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160 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart about restaurants, brilliant about life
The 2006 Zagat Survey lists Gramercy Tavern as New York's most popular restaurant. (It was also #1 last year.)

Union Square Café came in second. (As it did last year.)

Eleven Madison Park ranked fourteen. (Down one from 2005.)

Tabla was eighteen. (Up one from 2005.)

Blue Smoke --- unranked in 2005 --- was the 36th most...
Published on October 3, 2006 by Jesse Kornbluth

versus
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Someone loves himself
I have to read this book for a business/hospitality class......with every chapter I die a little more inside. Not because of the business and hospitality advice, theories and insight he offers, but because I am so sick of the man talking about himself. If you want to be a narcissist and write an auto biography go for it, but I don't want to be forced to read a book about...
Published 14 months ago by shannon


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160 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart about restaurants, brilliant about life, October 3, 2006
The 2006 Zagat Survey lists Gramercy Tavern as New York's most popular restaurant. (It was also #1 last year.)

Union Square Café came in second. (As it did last year.)

Eleven Madison Park ranked fourteen. (Down one from 2005.)

Tabla was eighteen. (Up one from 2005.)

Blue Smoke --- unranked in 2005 --- was the 36th most popular restaurant.

These Manhattan restaurants were all conceived by one man: Danny Meyer, who has also created the restaurants at The Museum of Modern Art and an outdoor joint called Shake Shack. Most restaurants fail, and quickly; these restaurants have, most of them, been around long enough to qualify as "institutions." If you have ever had the good fortune to sample Danny Meyer's food, you know they are likely to remain so deep into the future.

Now Danny Meyer has written a book. It is nominally a memoir about his life in restaurants. But although there are mouth-watering descriptions of great meals, it will be a great tragedy if this book becomes "food porn," devoured by foodies and unknown to the general public. This is a bigger book, and a better book, than that. (Not that there's anything wrong with food porn.) For one thing, it is a business book that should be read --- like: today! --- by anyone whose livelihood involves face-to-face encounters with customers. For another, it is a hands-on, real-world book of practical philosophy that could knock a great deal of sense into those who believe that nice guys finish last and the only way to get to the top is to kick others off the ladder as you claw your way up.

This book obeys the form of memoir, especially in the young Meyer's culinary education --- his writing will remind some readers of A.J. Liebling's postgraduate adventures in Between Meals. But almost every story has a psychological twist; this is a man who has learned a lot by eating and a lot more by listening and watching.

What he's concluded is obvious to those who have been to his restaurants: It's not about the food. It's about the people. It's about the way you feel when you're there --- about the way the staff makes you feel. In a word, it's about hospitality. What is hospitality? It starts with a belief: "The other person is on your side." And then the belief becomes behavior: "Hospitality is present when something happens for you."

Meyer came to this business philosophy young. In 1985, when he was 27 and opening his first restaurant, Union Square Café, he had job applicants answer unusual questions: "Has your sense of humor been useful to you in your service career?" and "What was so wrong about your last job?" and "Do you prefer Hellmann's or Miracle Whip?" In this way, he hired "genuine, happy, optimistic" people. They shared their good feelings with customers. And customers felt liked and valued. They became regulars --- and if the secret of a successful long-term enterprise is not Repeat Business, what is it?

Make no mistake: this kind of hospitality requires work. Not just when the customer walks through the door, but before and after. If Meyer knows a couple is coming to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, he's not above picking up a phone and telling them how much he's looking forward to their visit. Then there was the dishwasher who took extra care with dirty dishes; soon, he'd cut knife-and-fork loss by 50%. His manager told Meyer. And Meyer went to the dishwasher to thank him. Or the time a woman left her wallet and cell phone in a taxi. The restaurant manager began calling her phone, reached the cab driver, and --- without saying a word to her --- he sent a staffer in a taxi to pick up her stuff while she was having lunch. Cost: $31. The customer's response: Overwhelmed. Benefit: "I'd be surprised if this woman hasn't already given Table 100 times that value in positive word-of-mouth."

