Danny Meyer is the founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group, a portfolio of restaurants that include the Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Avenue, Tabla, Blue Smoke, the Jazz Standard underneath the Blue Smoke on 27th, the Shake Shack brand, all the eateries at the MoMA, Maialino, Untitled, and North End Grill. He also operates Union Square Events as an off-premise catering company that’s been serving the New York events industry for over a decade, initially as Hudson Yards Catering. Each of Danny Meyer’s restaurants have in its own way become New York institutions of quality food and excellent hospitality, and Shake Shack in particular has brought New York to the world through serving its definitive New York burgers to now over a dozen cities worldwide.
In his book, Setting the Table, Danny Meyer takes readers on his own personal journey on how he came to be a restaurateur, and how being a restaurateur has come to define his outlook on business and life. The book is in part an autobiography, in part a business book on entrepreneurship, and in part an intimate look at the art of building an enduring brand in the hospitality industry.
Throughout the book, Danny Meyer gives candid accounts on the decisions he’s made, and the values that made him make those decisions. The first half of the book is very much a chronology of his life, from his childhood experiences all the way to the height of his momentum in expanding the Union Square Hospitality brand. The second half of the book goes back into those experiences, and each chapter focuses on exploring an important theme that ties together his decisions. In one chapter for example, Danny shares his perspective on what he calls “enlightened hospitality”, and how his values from that perspective led him to make all the decisions in the various ventures he chose to take and those he chose to pass on.
Importantly, Setting the Table gives a contextual look at how the hospitality business is not only important from an economic perspective, but also from a human community perspective. Danny attributes most of his success to the people he’s been able to touch with his ventures, and at least as far as the book goes, significantly less so on the specific financial maneuverings of making clever deals. In every chapter, readers are taken into intimate accounts of anecdotes from Danny’s experiences with guests, employees, and partners. We hear from his perspective as a restaurateur the development of Union Square over the years, and how Madison Square Park grew from a gritty neighborhood to the beautiful hub it is today, and how the Restaurant Week became a part of New York’s culture of hospitality. In every chapter, as much is devoted to talking about the restaurants as is devoted to talking about how those restaurants have impacted the local communities around them.
There are many industries in the world that profits from delivering happiness. But, very few if any other industry in the world has the power to deliver togetherness the way the hospitality industry does. As our generation moves into this new era of being virtually connected and personally lonely, having an industry that can still bring people together to connect on a human level is I believe just as beautiful and as essential as having the tools developed for us to have thousands of friends and followers. Setting the Table is not just a book about being a successful restaurateur, nor is it even just about being a successful businessman. It is rather, a book where Danny Meyer imparts to readers the impact, that great hospitality can have on building a community where one didn’t yet exist.
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