This Blog is the 7th, in a series of EIGHT, that focuses on the success behind Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.  

Here, at The Hospitality Company, we confront many challenges, but an immediate hurdle is communicating what exemplary hospitality feels like.

Ensuring others understand what exemplary hospitality feels like is difficult because so few have experienced what we mean within the context of business.

By invitation, we often report back to the owners of a business where they are ‘at’ in terms of hospitality; a ‘Hospitality Report Card’ so to speak. Sometimes the response is defensive because they rightly consider themselves a high-achieving business; high-achieving businesses are usually the ones who ask for advice in the first place.

Nevertheless, part of the challenge is to help them get over the “we don’t get complaints” response to profoundly understanding that hospitality is about doing what is right, AND what will continue to build the gap between their business and their competition – you know … the other businesses that create a great product, at the same price, and with equally slick service. It’s too easy to pretend they don’t exist!

Genuine innovation in any industry often doesn’t feel urgent, but if the current business climate teaches us anything at all – it’s that innovation is defining; ask any millennial or generation z.

If you’ve been in business a long time, or you’re experienced and talented – then you and your team are possibly in the most danger of all. You’re, quite rightly, confident and secure with your moderately successful margins and your trusted brand profile, but that’s a 20th Century form of security. Most innovative companies of the world understand that world has gone, and that’s why Danny Meyer and the Union Square Hospitality Group have made such an impact on the wider world of business.

As you well know, the 21st Century consumer is moulded towards experiential & relational consumerism, and the experiences they report are the extremely good and the bad. The ordinary ‘experience’ isn’t news. We can’t afford to be ordinary, and we can’t afford to have ordinary relationships with our ‘customers’.

So, here’s a big tip from those whose eyes are steered towards noticing the ‘feelings’ that your business creates, or doesn’t create, within the hearts of those you wish to bond.

We start with a one-word power shift. Are the ‘customers’ obviously feeling like guests? Is the commercial nature of the business softened by genuine hospitality … the sort you would experience in a hospitable home?

Danny Meyer is famous for saying, “A great restaurant is one that just makes you feel like you’re not sure whether you went out or you came home and confuses you,” said Meyer. “If it can do both of those things at the same time, you’re hooked.”

Does your work-place culture think of your customers as guests? This one-word shift represents the enormous difference between service and hospitality.

Guests are people who you care about and who you want to do things for; you want to make them feel special as individuals. Customers may receive excellent service, but in the end, it was just a commercial transaction. Guests are special – every single one of them, and hospitality is the science that makes that happen.

We believe, hospitality, is the most powerful business strategy of the 21st Century and it’s free! Initially, all it takes is a creative and willing desire to make others feel awesome, after that it’s hard work – but it pays HUGELY.

On my final night at Union Square Café, having enjoyed the hospitality of Nick in the bar, Hannah, ‘Nelson’ and others … I spontaneously sighed, and said, “I feel like I’m leaving home”.

I’d forgotten the theory; my sigh was real. The Union Square Hospitality Group – had me bonded, hook line and sinker; I was a person and not just a wallet.

THREE conclusions to consider:

  1. Consider using the power of language to create a behavioural shift. Consider referring to your customers as guests. If you already call them guests – do your team understand the implications? Punters, clients, shoppers, viewers, listeners etc may be accurate, but are the terms helping you create a culture of hospitality?
  2. Be prepared to blur the lines between what is professional, business-like or commercial … and think about how things are done in successful homes.
  3. You’re in business and it’s about making money! The term ‘customer’ is valid, but softening the commercial experience by treating customers like guests is smart – very smart.


Reflections on New York, Alexis O’Connell for The Hospitality Company