Unreasonable hospitality should be in every business
Will Guidara ,Speaker, Restauranteur and Entrepreneur shares his amazing story of creative excellence
I have to admit I had never heard of Will Guidara. Well what an amazing story of perseverance in the pursuit of excellence. He comes onto the Cannes Lions stage with linkedin host Mimi Turner, where a bottle of wine sits, a copy of his book Unreasonable hospitality. All is to be revealed later. Will is the founder of Thank you a hospitality company that helps inspire leaders change their approach to customer service. He is also the co-owner of 11 Madison Park of which received multiple accolades including the coveted 3 Michelin stars
Guidara was managing one of the best restaurants in America and was invited to a prestigious awards event in London – the top 50 restaurants in the world only to find he came in 50th on the list. Guidara found it difficult to accept they weren’t higher up the list. He says “Our food was unbelievable, our service was technically as good as it could ever be and our room was one of the best in the world, in fact our product was unbelievable and it was because of these reasons we were on the list but we hadn’t done anything with real impact. I looked at the list of the restaurants before us, and they were all run by chefs.
I am not a chef, I am a restauranteur and each one of those chefs was unreasonable in the pursuit of the product they served and relentless in their desire to create change and impact. So many people are afraid to share their audacious goals for fear they won’t achieve them and let others down. If you don’t have the courage to share your biggest ambitions out-loud, you’ll never achieve them. So if they were relentless in their pursuit of product, I want to be relentless in my pursuit of people. I want to give people a sense of belonging to make themselves feel seen. that’s why I wrote unreasonable hospitality.
I had no idea what those two words meant though he says. So many people take so long to try and perfectly articulate an idea then they never start pursing one. You need to trust that if you pursue it for long enough, it will reveal itself I got back to the restaurant and had a Pre-meal which is the time you huddle together as a team before you start serving guests. Some may call it the daily huddle. I believe it’s the most important 30 minutes of the day. A pre-meal is where a leader has an opportunity not just to talk about the What but the WHY, the moments of inspiration.
A daily huddle when done well is where a collection of individuals come together to build trust in the team. I started talking about unreasonable hospitality and about a year and a half later I found myself clearing the appetisers from a table of foodies who were on holiday in New York, and heard them saying we’ve been to these amazing restaurants but we still hadn’t had a New York Hot Dog and for me it was one of those lightbulb moments. I then ran outside a few moments later and bought a hot dog and now came the hard part convincing my chef to serve it in a 4 star restaurant. Everything we did was pristine fine dining at its best, but then I told him after his concerns, to TRUST ME. We cut it up into 4 parts.
These foodies have had some of the best dishes you can have, but truly I have never seen anyone react in the way they did. In business like in sports we often look at the things we did wrong in the tapes and try and fix them rather than look at what we did well and keep on doing things like this. It’s when you take these moments of brilliance, and you build this into the fabric of the organisation but also ensure you build the systems behind them. So when we look at the hot dog moment, lets review that, it requires being present, it’s also about caring so much about the person you are with which is essential in hospitality. Second it required taking what you do seriously but not taking yourself too seriously.
Brands are a wonderful thing, but sometimes they can stand in the way of doing the right thing. Because it’s those moments of excellence that gives us the most joy. Third, hospitality is all about being seen. And the best way to do that is to treat them like individuals. I could have given that table a bottle of Vintage Kru or caviar and it wouldn’t have had the same impact. I went back at the pre-meal and started talking about 1 size fits 1. In fact we hired someone on the team exclusively to help our team members bring their ideas to life. We got known straight away. What we wanted was to help our team listen to their guests to make the experience special and in the years to follow we did thousands of these things. I remember a guest on his way home from a work trip and he forgot to bring the only thing his daughter asked for which was a stuffed teddy bear.
Easy, the Dreamweavers found a shop that sold teddies even in the evening and on the way out of the restaurant, and when we gave him the gift he started crying. Once there was a family of 4 with their kids in the restaurant from Spain and it was snowing outside and it was the first time they had seen real snow. The Dreamweavers found a store on a Friday night we had an UBER SUV take them to Central Park with sleighs and then we did monstrously big things too like we had a couple that had just got married. Their server figured out what their wedding song was and our entire staff was in the restuarant replicating that song, when they were about to leave we gave them the gift of their first dance. With all those gestures and 7 years later we went to Australia and we became number 1 in the world not because of our product but because we were unreasonable in our pursuit of having great people.
People don’t collect things anymore they collect experiences. The reality is that people don’t care what you do, because someone can come around in the not too distance future and make a better product Someone younger, more creative, someone with more money that can create something more beautiful but I believe that the best moat that any business can create comes from investing in relationship capital because relationships take a long-time to build and if you are so focused on investing in your product and not in your relationships you could wake up one day and realise someone has eaten your entire lunch.
So how did I get my team onboard. It wasn’t hard actually because I had given them agency and empowerment but in most restaurants as in most businesses they were selling a product that someone else had created. Once we had created and developed this foundation of unreasonable hospitality they were reviewing with their own creativity that they were truly contributing There is nothing more energising or uplifting than seeing a look on someone else’s face when they receive a gift that you are responsible for. We have created an environment where we have given everyone in our team a gift of being able to give other people gifts. Someone asked me the other day with so much turbulence in the industry how have you been able to recruit and keep staff. Well its because few organisations give their staff a sense of purpose or sense of ownership in what they do. In fact once people are invited along they never left In fact oxytocin is a real thing, can you imagine how many people told that story.
People will forget what you say, what you do but they will never forget how you made them feel. If we work with and our partners, and our teams in the process and all the people we serve, we can be relentless in making people feel good about what they do for our businesses will be more profitable. Not only will our customers be happier, not only will our teams stick around longer, but it just feels really really good.
So why the table? We are in the business of serving people I used to tell our team why our work mattered . If you don’t understand why you can truly impact other people every day it’s hard to bring yourself fully to the table on the hard days and as restaurants we can inspire people we can help them celebrate we can give them the grace to forget we can make the world just by being really really nice.
I think if you all take a few minutes in how your work is not only cool but how it materially positively impacts people and talk about that constantly it will help form and build your culture. The reason I love the restaurant business is because that a great restaurant t with the intention and creativity can help create the conditions for wonderful connection. You and I, if we go to a restaurant, we are going to be closer to one another than we were at the beginning because of this thing, the TABLE. Its one of the most sacred things in the world, why because, its a fashion for connection .
Restaurants, the service the design, the food, they are just ingredients. The table is the recipe for human connection and in your industry in what ever it is. A table is one of a few places where a couple that have been married for 40 years actually put their phones down and really engage. I believe that across industries no matter what you do for a living you can make a choice to be in the hospitality industry and are inspired by restaurants and tables by applying those tables in board rooms.
I believe we can change the world in some small way. I believe the power of hospitality is nothing short of transformative and if everyone starts playing a little more intention to connect with the people they love over the table, over food and wine and then apply that to other parts of your work its nothing extraordinary what can happen.