Unreasonable Hospitality Quotes for Your Inner Chef

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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What are the best Unreasonable Hospitality quotes about the restaurant business? How did Eleven Madison Park become a fine dining establishment?

Will Guidara first joined Eleven Madison Park in 2006, when the restaurant’s then-owner tapped Guidara and chef Daniel Humm to transform the restaurant into a fine-dining establishment. Guidara and Humm succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, garnering widespread acclaim and buying out the restaurant in 2011.

Continue reading for Unreasonable Hospitality quotes that depict this restaurant journey.

Quotes from Unreasonable Hospitality

In Unreasonable Hospitality, hospitality guru Will Guidara details how he transformed Eleven Madison Park from a so-so brasserie in the middle of Manhattan into the World’s Best Restaurant in 2017. Guidara contends that the secret to the restaurant’s success was his commitment to providing “unreasonable hospitality”—a level of dedication to providing guests with a fantastic experience that stretched the limits of what seemed sensible. Guidara believes that anyone with a service-based business should also commit to providing unreasonable hospitality—both to their employees and their customers.

These three Unreasonable Hospitality quotes express the best lessons to take away from Guidara’s book.

“Black and white” means you’re doing your job with competence and efficiency; “color” means you make people feel great about the job you’re doing for them. Getting the right plate to the right person at the right table is service. But genuinely engaging with the person you’re serving, so you can make an authentic connection—that’s hospitality.”

As Guidara was looking for ways to provide unreasonable hospitality, he overheard a table of tourists who’d chosen EMP for their last meal in New York. The group mentioned that they’d eaten everything they’d wanted to eat—except for a classic New York hot dog. So Guidara ran out to purchase some, had Humm plate them, and served these hot dogs to the guests as one of their courses, explaining to them that he’d overheard their conversation and wanted to provide them with the best possible experience. The delight of the guests convinced Gudiara that this was something he should be doing regularly—and so Guidara systematized such gifts in two ways.

(Shortform note: The hot dog story appeared in several news outlets as a prime example of how unreasonable hospitality can transform the customer experience, but not everybody was impressed. One blogger contended that this story was only impressive because EMP had an impressive backdrop with which to serve the hot dog, writing that “It’s patronizing for Guidara to behave as though a $2 hot dog can make everyone a hospitality hero.”)

First, he created a position dedicated to providing unexpected gifts. Guidara understood that, while a meal at a restaurant is by definition consumed, the guests could relive their restaurant experience as long as they had a great story to tell. As a result, he started hiring “Dreamweavers”—people whose job it was to research the guests beforehand or listen during their meals and provide personalized touches to awe the guests and give them a great story. For example, the Dreamweavers turned the private dining room into a makeshift beach for a couple who unexpectedly couldn’t make their planned beach vacation.  

Second, Guidara created standard gifts for repeatable moments. The personal nature of the Dreamweavers’ gifts sometimes meant that they were expensive, but Guidara found a more budget-minded way to systematize gifts. He looked for repeatable moments—the memorable things that happened regularly at the restaurant—and created standard gifts for those moments. For example, many couples got engaged at EMP. So Guidara partnered with Tiffany to create custom champagne flutes; he’d pour them a champagne toast in the flutes at EMP and gift them the flutes in Tiffany boxes. 

“Maybe people don’t notice every single individual detail, but in aggregate, they’re powerful. In any great business, most of the details you closely attend to are ones that only a tiny, tiny percentage of people will notice.”

In 2006, the food critic for The New York Times appeared at the restaurant 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 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.

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. 

“A leader’s responsibility is to identify the strengths of the people on their team, no matter how buried those strengths might be.”

In 2008, EMP decided to apply to join Relais & Châteaux, a prestigious restaurant organization, but the restaurant missed the application deadline. Boulud offered to ask the group to consider EMP anyway, and he brought in two rock star chefs—Thomas Keller and Patrick O’Connell—so that all three could ask together. Guidara noticed how awestruck his team was at these chefs’ presence and realized how much this validation boosted their morale. (The chefs loved the restaurant, and EMP was accepted into Relais & Châteaux). 

(Shortform note: In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that people who succeed earlier in life have an advantage, as these early opportunities tend to snowball into larger advantages. EMP’s addition to Relais & Châteaux may be an example: Had Guidara not met and befriended Boulud while at Cornell, he may not have had the connection necessary to apply to the organization even though they’d missed the deadline, and he might not have seen the validating impact that bringing in Keller and O’Connell had on his team.) 

As a result, Guidara started to share external praise of his team members with the team member in question. This included having media personalities speak with the most relevant team members—even if that wasn’t Guidara. These actions helped his team members gain recognition and further supported their growth.

(Shortform note: In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin elaborate on why you should pass on praise to the relevant team members. By directing praise to your team, you set the tone for everyone on the team that success is achieved as a unit, creating a culture that’s focused on the good of the team.) 

Unreasonable Hospitality Quotes for Your Inner Chef

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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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