Mistakes? Of course Meyer has made them. But he listened very hard to the advice he got from legendary retailer Stanley Marcus --- "The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled" --- and figured out how to turn a mistake into what he calls "a great last chapter." He learned about power and how best to use it. He grasped that his first customers are his workers. And he appreciated that, as Dylan says, "you gotta serve somebody" --- to his great credit, he serves both local causes and a remarkable anti-hunger charity called Share Our Strength.

None of this is original; these are lessons many people know. What is dazzling and inspiring about Danny Meyer is that he operates on what he believes. Sure, there's self-interest --- the more you give, the more you get --- but more to the point, there's a sense of a life well-lived. Of a business well-run. Of employees who feel trusted and respected. And, finally, of guests who can't wait to come back. This is the very definition of a "virtuous circle."

I once heard a guru say: "When you aim for the highest things, only the highest things happen." Danny Meyer is proof that this is so. Many would scoff. They cut corners and do well in the short run. They have power for the thrill of pushing people around. Their word is not their bond. But we are talking about the span of a life here, and the worth of your work. "Setting the Table" makes you hungry for the better life just in front of you ---and fills you with confidence that it's attainable. Eat this book.
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58 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Nature and Value of Authentic Hospitality, October 26, 2006
This book will be of great interest and even greater value if one or more of the following is relevant to you:

1. You have direct and frequent contact with customers.

2. You train and/or supervise those who do.

3. You need to improve your "people skills" in your business and personal relationships.

4. Your organization has problems attracting, hiring, and then keeping the people it needs to prosper.

5. Your organization has problems with others who, for whatever reasons, consistently under-perform.

It is no coincidence that many of those on Fortune magazine's annual list of most admired companies reappear on its annual list of most profitable companies. Moreover, both customers and employees rank "feeling appreciated" among the three most important attributes of satisfaction. Now consider the total cost of a mis-hire or the departure of a peak performer: Estimates vary from six to 18 times the annual salary, including hours and dollars required by the replacement process.

Until now, I have said nothing about Danny Meyer nor about the restaurant industry so as to reassure those who read this brief commentary that, although Setting the Table does indeed provide interesting information about him and his background, the book's greater value derives (in my opinion) from the lessons he has learned from his successes and failures thus far, both within and beyond the kitchen.

One of the most important concepts in this book is hospitality. Here's what Meyer has to say about it: "hospitality is the foundation of my business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side. The converse is just as true. Hospitality is present when something happens [begin italics] for [end italics] you. It is absent when something happens [begin italics] to [end italics] you. These two simple propositions - for and to - express it all." According to Meyer, service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel about the transaction. This is precisely what Leonard Berry has in mind when explaining what he calls "the soul of service."

Another of the most important concepts in this book is "connecting the dots" which Meyer views as a process by which information accumulated "can make meaningful connections that can make other people feel good and give you an edge in business. Using whatever information I've collected to gather guests together in a shared experience is what I call connecting the dots."

Of special interest to me are those whom Meyer characterizes as mentors to whom he has turned for sound (albeit candid) advice. For example, on one occasion he enthusiastically "showed off" to Pat Cetta (co-owner of Sparks Steakhouse) a new dish just added to the Union Street Café menu: Fried oyster Caesar salad. Cetta's response? "This dish is nothing more than mental masturbation. You're clearly doing it just to get noticed by Florence Fabricant [in the New York Times]. And the bad news is that she won't even like it. I guarantee you that shit is coming off your menu within two months - and if I were you, I'd take it off in two minutes. You know better than that, luvah!" Meyer agreed and quickly retired the dish.

