When I think of visiting New York City I often think of Broadway productions I want to see. But after reading Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table” I now want to visit NYC just to try out his restaurants. Unbeknownst to me, the last time I was there I did go to a Shake Shack not realizing the story behind the restaurant.
I first heard Danny Meyer at the Global Leadership Summit back in August of 2018. He struck me as a very dynamic and inspiring speaker which lead me to buy his book. This should be required reading for anyone in the hospitality business as well as churches. My grandmother used to have a cross-stitch frame that said “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This book hammers that point hard. Churches need to consider what a visitor’s first impressions might be upon visiting the church. If there is no initial hospitality, chances are that person may never return again.
There was so much in this book that I enjoyed, but I also felt that, although the church does not fall into the restaurant business, there is a lot to learn here about hospitality and leadership and how we can apply it to our context.
One thing that impacted me was Danny’s use of the 51% rule. What he meant by that is that he would hire people that were 49% skills and 51% character and people skills. Danny states that “far more important to me than a friend’s skills was always his of her goodness as a person. . . . I want the kind of people on my team who naturally radiate warmth, friendliness, happiness, and kindness. It feels genuinely good to be around them. There’s an upbeat feeling, a twinkle in the eye, a dazzling sparkle from within. I want to employ people I’d otherwise choose to spend time with outside of work. Many people spend a large percentage of their waking hours at work. From a selfish standpoint alone, if that’s your choice, it pays to surround yourself with compelling human beings from whom you can learn, and with whom you can be challenged to grow.” (pp.142-144). In the context of the church, I believe that this is true for those on staff and leadership. Skills can develop and be taught, while heart and people skills are at least 1% more important.
Danny believes in servant leadership as a bottom-up manager. He makes the point that “An organization puts itself in grave danger when it permits integrity to be compromised.” (p. 198). While this may apply to management, waiters and cook, I believe that this is essential for the church. It is imperative that a church staff and leadership have integrity and a servant-leadership model toward the rest of the congregation. In modeling this, we hope to empower the congregation toward love and good deeds!
Another great chapter in Danny’s book dealt with how you handle problems. Danny comments that “the secret of the game is anticipating mistakes, harnessing them, and addressing them in constructive ways so that we end up in a better spot than if we had never made them in the first place.” (p. 221). He gave a lot of great illustrations in which costumers had a mistake occur, and then how the management of the restaurant didn’t allow the mistake to define their experience, but found a way to go over and above in creating a positive outcome that would overcome the mistake. This can be done in the context of the church with a simple phone call, visit, or letter.
In the context of church it is important that we are hospitable, that we empower people to live into being a child of God, and that we lead with integrity. Granted, in a good church, this will not necessarily apply to the sermon because the job of the pastor is to teach the Bible within the context of our lives today and I know sometimes that can leave a person feeling really good, or convicted, or angry because they are not ready or willing to receive the message. But in the context of first impressions, we should absolutely have a hospitality team that helps people feel recognized and important. We should expect high moral integrity from our leaders which should inspire the rest to live better lives. And we should look to make difficult situations better with real conversation, warmth and kindness.