What Can We Learn From Danny Meyer About Entrepreneurship?

Danny Meyer and entrepreneurship are almost synonymous.

How come?

Today, it would be unusual to find an entrepreneur (especially a restaurateur) who is unfamiliar with the name and his accompanying accomplishments. 

If you’re always open to entrepreneurial tips or you’re a budding restaurateur looking to launch your first restaurant, read on to learn from the very best! 

Who is Danny Meyer? 

who is danny meyer

Shake Shack’s creator and former CEO, Danny Meyer, also headed the Union Square Hospitality Group.

Danny Meyer grew up in a household that placed a high value on good food and warm hospitality in St. Louis, Missouri. 

As a 27-year-old in 1985, Danny opened Union Square Cafe, the first of several restaurants he would open throughout the course of his career. 

Under Danny’s direction, USHG has become known not only for its illustrious dining establishments but also for its unique and lauded culture of Enlightened Hospitality. 

‘Setting the Table,’ Danny’s groundbreaking business book and a New York Times bestseller, lays down a set of trademark business and life concepts applicable to a wide variety of fields.

What We Can Learn From Danny Meyer’s Signature Business Style 

Don’t let your entrepreneurial spirit die out. 

When it comes to company culture, Danny is ecstatic when someone comes up with a novel approach to an issue he feels he should have considered. 

He stresses the importance of entrepreneurial spirit as one of the four core values that all employees at USHG are supposed to uphold. 

When a business expands, it becomes more challenging to keep it headed in the proper direction without the help of team members. 

You have free will to choose your destination, but you may not always know the optimal route to get there.

A strong leader listens to and responds to the cues of his or her team.

Don’t be afraid to question the norm. 

Those who have read Setting the Table may recall this section, in which Danny encourages his team to think creatively and beyond the box. 

He said that out of all the restaurants he’s created, only Union Square Cafe was conceived with the intention of being his personal favorite. 

Since then, each new venture he’s undertaken—Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, Untitled at the Whitney, Shake Shack—has been predicated on a preexisting element—a chef, a physical location, etc.—for which he’s had to develop a unique concept.

Folks usually attempt to make a restaurant that matches the beauty of its surroundings, but he says, “I never want to go to one of those restaurants.” 

Instead, he prefers to make something that people would frequent three times a week if it were on the ground floor. 

It doesn’t matter if your establishment is one of those hidden hole-in-the-wall types.

People will always come if you have something special to offer. 

Don’t follow a tired formula from the restaurant industry, and create a business that is born out of your creativity and fearlessness. 

Leverage social media. 

Danny stated that he thought it impolite when tourists snapped pictures of the food at Union Square Cafe when it first opened. 

He thinks the opposite these days. It would be bothersome if customers DIDN’T take pictures of their food. 

No one Instagrams stuff they don’t like, and for this reason, social media has been pretty beneficial to the Union Square Hospitality Group and the restaurant business in general.

That’s how they’re telling their loved ones back home: “I wish you were here.”

And should anyone post something negative on social media about your establishment, consider it a chance to address issues head-on. 

Hospitality is customizable. 

According to Danny, the secret to creating unforgettable experiences is to tailor each guest’s visit to his or her individual preferences. 

He invested in OpenTable in its early stage, and one of his ideas was to compile as many guest preferences as possible in their Guest Notes. 

It’s similar to the show Cheers (where everybody knows your name).

You’re more likely to frequent an establishment if you feel like you belong there. 

Improving OpenTable’s tailored recommendations turned into a passion project.

Just by looking at a customer’s past meal records, you can make educated assumptions about their personality. 

Encourage good behavior and call out bad ones. 

Defining the behaviors you wish to see more of is the first step toward creating an intentional culture. 

Moreover, you should encourage and reward such actions whenever you notice them.

In addition, Meyer stresses the importance of being crystal clear that you will not put up with actions that go against the desired culture.

When you accept actions that go against your culture, it discredits you tout. 

You can train your workers, but you can’t change who they really are. 

Danny Meyer has always advocated for companies to hire for cultural fit and provide training for job-specific abilities.

By the time you hire someone, they already have certain emotional skills baked in.

You’ll have a hard time figuring out how to teach a grumpy person to soften their ways. 

To quote Meyer: “We’ve never been able to teach someone who is otherwise a natural born cynic to become optimistic.”

As a leader, you serve your team. 

