Focus on the Details if You’re Aiming for Excellence: EMP’s Story

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Unreasonable Hospitality" by Will Guidara. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why are small details important? In what ways did the top-notch restaurant Eleven Madison Park (EMP) pay attention to the finest details?

Will Guidara owes EMP’s three stars to him and his employees giving attention to even the smallest details. He was wise to focus on the almost-unnoticed elements that can actually make or break a customer’s experience.

Discover why you need to focus on the details if you’re aiming for excellence.

Pay Attention to the Details

In 2006, the food critic for The New York Times appeared at Eleven Madison Park for lunch. His presence signified that Times might soon review EMP. The restaurant’s three-star review appeared in the Times nearly a year later. 

(Shortform note: The New York Times’ rating system maxed out at three stars until 1964, when the fourth star was added to indicate that a restaurant was “extraordinary.” The newspaper explains that the stars “reflect the reviewer’s reaction primarily to food, with ambience, service, and price taken into consideration.” The star system has received some criticism from readers given that a reviewer’s experience is highly subjective. However, the Times has chosen to keep the system, noting that readers can glean more detail from the review article than from how many stars a restaurant receives.)

Guidara attributes the three stars to EMP’s continued commitment to focus on the details, which EMP staff demonstrated in two ways. 

First, EMP staff focused on consistently mastering the smallest details. These details didn’t seem individually important, but altogether they contributed to providing an overall atmosphere of exceptional service. Guidara contends that this atmosphere was palpable not just to the guests but also to the staff and improved everybody’s experience. For example, the staff carefully curated how loudly they played the music depending on how many people were in the restaurant. 

Guidara argues that seeing this consistency helped servers when they were having a difficult time due to uncontrollable circumstances—such as guests in a bad mood—as it reminded them that there were some things they still could control.

(Shortform note: Several self-help authors maintain that when you face an obstacle, you should focus on what you can control rather than what you can’t. Some go even further: In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale contends that any obstacle is defeatable—as long as you believe that you can surmount it. If this seems unreasonable, try to think of creative ways that you might be able to overcome the obstacle. For example, adjusting the music at EMP may have had a bigger impact than Guidara realized. Studies indicate that adjusting the volume of restaurant music can improve how good customers think the food tastes, while switching to classical music can increase customer spending.)

Second, EMP staff followed the “one-inch rule” that Guidara developed. Guidara points out that, no matter how well you prepare something, you can mess it up at the last minute. At EMP, the staff learned to remain focused during that last “one inch” so they could execute everything perfectly instead of ruining something due to inattention in the final moments. 

(Shortform note: It’s not always crucial to do everything perfectly or to focus on the last “one inch.”. Finishing the last details of a task may be particularly difficult for people with ADHD. If you have ADHD and struggle to complete tasks, one productivity expert recommends first envisioning what the project will look like when it’s 100% done. Then, envision what getting 90% done will look like—and re-evaluate whether completing that final 10% is worth the effort. If it isn’t, consider just not doing that final 10%, consulting with other stakeholders as necessary.)

Focus on the Details if You’re Aiming for Excellence: EMP’s Story

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Here's what you'll find in our full Unreasonable Hospitality summary:

  • How Will Guidara turned Eleven Madison Park into the World's Best Restaurant
  • Why service-based businesses should go above and beyond for customers
  • Guidara's lessons he learned from each stage of his business journey

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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