As indicated earlier, I think the lessons which Meyer generously shares in this book, especially those learned from errors of judgment ("the road to success is paved with mistakes well handled") are of substantial value to managers in all organizations, regardless of size or nature. If there were a rating higher than Five Stars, I would give it to this thoughtful, eloquent, and entertaining book.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "Must Read" for all involved in customer care, November 2, 2006
Although this book reads a bit slow in chapters 1-3 - the author really gets cooking in chapter 4 when he begins to provide his story of "turning over the rocks" to learn more about customer experiences, their patterns, and all of the elements that may go into their decision to or not to choose your brand/company etc.

Chapters five through 12 just sing, and would make anyone passionate about making customer service better, and engaging the right people for the right type of work within an experience-driven work role, very pleased to have read.

(This is my first review - please forgive the rudimentary nature of my opinion on this book - I think you'll find the book a little hard to put down.)
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Here are 10 Valuable Take-Aways from Setting the Table, September 21, 2008
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Amazon Customer (Florida United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (Paperback)
Setting the Table by Danny Meyer provides lots of value for business leaders. I ranked this book five stars based on the value alone. The reader should be apprised that the book is written as a memoir of Mr. Meyer's experience in the restaurant business.

As a business leader you should study excellence in your industry and outside of your industry and there are numerous take-aways in Setting the Table that can be applied to any business. Here are ten excellent points I took away from Mr. Meyer's book.

1. The Excellence Reflex - "A natural reaction to fix something that isn't right, or to improve something that could be better." The excellent reflex is a natural reaction that some people have and cannot be taught. Meyer trains his leaders how hire those that have it.

2. Employees can be categorized as Overwhelmers, Whelmers, and Underwhelmers. It is easy to identify Underwhelmers and get rid of them. The most dangerous employees are the Whelmers because "they infuse an organization and its staff with mediocrity...and send a dangerous message to your staff and guests that "average" is acceptable."

3. Coaching is correcting with dignity.

4. You obtain valuable leadership skills while managing volunteers. It requires you to consistently motivate employees beyond their earnings.

5. Create a sense of "shared ownership" with your customers by taking an interest in them and making them feel important. They will view you as a partner instead of a provider.

6. ABCD - Always Be Collecting Dots. You should aggressively collect lots of little information about your customer (dots) as they interact with your product or service. Then make the connection between the dots as a mechanism to improve your product or service to all customers.

7. Customers may love your product or service but the relationship that they have with you or your employees is what builds loyalty. Therefore you should take every opportunity to exceed expectations to create a lasting relationship.

8. Enlightened Hospitality - "We would define our successes and our failures in terms of the degree to which we had championed, first, one another and then our guests, community, suppliers and investors." This is an extremely powerful concept and is rooted in the integrity theme Meyer has throughout the book. You can't expect employees that don't treat each other with respect, who can't be hospitable with one another to then turn around and treat the customer with respect and high levels of hospitality a customer deserves. Poor relationships internal to the organization migrate to poor relationships external to the organization. Ultimately being last on the list benefits the investor by long term organizational success.

9. Judge your staff on 51 percent emotional job performance and 49 percent technical job performance. You can always teach technical while emotional is much harder if not impossible to develop. Lack of emotional job performance skills destroys teams and alienates customers.

10. "The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled" and "the worst mistake is not to figure out some way to end up in a better place after having made a mistake."

The ten points above are obviously more powerful in the context of the book when illustrated with Mr. Meyer's stories and experiences.

Dr. James T. Brown PMP PE CSP
Author, The Handbook of Program Management
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Someone loves himself, October 17, 2013
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This review is from: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (Paperback)
I have to read this book for a business/hospitality class......with every chapter I die a little more inside. Not because of the business and hospitality advice, theories and insight he offers, but because I am so sick of the man talking about himself. If you want to be a narcissist and write an auto biography go for it, but I don't want to be forced to read a book about how a man met his wife their first date, all the places he has traveled because he is so important, and all the money he has made (125,000 a year before he left for the restaurant business in case you were dying to know) I can honestly say I hate this book. I am not reading it, to read about him. I just can't wait until this semester is over this may be the first school book I light on fire after I am done with it to celebrate never needing to look at it again.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensible advice from one who has done it, November 14, 2007
By 
I find these days I like my business advice to come from someone who does retail. No stuffy offices and board room tables - give me someone who makes it happen every day in front of the guest. Let them teach me what business is really like.

