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If you have been following my blogs over recent weeks, you will know that I’m a bit fired up. It’s all very well reading about best practice, studying theory and seeing the disconnect between the ideal and what is experienced, but to experience best practice first-hand in a sustained and powerful fashion is a different kind of research altogether.

If you have been reading previous blogs, you will know that I spent most of April experiencing (and studying) the hospitality provided by the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG).

I haven’t made it quite clear yet as to why I set my sights on this Hospitality Group, and while they are not the last on my list, they were certainly first.

James has been a long-time admirer of Danny Meyer’s business practice, and Meyer’s book Setting the Table has been a staple in our home since it was published. There is also the 28 James Beard Awards, the Michelin Stars, the consistent #1 placings on the Zagat Most Popular Restaurant list, Meyer himself on the #1 Nations Restaurant News -Power List and the TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people, amongst other impressive awards and moments of recognition. Admittedly, I also have a green-eyed appreciation of Meyer’s life-time exposure to contemporary American painting.

My curiosity was pricked by all the obvious things, but particularly by the softly spoken, intelligent and sparkly eyed presence that the USHG leaders have had in the American news, (as, yet Danny Meyer has a ‘zero’ profile in New Zealand – although I notice some in the Australian industry have caught onto the USHG ‘lingo’).

It’s hard to ignore the power of an exciting mission driven business, and the charm of the learned business expression of Danny Meyer and Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti. So, initially, my interest was sparked by the LEADERS in the Hospitality Group.

That was then, and this is now.

Ever since visiting the restaurant group, reasonably intensely, for a few weeks I’ve become increasingly curious about middle-leaders in a business, and I find myself looking out for them. Here’s why.

She’s why … Whitney Sanchez that is, the Guest Relations Manager at the USHG Head Office.

My experience with the USHG was phenomenal; from Gramercy Tavern, Untitled, Jazz Standard and Blue Smoke (x2), North End Grill, Maialino, Marta, The Modern and finally Union Square Café the level of hospitality I received was nothing I had every experienced before. I met every manager on duty, several hardworking chefs and a ridiculously young and beautiful sommelier. My daughter and I were terribly spoilt with food, drink, attention and enthusiastic conversation everywhere we went. The consistency, but also the unique experience, at every enterprise was not only smart and perceptive, but kind and thoughtful.

Behind every wonderful experience … was Whitney’s initial influence, plans and internal communication. While it was never said, or even admitted, we were greeted like dear friends all over NYC because Whitney had organised teams of like minded middle-leaders to treat us accordingly. She had thought to share information that I didn’t even think was too relevant about my daughter and I, and yet others managed to turn that information into thoughtful moments of hospitality.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that I adore Whitney. She has my hospitality whenever she would like it.

Whitney graciously agreed to meet us at Union Square Café for drinks. We sat, leaning on the exact bar-top that had been relocated from the previous location, when she admitted that organising our USHG itinerary had been a great deal of fun; that she got ‘joy’ from organising an experience for us that she knew would make us happy. Remember this was for a Kiwi mum and a school girl; not anyone at all ‘special’ in the context of New York.

My point is this, while it’s sort of true, that no business is going to be better than its owner and/or Executive Leaders … it is closer to the truth to claim, that no business is better than it’s middle-leaders. It’s the middle-leaders that activate what needs to be done, create momentum, and provide the opportunities for a FOH team to provide memorable hospitality. As a customer, it is the influence of the middle-leader that drives consistent excellence and daily business performance.

While it’s true to say that business owners need to be the sort of leaders that can nurture the type of culture that allows the Whitney’s in hospitality to flourish; it is still Whitney, a manager, and the middle-leaders she organised, that directly made the difference.

Many times, in smaller hospitality enterprises, I have seen, once thriving businesses, struggle after a talented manager has moved on. A business, that relies on the ‘owner-genius on a caffeine over-dose’ rarely results in a thriving sustainable business. It was all the restaurant manager’s, that Whitney put me in contact with, and especially Whitney herself, who were the lifeblood behind our experience.

Five conclusions to consider:

  1. Appreciate the role that managers have in your business; all things being well, they are the ones creating daily momentum.
  2. Develop your managers, gift them increasing knowledge, responsibility and freedom to shine.
  3. Treat your managers like partners, be in it together, and share as much knowledge as you can, (including financial).
  4. Pickle your managers in the culture of authentic hospitality, and provide the tools to make it possible
  5. Provide a career path for developing managers; sew ambitious ideas in their minds and praise all progress.

The influence that an engaged manager has on the success of your business is the difference between night and day.