Setting the Table
"The idea felt, at the same time, both foreign and like an absolute bull’s-eye. The next morning, completely relaxed, I took the LSAT, and then I never bothered to apply to a single law school. From that moment on, I was off to the races."
"That trip sensitized me to the idea that solo diners could be an important part of our business and should be welcomed accordingly. When I thought about how much time and care I put into choosing where to take myself to dinner, and how often I recommended those places that treated me well (and conversely, how strongly I warned everyone off the inhospitable ones), I knew that treating solo diners as royalty was both the right thing to do and smart business."
"The beautiful choreography of service is, at its best, an art form, a ballet. I appreciate the grace with which a table can be properly cleared. I admire the elegance with which a bottle of wine can be appropriately opened, decanted, and poured. There’s aesthetic value in doing things the right way. But I respond best when the person doing those things realizes that the purpose of all this beauty at the table is to create pleasure for me. To go through the motions in a perfunctory or self-absorbed manner, no matter how expertly rendered, diminishes the beauty. It’s about soul—and service without soul, no matter how elegant, is quickly forgotten by the guest."
"I always try to sense opportunities to glean information, and it’s not limited to information about our guests. I will often just stand on the periphery of the dining room and watch. I gauge the temperature of the room, the smell, and the noise. Most important, I watch my staff members. Are they enjoying one another’s company? And are they focused on their work? If the answer to both questions is yes, I feel confident that we’re at the top of our game."
"The barbecue seems to taste better both because of what you have to do and because of where you have to go to get it. That’s also why hot dogs taste better at the ballpark and Vernaccia di San Gimignano tastes better in Tuscany. Context is everything."
"I’d always loved watching the cooks take a raw beef patty that looked like a red-and-white-flecked hockey puck, place it on the hot griddle, and then smash it down rhythmically with two heavy spatulas until it got crispy on one side. Then they’d flip it over. I trusted their motto, "In sight, it must be right.""
"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."
"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 table left in the restaurant—a table that will be served by the person you are considering hiring. Is your reaction "Great!”—or is it “Oh, no!""
"Ultimately, the most successful business is not the one that eliminates the most problems. It’s the one that becomes most expert at finding imaginative solutions to address those problems."
"We take the opposite approach. I am convinced that if you’re going to offer a gift, it’s important to give it graciously."
"When managers catch somebody on their staff doing something right in a consistent or remarkable way, I encourage those managers to let me know about it fi rst so that I can learn, and also so that I can connect with employees and tell them that their boss told me what a great job they’ve been doing, with specifics."
"When I first walk into any restaurant or any business, I can immediately guess what type of experience I’m in for by sensing whether the staff members appear to be focused on their work, supportive of one another, and enjoying one another’s company."
"We won it because, whether you order a Shack Burger and a frozen custard at Shake Shack, or a lamb tenderloin carpaccio with black truffles at The Modern, whether you’re eating on paper plates or dining on Limoges china, there’s plenty on the table we’ve set to nourish and nurture you. Our job—and our joy—is to create restaurants you’d want to return to, and to build businesses that ultimately contribute at least as much to their communities as they reap from them."