9. Constant, Gentle Pressure 10. The Road to Success Is Paved with Mistakes Well Handled
Within moments of being born, most babies find themselves receiving the first four gifts of life: eye contact, a smile, a hug, and some food. We receive many other gifts in a lifetime, but few can ever surpass those first four.
Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.
I’ve learned how crucially important it is to put hospitality to work, first for the people who work for me and subsequently for all the other people and stakeholders who are in any way affected by our business—in descending order, our guests, community, suppliers, and investors.
THE GREAT MARY FRANCES KENNEDY FISHER wrote in her memoir The Gastronomical Me, “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.”
Note: how do we create sense of warmth in community and inspire ppl to act?
As always with our new ventures, the idea was to draw on the best elements of the classic, make it authentic for its present context, and then try to execute it with excellence.
Note: such an intereesting parallel to nyc for us. shake shack as a great example of this re hot dog/burger joints.
We wanted our hospitality to be at the highest possible level. Without reservation lists, our staff never knew any of the guests’ names, so the emphasis was on recognizing repeat customers by face and remembering their usual orders. And with nine toppings, everyone seemed to have a personal preference. We believed that a customer’s desire to be recognized could just as easily be satisfied by a summer intern at our hot dog cart as by the host in the dining room of a three-star restaurant. We encouraged our young, energetic staff to create “plus ones” or “legends of hospitality”—offering those in line free samples and cookies; and spotting, say, a regular man on a park bench, making him his usual order, and bringing it to him just as he started to head for the line. Though they were spending $2.50 for a hot dog, the satisfaction and loyalty of these guests was no less important to us than that of our regulars at Gramercy Tavern or Tabla.
Note: what can we do w essentials to kill it on hospitality? what can we do to recognize regulars (schools and people)? how do we make hodas for example feel special like a meyer regular? sci academy? sam stites? andrew and janelle?
Park Conservancy and the New York Department of Parks and Recreation. As we imagined our new kiosk, we thought about a lot more than food. We understood that people don’t go out just to eat; they also select restaurants in order to be part of a community experience. Starbucks took the notion of drinking good coffee (and standing in line to buy it) and figured out how to make the experience of drinking coffee with a community of other like-minded people become the real star of the show. The company also learned to superimpose its blueprint onto thousands of locations north, south, east, and west, while also conveying the sense that each Starbucks belonged to its particular community. It was brilliant entrepreneurship to grasp that selling excellent coffee is secondary to creating a sense of community. Coffee sells (and is habit-forming), but performing a daily ritual with a self-selected group of like-minded human beings also sells. A business that doesn’t understand its raison d’être as fostering community will inevitably underperform.
My thinking about what we might add to the mission of the Madison Square Park Conservancy had been shaped largely by my experience as an active member of the board of the Union Square Partnership, responsible for the safety, development, programming, and overall welfare of Union Square. I understood that it’s not enough to just restore a park: you must sustain its beauty and safety by providing good citizens with lots of reason to visit it. Otherwise, you’ve merely given the park a temporary face-lift. Union Square Park always relied on the greenmarket as its most powerful magnet in attracting people. Other attractions were the park’s playgrounds; its dog run; and Luna Park, its summertime restaurant.
Note: interesting theme - connecting to the public spaces that define greater space restaurants inhabit. could inform our space choice?
But by using familiar elements of that genre and designing our kiosk for a specific environment, we allowed the Shack to become part of its neighborhood, rather than something imposed on it. (Bryan Miller had observed that my first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, had avoided feeling imposed. That comment of his once again helped me to act intentionally in an area that had previously been instinctive.)
Note: from instinct to intentionality - 2014 focus?
CHAPTER 7 The 51 Percent Solution IT ALWAYS FEELS WONDERFUL to earn a rave from guests, and not just for the way we’ve nourished them. Over the years, the most consistent compliment we’ve received and the one I am always proudest to hear, is “I love your restaurants and the food is fantastic. But what I really love is how great your people are.” The only way a company can grow, stay true to its soul, and remain consistently successful is to attract, hire, and keep great people. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard. In many industries, and undeniably in ours, the competition to hire the most talented people is stiff. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The human beings who animate our restaurants have far more impact on whether we succeed than any of the food ingredients we use, the décor of our dining rooms, the bottles of wine in our cellars, or even the location of the restaurants. Because hospitality is a dialogue, I have always placed the highest premium on hiring the best possible staff to engage our guests.
