The Gracious Host: Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group
BY Leigh Buchanan
A look at the productivity secrets of one of America's most productive CEOs.
Come on In Danny Meyer relies on a four-part daily memo to keep tabs on his growing restaurant empire.
Restaurateur Danny Meyer can't give his personal attention to every customer of the 13 New York City restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park, that constitute Union Square Hospitality Group. But with the aid of a savvy executive assistant, he makes his presence felt where it counts most.
A productive day for me is much more about human transactions than it is about technical accomplishments. You can't necessarily check a human transaction off your to-do list. It's looking people in the eye and connecting with them in a way that they feel seen. That's a critically important part of my job.
My biggest technological assist is a tool called Open Table. People use it to make reservations online, and we get that information in the office. In the old days, if I wanted to know who was eating at a restaurant, I would have to go there and look at the reservation book. Now, first thing every morning, I check our Open Table account. My executive assistant, Haley Carroll, goes over the data as well. She reads a lot of newspapers and keeps up with goings-on in New York, so she recognizes the names. She told me this morning that a senior executive from a kitchen appliance company would be eating at Tabla tonight and that while visiting New York, he would be eating at three of our other restaurants. She put a Tabla note card in front of me and asked me to write a note welcoming him. I do not have time to do things like that. But the less time I have to do something, the more important it is to do it, because the more meaning it will have to somebody.
Haley also e-mails me a daily memo, which I read after I go home every night. It's in four parts, and the first part is my next day's schedule. Then comes a list of questions that cropped up during the day -- maybe someone wants to know whether I have feedback on the new Hudson Yards Catering logo. She aggregates them so she doesn't have to interrupt me repeatedly during office hours. I'll respond to those right away. The third part of the e-mail is FYIs: information I don't have to act on but might like to know. Maybe my mother called to make a reservation for her neighbor next week at Blue Smoke. Or there might be a change in my schedule. Finally, there is a section of longer-term reminders. I promised to write a blurb for a friend's book. I want to plan a vacation, so I need to check on my kids' school schedules. We started the memos only last year, and I don't know how we managed without them. I care about the details. This way, I don't worry that I'm missing anything.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that nothing I do is going to add one minute to the 24-hour day. I give it my best shot, and then I've got to make peace.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan