Water Into Wine? How About A Beetle Into A Beatle? A Danny Meyer Story.

Danny Meyer says in Setting the Table, “Business, like life, is all about his you make people feel. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.” Meyer is famous not just for his restaurants, but also for explaining the difference between service and hospitality. Service, he explains, is the technical delivery of a product, while hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes the client feel. In terms of communication, service is a monologue and hospitality is a dialogue. In all of Meyer’s restaurants, their focus is on this combined experience. The results are impossible to argue with.

One story that illustrates what he calls “enlightened hospitality” is the time Senator Bob Kerry was served a salad with a beetle in it at Gramercy Tavern. It was immediately returned, apologized for and comped, but the experience was still well below the standard Meyer expects to provide. At any other restaurant, the service and response would have been good enough, but to Meyer, his unresolved issue was with the story the client would tell to themselves and potentially others in the future.

The incident had happened at dinner and the next day Kerry ran into Meyer while ordering lunch at another one of his establishments. Kerry explained that it was just a garden beetle and an honest mistake. Clearly, he’d still be eating with him, but any owner would want to know that there was a bug in the food. Meyer was mortified. His instinct in cases like this is to do what he calls “writing a new last chapter.” The current story would go, “It’s a great place, but one time…” and that would be unacceptable for their reputation.

Meyer instructed a waiter to bring Kerry a complimentary salad with a folded note on top that said, “Ringo.” When he opened the note and looked confused, the waiter informed him that, “Danny wanted to make sure you knew Gramercy Tavern wasn’t the only one of his restaurants capable of serving a Beatle in your salad.” It was a bad pun, but Kerry got a laugh – and certainly couldn’t tell the beetle story ever again without adding the Beatle ending. Genius.

Beyond an apology and a comped salad, Meyer rewrote the last chapter to the client’s story. Now if Kerry were to talk about it, it would go something like, “it’s a great place. Once I got a beetle in my salad, which they took care of – no big deal. However, the next day when I went to another of Meyer’s restaurants, the waiter put a note on my salad that said ‘Ringo,’ promising I could get a Beatle on my salad in any one of his restaurants!” Consider the difference.

Our goal is to not just serve but to show hospitality. Meyer exemplifies how the technical delivery matters, but the way we leave people feeling is what they’ll remember. What is remembered is what is shared, and that’s something we can’t ever forget.

Read more about Meyer and the culture he’s built here, and his take on business rules of thumb here.

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