Note: totally awesome read on hiring
Fortunately, a wave of highly intelligent and creative people has swept into the hospitality business since the early 1990s. Many of them have been attracted to our restaurants for a variety of reasons: to express a spirit of caring for others, to advance their culinary skills, to pursue a passion for wine, or to fulfill an entrepreneurial vision. Others join us for the purpose of making a living with a flexible schedule while they in fact pursue a separate career. One reason for this surge in interest in the hospitality profession is that newspapers, television, magazines, websites, and cookbooks have made celebrities not just of chefs but also of restaurants themselves. After Eleven Madison Park was featured as a location in an episode of Sex and the City, hordes of people (even a bus tour) descended on the restaurant just to experience a stage set for the hit television show. Having a resumé that includes working for a celebrity restaurant or chef confers legitimacy within the industry and usually ensures at least an initial interview for a job applicant. (It also assuages the parents of a recent college graduate who’s getting a first job at a restaurant to know that it’s a good one.) The restaurant business has at last arrived as a legitimate, valid career choice and entrepreneurial pursuit. I believe that enlightened hospitality as a way of doing business has helped make it attractive for people to pursue careers not just in our kitchen, but also in our dining room.
In 2004, as we prepared to open one restaurant, two cafés, and a staff cafeteria at the Museum of Modern Art, and enter the off-premise catering business as well, we knew that the size of our organization was about to double to over 1,000 staff members, and it was critical to develop an even larger team of extraordinary leaders. We searched high and low for the rare employees who love teaching, know how to set priorities, work with a sense of urgency, and—most important—are comfortable with holding people accountable to high standards while letting them hold onto their own dignity. Time after time, I had noticed that great leaders tend to have a heightened sense of how to attract and hire other extraordinary people. So that we can achieve our business goals of extending warm hospitality while performing at a high level of excellence, we look intently for strong emotional and technical skills when hiring staff people.…
Note: great read on hiring 1
count for 51 percent. I first learned this concept of “51 percent” from the dynamic restaurateur Rich Melman of Chicago, when I visited him in the late 1980s. Rich was an effervescent teacher and a willing mentor, and I was eager and honored to learn from him. The concept made perfect sense to me, and now it is a cornerstone of my business. Our staff performance reviews weigh both technical job performance (49 percent) and emotional job performance (51 percent)—how staff members perform their duties and how they relate to others on a personal level. In some respects this is another intentional business strategy based on instincts I developed while I was growing up. Among my friends were plenty of good athletes and talented students. But far more important to me than a friend’s skills was always his or her goodness as a person. Imagine if every business were a lightbulb and that for each lightbulb the primary goal was to attract the most moths possible. Now what if you learned that 49 percent of the reason moths were attracted to a bulb was for the quality of its light (brightness being the task of the bulb) and that 51 percent of the attraction was to the warmth projected by the bulb (heat being connected with the feeling of the bulb). It’s remarkable to me how many businesses shine brightly when it comes to acing the tasks but emanate all the warmth of a cool fluorescent light. That explains how a flawless…
Note: hiring 2
a team with 51 percenters, because training them in the technical aspects will then come far more easily. Hiring 51 percenters today will save training time and dollars tomorrow. And they are commonly the best recruiters for others with strong emotional skills. Nice people love the idea of working with other nice people. Over time, we can almost always train for technical prowess. We can teach people how to deliver bread or olives, take orders for drinks or present menus; how to describe specials and make recommendations from the wine list; or how to explain the cheese selection. And it’s straightforward to teach table numbers and seat positions to avoid asking “Who gets the chicken?” (That question sounds amateurish and makes a guest feel as if the waiter didn’t pay attention to him or her in the first place.) A cook needs to know from his chef precisely what the sautéed sea bass is supposed to look like when it’s sautéed properly, how it tastes when it is seasoned perfectly, and what its texture should be when it has been cooked gently and properly. We can and do train for all that. Training for emotional skills is next to impossible. We aim to hire people who possess an emotional skill that chef Michael Romano calls the excellence reflex. People duck as a natural reflex when something is hurled at them. Similarly, the excellence reflex is a natural reaction to fix…
Note: hiing 3
We don’t believe in pursuing the so-called 110 percent employee. That’s about as realistic as working to achieve the twenty-six-hour day. We are hoping to develop 100 percent employees whose skills are divided 51-49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. As I’ve mentioned above, we refer to these employees as 51 percenters. To me, a 51 percenter has five core emotional skills. I’ve learned that we need to hire employees with these skills if we’re to be champions at the team sport of hospitality. They are: 1. Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full) 2. Intelligence (not just “smarts” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning) 3. Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done) 4. Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel) 5. Self-awareness and integrity (an understanding of what makes…
Note: hiring 4