Danny Meyer's book is the cream of that "been at retail, know what its like" book. I had the opportunity to see him speak at MUFSO in LA in October, and his book reads like he appears in person - genuine, thoughtful, insightful, but with a sense of respect for all. No Jack Welch "I got this all figured out here" attitude in this guy - instead they are hints on how to think about things yourself, told from one who did it and is still amazed it all worked out ok.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's good is good. What's not, or missing, is not, or missing., January 20, 2012
This review is from: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (Paperback)
I listened to this book on CD, and if I can take one moment to encourage everyone who wishes they read more books to instead listen to them as they work in their cubicles or travel long distances, please, do it. Begin listening to books on CD or other recorded media. I now wish every book was available as read by their author.

Anyway, Danny Meyer's book on Enlightened Hospitality (that IS what "Setting the Table" is about) is an excellent book on the subject. For an overarching foundation for managing a hospitality venture, be it a restaurant or hotel, or for that matter managing any organization that services the customer directly, Danny's ideas are great. They do in fact turn traditional management concepts on their head, and rightly deserved. I strongly feel that if every industry in America followed Danny's Enlightened Hospitality formula that our economy, perhaps our entire culture, would be better off.

But if you are a wannabe restauranteur, or interested in learning more about the day to day, nuts and bolts, planning, opening, running and managing of a restaurant, this isn't your book. Oh, go ahead and read it, because the management principles, especially how to treat your employees and customers, are useful, even important. But this is not a "how to open a restaurant" book.

As a high-level management book, Danny writes an important and helpful piece. But for little places just trying to get by, this isn't what yu're lookiong for.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional Story Telling & Simply Best at Running a Business, January 8, 2007
By 
John Sturges (Chappaqua, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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Danny Meyer tells his story exceptionally well and runs his business the way the best of the best tell you to do it-execute your vision, pay attention to your customer and pay attention to detail. This is an autobiography in which the lessons of life and business cannot be separated.
Having dined at Union Square Cafe(food was great) and 11 Madison Park(this was an incredible experience) I demanded that my kids get me this book for Christmas. The fact that it is a quick read is due to the absorbing content not the size.
What a treat to read how he took a childhood vision and gradually turned it into a multi-faceted company with more than 1,000 people without losing touch with his roots. His attention to his staffs' needs and his customers' needs, his listening skills and the means with which he elicits feedback, responds to and solves problems as a means of self-improvement reflect his sense of fun.
Danny Meyer shows that his greatest guide was his ability to learn from people around him and his desire to delight customers with something unique and special. Any CEO will learn volumes from reading this book regardless of the business.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious book on inspired management, filled with tasty tidbits, April 1, 2007
Danny Meyer's charming book is full of great information for anyone who is interested in customer-centric business practices. While organized like a memoir, Meyer explains what inspires him to create new enterprises, how he says no to certain projects, and what he's learned from past mistakes. Most importantly, he defines his successful leadership style, explaining how they hire and train servers and managers to create great customer experiences. A terrific read, and I'll definitely be dining in one of his restaurants on my next trip to New York. Even though the book is about restaurants, it offers many teachable moments for managers in any business that serves the public.

Author, Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Guidebook for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Presentation on People Management, January 11, 2007
By 
Kindle Customer (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
I am a small businessman and I have been reading books on business management for 40 years. Meyer's book is one of the best I've read on people management. His advocacy of fastidious staffing practices, intense training of employess at all levels, and "gentle, constant pressure" to guide employees into the desired performance patterns has produced remarkable results in his own restaurants and can be effectively applied to any business. This enlightened presentation is highly readable and entertaining as well as invaluably instructive.
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Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business
Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer (Paperback - January 29, 2008)
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