Over the last couple of weeks, I have been blessed to experience the hospitality of the famously successful Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). It’s been one of the most rewarding professional, and personal, experiences of my life.
The USHG have been what some call ‘cultural hackers’ – the sort of influencers that create change; leaders who alter the cultural landscape for good.
The focus on Danny Meyer’s original Enlightened Hospitality has not wavered, and in all my working life I have never experienced anything quite like it. Life is filled with smoke and mirrors, but sometimes we are fortunate enough to experience genuine excellence, aspirational practice, and a large group of admirable people.
I’ve found myself replaying my entire working life and realising how different it could have been if I’d confidently understood and acted on just a few of the moments I’ve experienced in the last couple of weeks.
I will be reporting on the detail of my experience over the next month, and the full report will be available through The Hospitality Company before the end of April. The report contains a detailed account of all my experiences at the USHG restaurants from Gramercy Tavern to Daily Provisions, and my time with some of the leaders within the company.
Meanwhile, I want to focus specifically on what Hospitality Quotient calls
… THE AGE OF THE HOSPITALITY ECONOMY™
Hospitality Quotient (HQ) is the education arm of the USHG, spearheaded by Susan Salgado. Susan completed a Ph.D. in Organizational Behaviour at NYU’s Stern School of Business on the company practices of the USHG. She is an expert at articulating the key characteristics that have made the USHG remarkably successful. HQ’s services can be found on their website at
… and specifically, their open workshop Creating Raves can be found at:
Make sure you watch Susan’s excellent TEDx Broadway clip; which can be found on the HQ homepage, (scroll down).
I was determined to find out how the USHG create such a seamless and natural culture of hospitality across all their restaurants.
Susan is clear, the experience of the customer directly reflects that experience of the employee.
My wonderful experience was the result of a strong culture within the company.
Susan clearly differentiates culture from amenities, for example: ping pong tables and nap rooms are amenities that may reflect a culture, but they are not the means to create work place culture. Amenities should reflect the desired work-place culture that best fits the character of the employees; for example, what suits Google or Facebook is quite different from the requirements of a team at Goldman Sachs.
Culture is deeper. Susan describes work place culture in the same way as it is moulded in families. In families, we create a culture of values, we celebrate and prioritise specific traditions and rituals that reflect what we consider important and meaningful; we teach what is right and wrong, what is in and out of bounds. Any tribe, group of people, team or workplace share a culture even if weak or conflicted.
The remarkable nature of a strong workplace culture is that you can usually rest on the natural behaviour of the individual, and allow them to be themselves. A family with strong values, continuous support, appreciation and love, usually results in a youngster with the same sort of character. It’s the same in the workplace.
For this reason, HQ focuses on leadership from the top. Great leadership is critical to a successful business. By leadership, Susan means anyone who has power over others; owners, directors, managers and supervisors.
The traditional command and control form of leadership doesn’t work; a FOH team must want to be hospitable, and that’s achieved by employing the right people, providing a workplace culture that makes the team happy and equipping them with the right tools to allow them to be themselves.
Happy Employees = Happy Customers
By the above statement, HQ means that if you are concerned about your customer experience, your first action should be focused on your employee experience. It takes a happy employee to create a happy customer.
Susan explains, there are TWO components to great hospitality; there is the service, or technical side, and how it ‘feels’ – that’s the hospitality side. Great hospitality makes your customer feel like you are truly on their side.
When you have great hospitality and service together, you have a winning customer experience.
Susan is confident and firm; the businesses that are thriving have the power of great hospitality. Great hospitality creates ‘shared ownership’ – all the people in the universe of your business will want your business to thrive.
This is the economy of hospitality, and I’ve never experienced anything like it before.
From New York, April 13th – Alexis O’Connell for The Hospitality Company