We don’t believe in pursuing the so-called 110 percent employee. That’s about as realistic as working to achieve the twenty-six-hour day. We are hoping to develop 100 percent employees whose skills are divided 51-49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. As I’ve mentioned above, we refer to these employees as 51 percenters. To me, a 51 percenter has five core emotional skills. I’ve learned that we need to hire employees with these skills if we’re to be champions at the team sport of hospitality. They are: Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full) Intelligence (not just “smarts” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning) Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done) Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel) Self-awareness and integrity (an understanding of what makes you…
Note: hiring 4
them. There’s an upbeat feeling, a twinkle in the eye, a dazzling sparkle from within. I want to employ people I’d otherwise choose to spend time with outside work. Many people spend a large percentage of their waking hours at work. From a selfish standpoint alone, if that’s your choice, it pays to surround yourself with compelling human beings from whom you can learn, and with whom you can be challenged to grow. When we look for intelligence, we’re thinking about open-minded people with a keen curiosity to learn. Do they ask me questions during interviews? Do they display a broad knowledge about a lot of subjects, or a deep knowledge about any one subject? A hallmark of our business model is to continually be improving. I need to stock our team with people who naturally crave learning and who want to evolve—people who figure out how each new day can bring rich opportunities to do something even better. Striving for excellence, as we do every day, requires curious people who also take an active interest in what their teammates do. I appreciate it when waiters want to learn more about cooking. I love it when cooks want to learn about wine. I adore it when hosts and reservationists want to learn more about the person behind the name they are greeting on the phone or at the front door. A strong work ethic is an indispensable emotional skill for any employee who is going to contribute to the excellence of our business. We want people on our team who are highly motivated, confident, and wired to do the job well. It’s not hard to teach anyone the proper way to set a beautiful table. What is impossible to…
Note: hiring 5
even than what the average guest may notice. When an employee does not work out, the problem more often stems from an attitude of “I won’t” rather than “I can’t.” A high degree of empathy is crucial in delivering enlightened hospitality. Empathy is not just an awareness of what others are experiencing; it’s being aware of, being sensitive to, and caring about how one’s own behavior affects others. We want waiters, for example, who can approach a new table of guests and intuitively sense their needs and agenda. Have they come, for example, to celebrate or to conduct business? Are they here to experience the cuisine, or simply to connect with a colleague over a light meal? Do they want extra attention from the restaurant, or would they prefer to be left alone? Guests may think they’re dining out to feel nourished, but I’ve always believed that an even more primary need of diners is to be nurtured. The most direct and effective way to let our guests know that we’re on their side has always been to field a team that exudes an infectious kind of empathy. No business can truly offer hospitality if the preponderance of its team members lack empathy. But when each member of the team goes to bat for the others, the mutual trust and respect engendered among them creates an infectious environment of caring for our guests. Self-awareness and integrity go hand in hand. It takes integrity to be self-aware and to hold oneself accountable for doing the right thing. I want to work with people who have a handle on what makes themselves tick. Self-awareness is…
Note: hiring 6
are served—it’s crucial for my staff members to be aware of and accountable for their own personal “weather reports.” No one can possibly be upbeat and happy all the time. But personal mastery demands that team members be aware of their moods and keep them in check. If a staff member is having personal trouble, and wakes up angry, nervous, depressed, or anxious, he or she needs to recognize and deal with the mood. It does not serve anyone’s purposes to project that mind-set into the work environment or onto one’s colleagues. We call that “skunking.” A skunk may spray a predator when it feels threatened, but everyone else within two miles has to smell the spray, and these others may assume that the skunk actually had it in for them. It’s not productive to work with a skunk, and it’s not enjoyable to be served by one either. In a business that depends on the harmony of an ensemble, a skunk’s scent is toxic. It may seem implicit in the philosophy of enlightened hospitality that the employee is constantly setting aside personal needs and selflessly taking care of others. But the real secret of its success is to hire people to whom caring for others is, in fact, a selfish act. I call these people hospitalitarians. A special type of personality thrives on providing hospitality, and it’s crucial to our success that we attract people who possess it. Their source of energy is rarely depleted. In fact, the more opportunities hospitalitarians have to care for other people, the better they feel. No matter how focused or purposeful we…
Note: hiring 7
ability to take orders gracefully. Emotional skills are harder to assess, and it’s usually necessary to spend meaningful time with people—often in the work environment—to determine whether or not they’re a good fit. But it’s critical to begin by being explicit about which emotional skills you’re seeking.…
Note: hiring 8
FOR YEARS, WE’VE USED a system called “trailing” to test and hone a prospect’s technical skills—the 49 percent—and to begin to assess his or her emotional skills, the 51 percent. Trailing is a combination of training and auditioning; it’s rigorous and sometimes awkward. We generally keep people on probation until we’ve first observed their behavior within the real environment of the dining room or kitchen, and until we’ve assessed their overall fit with our team. We’re upfront about this process, and we tell candidates that we also expect them to audition us as prospective employers. We urge those who trail to ask…
Note: jow can we build trailing into hiring sequence?
