NEW YORK — In his many travels around the world, the best croissant famed restaurateur and renowned food visionary Danny Meyer ever tasted was at a gas station in Uruguay.
"People like to be surprised by high/low experiences like that. It's a wonderful trend for you all," the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of Shake Shack told the convenience foodservice retail executives gathered around the table at the 2016 Convenience Store News Foodservice Summit.
Meyer, whose restaurants and chefs have earned an unprecedented 25 James Beard Awards, was a special guest at this year's fifth annual Foodservice Summit, held March 15-16 in partnership with Tyson Convenience, where he participated in an interactive roundtable discussion with a dozen leading convenience store foodservice executives.
Here are three key pieces of advice he imparted:
1. Forget the fancy experience.
"People still want the highest quality food, but they don't want the fancy experience anymore," said Meyer whose company's restaurant portfolio runs the gamut from tony New York City eateries like the Gramercy Tavern, to classy-casual barbecue joint Blue Smoke, to the fast-growing Shake Shack chain, which started as a hot dog stand in a New York City park. "We don't need to eat at fancy places. We like our food better when it's at a hole in the wall."
2. Captive dining is a thing of the past.
Consumers have literally hundreds of dining choices in the palm of their hands, and with all those choices, there's no reason for them to compromise on food quality. Meyer acknowledged that what he calls "captive dining" is a thing of the past. People expect a quality food experience whether they are at an airport, museum, baseball stadium, hospital or gas station. "There is a huge number of places to eat. … Today, if I'm eating excellent food in every other channel of my life, why wouldn't I want that quality at every place I eat?" he said.
3. Hire for hospitality.
Meyer's hiring philosophy is that the key is to hire people based on emotional skills, or having what he calls a high "hospitality quotient." Managers at his restaurants are trained to look for six "emotional skills" when interviewing potential new hires.
These skills, with Meyer's commentary, are:
- Kindness & Optimism: "Skeptics don't tend to thrive in the hospitality business."
- Curiosity: "Every day is an opportunity to learn something new."
- Work Ethic: "I can't teach you to care about doing things right."
- Empathy: "What kind of wake do you leave in your path as you go through life?"
- Self-Awareness: "Do you know your own personal weather report?"
- Integrity: "The judgment to do the right thing even if it's not in your self-interest."
"Lately, we've been challenging our teams to think about what it would be like if we had no prices for the food on the menu and the guest gets a check for how much they enjoyed the entire experience," Meyer concluded. "That's not to diminish the importance of food innovation, but if we take food out of the equation, how did we make the guest feel?"
For much more of Danny Meyer's presentation, look in the May issue of Convenience Store News.