Small Giants by Bo Burlingham

Companies that choose to be great instead of big.

This book always comes to mind when I hear about growth for the sake of growth. But today’s excerpt from the book is about service.

“Marilyn McDevitt Rubin, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, already knew something about Union Square Hospitality Group when she and four friends went to lunch one day at Tabla, the fourth of Danny Meyer’s restaurants…“

“… and she expected that Tabla would offer a similar experience. But impeccable service is not what Meyer strives for. Instead, his restaurants aim to provide what he calls enlightened hospitality. Rubin began to learn what that meant when, shortly after placing her order at Tabla, she turned suddenly in her chair and slammed into a server holding a tray of glasses filled with water that he was about to put on the table.

‘I sat watching, transfixed, as the tray tipped, the water leaped from the glasses and, in seeming slow motion, the glasses tumbled over the side,’

Rubin later wrote in her column.

‘The crash came like a cannon shot. While diners remained calm, too polite to turn and stare, restaurant staff ran in from all directions. Mops and buckets, dustpans and sweepers appeared. Several people came at me with napkins to pat away the water that had spilled down my front and back…. It took several minutes for the tempest to die down, but soon the table was reset, flutes appeared and a very fine private label champagne was poured as a gift from the house to soothe us over our rough beginning.’

At any restaurant, such a response would have qualified as excellent service, and Rubin was quite satisfied with it. But there was more. First, Meyer himself showed up to offer his help. ‘It was my fault,’ Rubin said.

‘I’m sure it wasn’t your fault,’

he replied. Rubin knew it had been entirely her fault, but she realized that Meyer was trying to relieve her of any residual feelings of guilt she might have, lest they detract from her dining experience. They didn’t. She reported that she and her friends had an outstanding luncheon:

‘Treated to every kindness, we were happy….’

As they were getting their coats, the unlucky server who’d been holding the tray with the water glasses emerged from the kitchen and came over to apologize for his clumsiness.

‘I assured him, as sincerely as I could, that I was the one responsible,’

Rubin wrote.

‘But like the man who had hired him, and who had recognized in him the quality of caring required [to work in a Danny Meyer restaurant], the waiter refused me the blame and graciously assumed it for himself.’

And that was the message Rubin conveyed to her newspaper’s almost one million readers.

Business is business, and mistakes happen no matter how great a company you have, as Danny Meyer is well aware.

‘If someone finds a small screw in their risotto, they’re going to tell everybody they know,’

he once observed to Gourmet magazine.

‘I can’t change that. But what I do is make sure that when they tell the story they go on to say, ‘But do you know how the restaurant handled that?”

That is, of course, why extraordinary customer service has always made such good business sense, no matter what you have to do to provide it. From eye-popping service come industry legends, rave reviews media, and fabulous word of mouth, which is the most effective marketing tool a company can have. Meyer’s version of service, however, is a little different from the norm and springs from another source.

‘What I’ve learned,’

he said,

‘is that I have an intense, nearly neurotic interest in seeing people have a good time.’

Enlightened hospitality is his name for the process of making sure they do.”