Our frontline managers arrange for trails in each job category. Most prospective employees go through four, five, or six trails, during meal periods and often trail with a different waiter or cook each time. For each trail after the first, there is a specific and increasingly advanced list of what needs to be learned and accomplished during that session. Trails begin with a physical orientation to the restaurant and culminate with “taking a station” while being closely monitored by the trainer. Trailers are paid for their shifts, whether they’re hired or not. In the dining room, our guests can…
Note: such a great idea
Our training is designed not as a hazing, but as a healthy way to foster a stronger team. Staff members, by being directly involved in the decision making, have a good deal of influence over who is hired and thus a stake in the ongoing success of the outcome. Trailers don’t advance to their second trail unless the first trainer recommends this to the manager; they don’t move on to their third unless the second trainer endorses it; and so on. After five or six trails we end up with a well-trained candidate who has also been endorsed by as many as half a dozen team members. And the candidate doesn’t move along unless he or she agrees that the fit seems good. By creating a built-in support system for new hires, we greatly enrich the subsequent team-building experience. What is almost impossible to train for is the emotional stuff; identifying hospitalitarians is a tricky skill to teach. I know I have a knack for looking across a table and sensing that a person is, or is not, the right fit for us. But how do I make the subjective objective, and the implicit explicit? One effective way to articulate my gut feelings to others doing the hiring is to teach them how to listen to their own gut feelings. To do that, I ask managers (whose intuition and judgment we trust, or they wouldn’t be managers) to pose themselves three fundamental hypothetical situations when they are hiring. Situation 1: Think of someone you know well (a spouse, best friend, parent, sibling) who has an uncanny gift for judging character. If this person were on a jury, he or she could take one look at the defendant and almost always render a correct…
Note: hiring, whatever his whole chapter kicks ass
closes behind him or her, what will be the first thing your character judge says? “What the hell are you thinking?” Or, “Hire that person immediately!” For judges of character, there is no such thing as the color gray. Situation 2: Imagine your keenest rival in business—if you’re the Yankees, say, then it’s the Red Sox. Then imagine that the day you make a job offer to a prospect, he or she calls you back and says, “Thanks, but I just got a great offer from the Red Sox and I’m taking the job with them.” Is your immediate reaction “Shit, we blew it!” Or, “Whew, we’ve dodged a bullet!” Ask yourself. Sometimes I’ll go too far down the road in a hiring situation with someone who isn’t quite right for our team. I am still amazed at how often I have felt enormous relief when someone we’ve actively pursued ends up taking another job. This leaves me asking myself how I let the interviewing process get so far in the first place? I’m aware that that one of my blind spots when hiring is my natural inclination to make other people feel comfortable. This impulse is so powerful that I tend to have a tough time turning it off when it’s…
Situation 3: Most business owners or managers have a core group of customers or other people whose opinions carry special weight for them. In our industry, such a person could be a restaurant critic, who, if he or she writes for a major publication, shares those opinions with perhaps a million readers. For me personally, the person could be my mother or one of my siblings—after all these years, they know how to push my buttons (and I know how to push theirs). It could also be a frequent guest who always tells me exactly how he or she feels about a meal—and is loyal enough to return no matter how the last meal turned out. So, imagine that this person with an especially weighty opinion drops in unannounced to dine, and there is only one…
