaction.
To succeed with clients, figure out who’s the boss
“There’s no question in my mind that at every single table there’s somebody who’s got the biggest agenda,” Meyer told Cooper. “If it’s two people doing business, there’s someone who’s trying to sell something to somebody else. And I think that if you can figure that out early on in the meal, and understand what is it gonna take for the boss to leave happy. It could be make sure that someone else gets to pick the wine.”
Meyer said identifying the boss as someone with “the biggest agenda” reminds us that the person you need to make feel like a boss may not actually hold the title. But to win in restaurants or in office meetings, you need to make your client feel like one.
Make people feel special
“Everyone on Earth is walking around life wearing an invisible sign that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ And your job is to understand the size of the font of this invisible sign and how brightly it’s lit,” Meyer explained.
“So make me feel important by leaving me alone. Make me feel important by letting me tell you everything I know about food. So it’s our job to read that sign and to deliver the experience that that person needs,” he said.
To figure out who needs to feel important for you to get your desired outcome, Meyer believes it’s your job to use empathy and intuition to figure what people want — and how to give it to them. The challenge is that everyone has different wants, and they’re not always good at communicating them.
Don’t be afraid to go it alone
Visionary ideas are, by their definition, something no one else is doing. Meyer, who pioneered no-smoking bans in his NYC restaurants years ahead before the policy became law, knows this. Meyer said that to succeed, you have to be okay with standing alone with your idea and doing it anyway. Even if standing alone means pioneering a no-tipping movement, in order to balance the compensation for wait staff as well as kitchen workers, and seeing that no-tipping movement trigger a backlash that includes a class-action lawsuit by customers.
“For me, it’s almost immaterial who’s doing it besides us. What matters is that we’re doing it. It could be that we’re slightly ahead of our time. But we’re in it to win this thing,” Meyer said about his decision to eliminate smoking and tipping in his restaurants.
Any good reward requires some sort of risk. If you want to take your idea to the next level, like Meyer has done, you’ll have to be prepared for the pushback your idea will receive.