Book Review: Setting the Table

When a book written in 2006 makes you want to book a table at a restaurant in 2019, you know it has successfully captured the essence of enduring timeliness – something that restaurateur and author, Danny Meyer should be proud of in his career.

I first heard of Danny Meyer last summer when I attended the Global Leadership Summit. As the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny – along with powerhouse influencers like Simon Sinek, Angela Ahrendts, John Maxwell, and Carla Harris – spoke on his experiences shaping the entertaining industry through enlightened hospitality. He was a captivating speaker and immediately following his session, I went to the lobby to buy his book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.

While many leadership books come and go from my personal bookshelf, this book is sure to stay. Although written nearly 15 years ago, Meyer’s sentiments regarding hospitality in business ring true today and verify his successful 34-year career as a restaurateur.

“In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

From the introduction to Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer (Harper Perennial 2006).

The focus of the book was definitely on creating a winning business, but Meyer incorporated so many engaging anecdotes (some heart-warming, others gut-wrenching) from his career, that I sometimes felt as though I was reading his memoir. When he did explain his business acumen, it was founded on humility and the assertion that a business is successful when it collectively maximizes the power of its creative and capable individuals.

His concept of enlightened hospitality identifies the five primary stakeholders to whom most businesses should pay attention to in the specifically prioritized order of: employees, guests, community, suppliers, and investors. While Meyer unashamedly stated the goal of earning a healthy profit, he also emphasized the need to nourish employees with excellent leadership and care in order to deliver dividends to investors.

Unlike many leadership books, which often lose momentum and get caught in their own weeds half way through, Setting the Table kept me interested all the way through the end. Perhaps this was because Meyer wrote the book mid-way through his career and very soon after successfully redefining museum dining by establishing strategic partnerships with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Since the book’s release, Meyer (or more correctly the Union Square Hospitality Group) has sold or closed multiple restaurants which are mentioned (a sad realization for me and my NYC dining goals). Fortunately, in an industry which has been recently rocked by scandal, Meyer’s integrity remains steadfast and commendable and I can’t wait to one day patronize his establishment.

This book might be for you if you also like: Netflix’s 7 Days Out episode featuring Eleven Madison Park, one of Meyer’s former restaurants; Ratatouille (Disney’s 2007 animated feature); New York City; Europe; the American Midwest (Meyer grew up in St. Louis and frequently referred to his roots); delicious food; leadership; or the films Burnt (2015) and The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014).

One Comment Add yours

  1. LW Warfel says:

    Excellent review! When I visited Meyer’s Shake Shack location in St. Louis earlier this year, I was definitely impressed with the friendliness, cleanliness, and attentiveness as I enjoyed my delicious lunch.


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