Danny Meyer, the foodie who would be a business guru.

What to eat. What not to eat.
Nov. 10 2006 1:12 PM

Danny Meyer

The foodie who would be a business guru.

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As Meyer expanded, he continued to emphasize hospitality above all else, even food. Meyer's book is riddled with telling anecdotes on this point. His staff enters information about regular diners into his restaurants' "guest notes" databases ("Likes table 42; bring hot sauce with food … ice on side always with cocktails"). They also note past mistakes—"overcooked salmon on 7/16"—as well as patrons' birthdays, anniversaries, and lines of work. (Meyer has been known to provide introductions between guests when he feels it could benefit them professionally.)

He tells the story of one woman who left her cell phone and wallet in a cab after arriving at his restaurant Tabla. Upon hearing this, Tabla's general manager, at Meyer's urging, called the woman's cell phone, got a hold of the cab driver, and sent staff up to the driver's location in the Bronx to retrieve her phone and wallet. Or there's the couple who, when dining at Eleven Madison Park on their anniversary, remembered they'd left a bottle of champagne in their freezer, in danger of exploding. The husband was ready to run home himself, but the maitre d' insisted he stay and enjoy dinner with his wife. Instead, the maitre d' went to their nearby apartment, liberated the champagne from its perilous fate (with the aid of a doorman), and set it out alongside some complimentary chocolates and caviar.

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These save-the-day feats of generosity undoubtedly leave the average reader agape, and rightfully so. They're impressive. And I'm all for the Aetna chief operating officer who wants to take pointers from Meyer. But somehow that seems unlikely. The real beneficiaries of Meyer's wisdom will be the aspiring hotelier seeking to fan out his enterprise, the celebrity chefs rapidly overexpanding their fiefdoms. It would be even more valuable, though, if Meyer could be as focused in his writing as he is in his business. As his own grandfather used to say, "Doing two things like a half-wit never equals doing one thing like a whole wit."