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Book Review: Setting the Table

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Valentine’s Day is a reminder to let people know we care. In Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, Author Danny Meyer outlines specific steps for any business to improve customer service and ultimately actions to let customers know we do appreciate them.

Imagine you’re sitting with your significant other at a cozy corner table in one of Union Square’s most popular restaurants. It’s snowing outside, there are candles on the white linen tablecloth, the food is delightful, and the service is impeccable. Your waiter is friendly, knowledgeable, and seems to have a sixth sense about knowing when you’re ready to order – or when you’d rather be left alone to chat with your date.

Sounds nice, right?

Well, this type of flawless customer service and ambiance isn’t a fantasy. For restaurateur and Chief Executive Officer of the Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer, it is the reality of his business success—and it’s something you can emulate, too.

After spending lots of time in trattorias in Italy and bistros in Paris trying to discover the ultimate dining experience, Meyer made a major realization that forever shaped the way he would do business. He discovered that an unforgettable customer experience isn’t about great service—it’s about offering genuine hospitality.

What’s the difference between customer service and hospitality?
On the surface, customer service and hospitality appear to be the same thing—but there is a big difference. As Meyer states in the book, “Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel.”

This wonderful concept is not solely bound to the restaurant industry. You can add touches of hospitality to any interaction to make customers, colleagues, or clients feel special—and this is an especially important concept considering Valentine’s Day is coming up.

Take a page from Meyer’s book and consider adding the following hospitality tips to your everyday business interactions:

Act like an agent

At his first restaurant, Union Square Café, Meyer would immediately offer to put people on a wait list if they were fully booked. If a party had to wait a long time for their table, a generous (and gratis) supply of dessert wine would appear at the end of the meal—and it quickly became a signature of the restaurant, something people looked forward to.

Takeaway: When you act like an agent who is working in the best interest of the customer, they’re more likely to form a favorable opinion of the experience.

Have fun

Great service shouldn’t be serious—as Meyer discovered on one of his many enlightening travels. You can receive outstanding customer service from someone who never once cracks a smile, but how would that make you feel? Like you just inconvenienced that person, right? That’s not a great feeling.

Takeaway: Keeping things light and jovial will create a pleasant atmosphere for just about anyone.

Really listen

As Meyer says, “To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response.”

Takeaway: Taking the time to truly listen makes others feel appreciated and heard.

When you take a genuine interest in others, you’re not only creating a very strong relationship, but a sense of shared ownership as well. When your clients, customers or colleagues feel important, appreciated, and accepted, then you’ve built a meaningful relationship that will last the test of time.

In addition to his successful take on what hospitality can do for building relationships, Meyer offers all sorts of details on his recipe for success throughout Setting the Table. You won’t want to miss one morsel of the sage advice he has to share.

Purchase Setting the Table.


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