positive about the prospect, you’re on the right track. If any one of them doesn’t, it’s time to fold the hand. I rarely interview a candidate until two or three other managers have first had an interview with him or her. Since our restaurants thrive on a team spirit, I prefer to hire by consensus. I ask our managers to pursue a candidate’s relevant job references; I ask them to take personal notes and then rank the strength of each one of the candidate’s five emotional skills on a scale of zero to five; and I ask them to consider and react to the three hypothetical situations and then listen with their guts. Finally, I ask our managers to weigh one other critical factor as they handicap the prospect. Do they believe the candidate has the capacity to become one of the top three performers on our team in his or her job category? If people cannot ever develop into one of our top three cooks, servers, managers, or maître d’s, why would we hire them? How will they help us improve and become champions? It’s pretty easy to spot an overwhelmingly strong candidate or even an underwhelmingly weak candidate. It’s the “whelming” candidate you must avoid at all costs, because that’s the one who can and will do your organization the most long-lasting harm. Overwhelmers earn you raves. Underwhelmers either leave on their own or are terminated. Whelmers, sadly, are like a stubborn stain you can’t get out of the carpet. They infuse an organization and its staff with mediocrity; they’re comfortable, and so they never leave; and, frustratingly, they never do anything that rises to the level of getting them promoted or sinks to the level of getting them fired. And because you either can’t or don’t fire them, you and they conspire to send a dangerous message to your staff and guests that “average” is acceptable. There are a lot of jobs to fill in the restaurant business, and it can be frustrating, especially in a tight labor market, to impose our own stringent limitations on whom we can and can’t hire. When a…
that for their salary review, 51 percent of any raise or bonus is set by how they’re faring at the emotional skills necessary to do their job well, and 49 percent is tied to technical performance. That’s the…
A business owner can too easily squander the winning edge that comes from fielding a great team by not treating its members with respect and trust, teaching them new skills, and offering clear challenges.
Note: this is my job
Building our team is not unlike creating nonvintage champagne. Hundreds of employees have worked at our restaurants over the course of many years. And yet our guests, like expert wine tasters, should be able to identify a sense of continuity in the way they feel
This happened with our most popular dessert at Tabla—kulfi, an extremely dense, decadently rich, cone-shaped ice cream. After observing guests early on struggling to cut this very hard frozen dessert, I told Tabla’s general manager that we needed to provide an easier way to eat kulfi: serve it with a serrated grapefruit spoon. “Great idea,” he said. Months went by and somehow my reminders were not working. People kept ordering kulfi; it was still frozen solid; and the restaurant still hadn’t found the right spoons. A restaurant critic beat us to the punch: “The kulfi ’s delicious once you get it in your mouth,” he wrote in his newspaper, “but it slid halfway across the table when I tried to cut into it with my spoon.” Reading that was exasperating for me, an unnecessary, public black eye for the restaurant, and an undeserved slight for the pastry chef. This delicious dessert need not have been panned. In fact, within one day the manager had found serrated spoons for it. The experience taught me yet another lesson about trusting my instincts and holding others accountable.
Note: accountabiltyand managing at 4.0
This happened with our most popular dessert at Tabla—kulfi, an extremely dense, decadently rich, cone-shaped ice cream. After observing guests early on struggling to cut this very hard frozen dessert, I told Tabla’s general manager that we needed to provide an easier way to eat kulfi: serve it with a serrated grapefruit spoon. “Great idea,” he said. Months went by and somehow my reminders were not working. People kept ordering kulfi; it was still frozen solid; and the restaurant still hadn’t found the right spoons. A restaurant critic beat us to the punch: “The kulfi’s delicious once you get it in your mouth,” he wrote in his newspaper, “but it slid halfway across the table when I tried to cut into it with my spoon.” Reading that was exasperating for me, an unnecessary, public black eye for the restaurant, and an undeserved slight for the pastry chef. This delicious dessert need not have been panned. In fact, within one day the manager had found serrated spoons for it. The experience taught me yet another lesson about trusting my instincts and holding others accountable.
Note: accountabiltyand managing at 4.0