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Restaurateur Danny Meyer: ‘Hospitality is a dialog; service is a monologue’

by

Special To The Japan Times

Name: Danny Meyer
Age: 58
Nationality: American
Occupation: Restaurateur, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group
Likes: Art, politics, fried chicken
Dislikes: Tequila, gin, blue cheese


1. Congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Union Square Tokyo. How have things changed at the restaurant in the past decade? There’s been a lot of development. I think the food is better (laughs), but the restaurant has also become like a university of hospitality for the staff.

2. You were the mastermind behind Shake Shack. Are you surprised at how well it has done in Japan? I never assume a new restaurant will do well, so I’m always a little surprised. Maybe that’s because I’m from Missouri — The “Show-Me” State.

3. Will we see more Shake Shacks here? There will be 10 Shake Shacks in Japan by 2020. No. 4 will be in Shinjuku.

4. Fast-dining restaurants like Shake Shack are becoming increasingly popular around the world. What’s behind the trend? Well-trained chefs have created a new category I call “fine-casual.” People still want good food — even when they’re saving money and time — but they don’t need all the service of a sit-down restaurant.

5. Fine-dining restaurants, however, are on the decline. Why? The margins in fine dining are so small now that many people are opting out of the business.

6. How do you think that the administration of President Donald Trump will affect restaurants in the United States? One of the great things about our industry is that if you have a heart for hospitality, you can get a job no matter where you’re from. There are many immigrants in the restaurant world, so I’m very concerned.

7. You spearheaded the movement to end tipping at your restaurants. How is your “hospitality included” policy working out? We’ve launched it at six of our restaurants, and we’ve learned it takes about six months before it starts to work for everyone — our staff, our customers, and our investors. I love the policy and don’t want to go back, but it’s hard.

8. Did your experiences with the service culture in Japan influence your decision? Yes, I got a lot of those ideas here.

9. Your name is synonymous with hospitality. What is the key to being a good host? Emotional skills and improvisation, allowing yourself to see each person differently.

10. What’s the difference between hospitality and service? Hospitality is a dialog; service is a monologue.

11. You’ve opened so many kinds of restaurants. Would you ever consider starting a Japanese restaurant? I don’t know what I could add to Japanese food, but maybe someday I’ll have an idea.

12. Do you have any favorite Japanese restaurants in New York? The sushi of Gari and Nakazawa. I also adore Shuko, which has classic sushi with inventive touches and a wonderful sommelier.

13. What are the differences between the food scenes in New York and Tokyo? In New York you ask, “Where do you want to go?” But in Tokyo you ask, “What do you want to eat?”

14. In terms of food culture, which regions around the world interest you these days? I’m really excited about Korea. But I love learning about people based on what they eat, so I’m interested in going everywhere.

15. What are some food trends that you would like to see end? The sushi burrito. The quinoa bowl. Frozen yogurt.

16. What inspires you outside of the hospitality industry? Art, music, sports, children, theater and definitely politics.

17. What are your new projects? We just opened a new Union Square Cafe in New York and a bakery called Daily Provisions next door. Soon we will be opening Martina — a fine-casual version of our pizza restaurant, Marta.

18. If you hadn’t gone into the restaurant business, what would you have done? I love writing, so I would have become a journalist or I might have gone into politics.

19. You once told an interviewer that your strength is making people happy, but that you could lose yourself if you go too far. How do you find balance? Sometimes people are happiest when they’re unhappy. You have to know when you have given it your best shot.

20. What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs? Start by asking yourself, “What’s the big problem I’m trying to solve with my big idea?” Learn everything about the topic and be willing to work harder than everybody else. If it’s not really a big problem and your idea isn’t a big idea, then you need to rethink it.