Employees don’t abandon their jobs.

They abandon their bosses if they are not satisfied with their direction.

Servant leadership is the key to success.

There might come a time when your star employee quits, and you’re left to scratch your head, wondering how the business will continue to function without them. 

If you probe deeply enough during the exit interview, you’ll eventually discover the real reason they’re leaving: they quit on their boss. 

Therefore, it is up to us to establish a distinctive and celebrated culture as a leadership model.

Most likely, their manager wasn’t there each day with the express intention of making them feel appreciated and valued.

What Danny and many other experts call “servant leadership” is an approach to management in which leaders focus on serving, empowering, and elevating their subordinates rather than imposing strict hierarchies.

All criticism is positive. 

It’s better for us to receive criticism than to be in the dark about how to make things better for our customers.

Hotels, airlines, cruise lines, tour operators, and car rental companies can all benefit from Meyer’s take on the naysayers. 

Many hotels and restaurants would rather not respond to less than glowing evaluations they receive on travel review sites like TripAdvisor, but doing so would be a mistake.

Meyer’s assertions are supported by data; new research indicated that hotels that respond to TripAdvisor reviews enjoy an increase in revenue.

Motivate your team beyond their paycheck. 

Before the pandemic, Meyer banned tips from his restaurants.

He believed that doing away with tips ultimately helped not only his staff but also the customers. How? 

The only way to encourage someone is to offer them a higher purpose beyond a paycheck.

Meyer noted that working on the presidential campaign of John B. Anderson in 1980 was one of his earliest recollections and that the experience taught him to treat people as though they were volunteers. 

Self-awareness is a key ingredient in entrepreneurial success. 

Meyer’s father made a lot of risky business decisions in the name of growth, and his family often paid the price. 

An underlying theme in his account of why and when he decided to gradually build his business is his determination to avoid repeating his father’s mistakes. 

Because he understood that his past had shaped his conduct, he could overcome it rather than let it prevent him from developing further. 

Eleven Madison Park and the Shake Shack would not exist if he had made the unconscious decision to avoid what his father did.

Since we can’t change our histories or our frailties, it’s best to embrace them as learning opportunities and encourage those around us to do the same.

Strive to be more than trendy. 

Many companies have launched or introduced new products in this era of “doing things for the Gram” in order to cash in on a fad or because they photograph well.

But is that enough? 

Meyer made sure that whatever restaurant he ever opened would be successful by making sure the concept would be timeless. 

Instead of making trendy new things, he focused on establishing permanent cultural landmarks that would become integral parts of the New York landscape. 

As a result, he set new standards rather than riding on the coattails of others, spawning a wave of imitators.

Without worrying about what’s popular at the moment, you can accomplish meaningful objectives.

To make sure a company lasts longer than people’s fascination with pumpkin spice lattes, it’s important to focus on sustainable practices rather than fleeting trends.

Following trends might be a good way to make more money temporarily, but you create an evergreen demand if you provide a unique product or service.

Clear, timely communication is crucial. 

danny meyer and entrepreneurship -clear, timely communication is crucial

Concern about what might change and how it might affect one’s life is a common source of resistance to change. 

Working for any company means adapting to constant change.

Whether or not you give your staff a voice in decision-making is what separates effective from poor management. 

And that comes down to how well you communicate, both in terms of what you say and how you say it. 

By keeping them in the loop, you can ensure that your staff and teammates feel like they contributed to the decision-making process rather than being treated as an afterthought. 

You need to give them the confidence to be a force for good change and progress instead of a barrier to it.

Related Reading: Good Qualities of An Entrepreneur – Find Out Here

Final Thoughts 

Making something meaningful isn’t only good for business; it’s also a way to leave the world a better place for the folks you encounter.

If you want to dive deeper into Danny’s leadership style, give ‘Setting the Table’ a read.

It not only teaches people how to be better entrepreneurs but better human beings in general.

Disclosure:  this article might contain links to the resources discussed.
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Brooks Conkle

Brooks is an Entrepreneur, Sponge, Father, Husband, & Follower of the Golden Rule. He has over 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur after graduating with a BSBA in Finance from Auburn University. He’s addicted to growing new business ideas and any food that includes chocolate and peanut butter. Brooks is a firm believer in creating multiple streams of income and creates content here on BrooksConkle.com to help other hustlers in the areas of marketing, online business, personal finance, and real estate.