5 business lessons from restaurateur Will Guidara’s must-read new book

Will Guidara giving a speech at his book launch party thrown by OpenTable | Credit: Spencer Cotton

When it comes to offering hospitality, Will Guidara is the guy. Guidara is best known for elevating New York City’s Eleven Madison Park to the number-one spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017. He’s since left the restaurant to focus on spreading the philosophy that got them there—what he’s coined “unreasonable hospitality”—starting with his new book out now, Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect (Optimism Press).

As Guidara defines it, unreasonable hospitality is going above and beyond in the pursuit of how you make people feel—and that the concept can and should extend beyond just the restaurant industry. Here are five business lessons that Guidara shares in Unreasonable Hospitality that are directly applicable to upleveling your business and operations like the best possible host. 

1. Hospitality is for everyone

While restaurants know hospitality is ingrained into their culture (it is the hospitality industry, after all), Guidara says that hospitality can be the secret spice that fuels other industries, too.

“When you create a hospitality-first culture, everything about your business improves—whether that means finding and retaining great talent, turning customers into raving fans, or increasing your profitability,” he writes.

Guidara thinks this hospitality mindset can cause a “seismic shift” in other industries: “Whether a company has made the choice to put their team and their customers at the center of every decision will be what separates the great ones from the pack.” The proof is in the pudding of his career: one of the best restaurants in the world, Eleven Madison Park.

2. Set lofty goals and bring your team along

If Guidara had not stated out loud that his goal was to make Eleven Madison Park the number-one restaurant in the world, he does not think he would have achieved it. But he followed his father’s advice by verbally answering the question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” and telling his team that he wanted to get to number-one. By doing so was able to get buy-in from his team and work their way there.

“It was a tremendous risk to articulate that dream out loud. When you set a goal for your team and fail to achieve it, you run the risk of damaging morale—and this was a particularly audacious benchmark … At that meeting, we were inviting the team to decide to go for it with us,” he writes. “When you’ve surrounded yourself with talented people, there’s nothing more powerful than a collective decision. If this electric group decided to accomplish this goal, then—no matter how far-fetched or difficult—we would.”

Will Guidara giving a speech at his book launch party
Will Guidara sharing his lessons | Credit: Spencer Cotton

3. Follow the “rule of 95/5”

Guidara spent a good chunk of his early career learning to meticulously work a restaurant’s books—which gave him the knowledge and confidence to come up with a rule that could seem foolhardy to some.

“Manage 95 percent of your business down to the penny; spend the last 5 percent ‘foolishly.’ It sounds irresponsible; in fact, it’s anything but. Because that last 5 percent has an outsize impact on the guest experience, it’s some of the smartest money you’ll ever spend,” Guidara writes.

By spending that last 5 percent on the guest experience and keeping his staff fueled, Guidara earned Eleven Madison Park the reputation that shot it to the top of best-of lists.

4. Share the credit

“It’s common for a leader to want the people on their team to see them as the ultimate authority figure and to box out their bosses as a result. That’s a lack of confidence, and it’s shortsighted … As a leader, you have to use every single tool in your kit to build morale and keep it high,” writes Guidara. It may seem counterintuitive to advancing in your career to elevate others around you, but Guidara recommends exactly the opposite for getting ahead.

“This is a constant quest for a manager, a daily pursuit—and it’s hard to do … I knew better than anyone that a word of thanks from Danny [Meyer, Guidara’s former boss] was rocket fuel,” he writes. “Rather than feel insecure about that, why not use it to our collective advantage?”

5. Look for inspiration in unlikely places

When Guidara and his former business partner, chef Daniel Humm, got one of their first reviews, the critic said the restaurant needed a bit of Miles Davis. This led Guidara down a rabbit hole of trying to interpret the meaning, and he ended up finding a treasure trove of unlikely inspiration.

“The more we learned about Miles and the approach he took to his work, the more inspired we became about how we wanted to approach ours … We had been looking for a way to put our ambitions and values into language, to find words for what we wanted to be. Researching Miles gave us eleven of them.”

Guidara settled on words commonly used to describe Davis, such as “adventurous,” “fresh,” “spontaneous,” and “vibrant,” to help move his business forward. Musical icons are an unexpected source of inspiration for a restaurant—but it goes to show that the best ideas can come from anywhere, and spur creativity and innovation in surprising ways.

For more invaluable insights on business, life, and more, check out Unreasonable Hospitality.

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