Danny Meyer: Keeping tabs on a food empire
The president of the Union Square Hospitality Group says a successful restaurant isn't about the menu - it's about the people who serve it.
Interview by Julie Schlosser, Fortune Magazine

(Fortune Magazine) -- Every Tuesday morning I have a meeting with my business partners in our Union Square offices. At that table I have people who are essentially my "kitchen cabinet." One represents development. Another the culinary side. And one represents people. That's the guts of our business - the quality of our people.

We're not talking menus. We spend 90% of our time talking about how we are operating across our 11 businesses, and about 10% contemplating our next step.

Man about town. With a host of hot New York restaurants on his plate, Meyer is always on the go. Lunching at Tabla.
Photo GallerylaunchSee more photos
E-mail and voicemail; yoga and personal assistants; structure and grooving: A dozen accomplished people tell what works for them. (See the gallery.)

My dad was a brilliant entrepreneur. He founded some exciting companies - mostly in travel - but he expanded far too quickly and didn't surround himself with the kind of people who could compensate for his weaknesses.

I watched him go bankrupt on two different occasions. That has colored the way I view growth. It was almost a decade before I could even get comfortable with the idea of a second restaurant.

I spend a lot of time teaching internally. Once a month I meet with every employee who's been hired in the previous four weeks. We have over 1,000 employees right now. And we spend a lot of time talking about the power of hospitality.

I am usually in the restaurants by about 12:20 P.M., and I meet with the managers. I can walk to all of our seven downtown restaurants. It's a good thing to be able to see and smell everything going on. I feel like a transponder sometimes. I'm receiving signals and broadcasting signals.

As someone who has played a primary role in conceiving each one of these restaurants, I know what they are at their best. It is an intuitive sense of how things feel, sound, smell, and look. If two things are present I know that just about everything else will be great: The staff is (a) focused on their work and (b) having fun with one another. But I need to see both of those things.

People say, "It seems like you're in all places at all times." My wife and I have four kids, and I try not to miss a piano recital or a parent-teacher conference. I use a cellphone, a BlackBerry (Charts), and OpenTable, the online reservations program. I'm on the board.

OpenTable allows me to get on my computer and see who is eating at any of our restaurants at any given moment. I am mostly looking for regulars. I am not a huge celebrity hound myself. I miss celebrities more than I see them.


Tearing up the Jack Welch playbook.

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