A Heart that Cares Disrupts the Status Quo


Vonnie Quinn of Bloomberg News hosted a talk with luminary, Danny Meyer, author, community activist, entrepreneur, and CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) at Bloomberg recently. In 1985, at age 27, Meyer opened his first restaurant, Union Square Café and has launched 12 more since. His relentless focus on employee and customer satisfaction has earned Meyer and USHG long standing success, 28 James Beard Foundation Awards, and 4 Michelin Stars.

As a pioneer of innovative concept introductions, from technology solutions, to cutting-edge restaurant concepts, and top notch employee benefits, Meyer’s ideas continue to shake up and shape the future of a neglected service and hospitality industry. Danny Meyer has been named #1 on the Nation’s Restaurant News 2016 Power List. Meyer candidly discussed his career and life, election results, and the evolving intersection of hospitality and technology.

True to his trail blazing spirit, Danny first addressed the historic election season and results. His letter to his 2,400 employees on November 9, exemplifies his transparent leadership style and his commitment to hospitality. “We have both a responsibility and a powerful opportunity to lead with our strongest suit: hospitality. The root of the word hospitality is hope, and hope is optimistic.” – penned Danny.

Change is always hard. New behavior needs to be learned by staff and by guests. Each transformation introduces business risk and has the potential to negatively disrupt and destroy. However, change is necessary and an opportunity to advance beyond the status quo.

In order to manage change successfully, it is important to acknowledge and respond to the wider and personal impact of the change. This is how Danny welcomes change. He is unafraid and has consistently embraced and introduced new industry concepts. His “employees first” mantra, in particular, has helped him address staff concerns and expedite the adoption and success of new initiatives.

Below are notable transformations within USHG that are leading the disruption in the restaurant industry.

  • Introduction of reservation technologies at fine dining landmarks
  • Democratization of the dining experience with Shake Shack and an alliance with Delta Airlines
  • Fostering continued innovation within the house by serving as an angel investor to employee entrepreneurs
  • Introduction of the no-tipping paradigm to address the economic divide in the house; choosing instead to reward employees on merit and provide meaningful career opportunity and advancement
  • Introduction of Apple watches for managers and sommeliers at the “new” Union Square Café, opening the week of thanksgiving; while preserving the customer experience
  • Leveraging social media as an opportunity for dialog with the customer
  • Introduction of four weeks of parental leave plan throughout the company
  • Revamp of the organizational structure to support geographical expansion

At the center of each transformation at USHG is the familiar and firm foundation of enlightened hospitality. Enlightened hospitality is about how the delivery of the product makes the customer feel, the customer experience. The first customer interaction is with the staff. Each customer interaction is an opportunity to influence the experience. The staff’s energy fuels service to the customer, the community, the suppliers, and ultimately the investors. This cyclical sequence informs business priorities and disrupts the traditional business model.

The traditional business model is focused on service, the delivery of the product, often at the cost of the customer experience. Service is the foundation of hospitality, but service alone is not enough. Hospitality can overcome service errors which are abundant in a world powered by humans. Service yields satisfaction; hospitality yields loyalty.

Rising food, labor, and real estate costs are driving restaurant entrepreneurs away, while 60% of restaurants fail in the first year. Danny’s version of signature hospitality can be a critical differentiator in an industry that is highly competitive and high risk. Technology can enable hospitality to scale. The right solution in the context of the customer experience, can reinforce the presence of hospitality in an authentic way, from the heart


About the author: Rohinee Mohindroo

Rohinee Mohindroo is a Transformational Technology Leader, helping organizations elevate customer and employee experiences by delivering scale, speed, and stability. Rohinee is available in a consultancy role to startups who are scaling up and to enterprises who are strategically focused on digital transformations.

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