4 Hospitality Rules I Learned from Danny Meyer

Published November 5, 2018


CultureLeading OrganizationsProcess

I used to think that hospitality was just opening the door for someone or offering them something to drink when they came to visit—or placing chocolates atop bed pillows at fancy hotels.

And then I interviewed Danny Meyer.

Hospitality stems from an others-centered mindset.

Danny Meyer has a brand promise of hospitality for good reason. As someone who has thought deeply and practiced hospitality intentionally—as an industry, a business practice, and as a way to show up in the world—his thoughts were, of course, more nuanced than my own. Here are a few that have stuck with me:


1. Hospitality is when something happens for you rather than to you.

The difference between those prepositions highlights the key mindset shift needed for true hospitality. Why do we open the door for someone or offer them something to drink? Because it would meet a need of theirs or serve them as a person. It lets them know that we see and care about them. Doing that well requires actually seeing, knowing and caring about them. What do they need today? What would serve them? Hospitality stems from an others-centered mindset.


2. Hospitality is a team sport.

In a restaurant, hospitality begins before the customer steps in the door and extends beyond the dining experience. Each member of the team plays their role. The host answers the phone and welcomes guests, waiters make sure customers are taken care of at the tables, chefs create flawless food. One person alone cannot create or be responsible for extending care to guests. How can you get your team to work well together? It starts when the leader first cares for the team. Does your team know that you are for them? Can you hire, engage and inspire your team in such a way that they, in turn, care for each other and the people they reach?


3. Hospitality isn’t about being right.

After years of struggling with the adage that “the customer is always right,” I was encouraged by Danny’s response that it’s not about the customer being right, so much as the customer feeling heard. Rather than argue with customers over whether the wine is a California wine, or the sauce has the right amount of sweetness, Danny and his team listen for what matters to that individual. In doing so, he and his team engage in dialogue to make others feel heard. In the process, they also learn what might be useful to integrate into their own next steps. What might we learn from each other if, instead of focusing on whether the other is right or wrong, we wondered: Why do we see it differently? What might we learn from the other person?


Hospitality is an industry. It is also how we treat each other—in our own industries, communities and families.

4. Hospitality matters in all contexts.

Hospitality is an industry. It is also how we treat each other—in our own industries, communities and families. How do we make decisions and engage with one another in a way that is for each other? This mindset and approach applies even, or especially, when things are difficult. Danny notes, “The road to success is paved with mistakes well-handled.”

Hospitality, like life, isn’t about being perfect. It’s about handling things well—being aware of and acknowledging the impact we’re having on others, owning our actions with apologies as needed and taking actions to help others—ideally, with additional generosity.

About the Author
Elaine Lin Hering

Elaine Lin Hering


Triad Consulting Group

Elaine Lin Hering is a Partner with Triad Consulting Group, where she works with clients to diagnose challenges, design solutions and deliver programs to build management capacity in negotiations, influence and conflict management skills. Prior to joining Triad, Elaine taught negotiation at Monash Law School in Melbourne, Australia and was a senior consultant for Conflict Management Australaisa, helping them expand their practice into the region. Along with Sheila Heen, she is the co-author of the companion group discussion guide Thank God for the Feedback.