Challenging The Gospel Of Hospitality

Setting The Table

Setting The Table

Last month, I traveled to New York for a press trip on behalf of Virginia Cider. This was my first time in the city in five years so I immersed myself in some amazing food experiences.

During one of my restaurant visits, I had a revelation. What you're about to read below may sound trivial and ridiculous. I'm aware.

I would have brushed this off at any other place, but I was dining at Danny Meyer's first restaurant and the cornerstone of his dining empire.  If you are in the service industry, you most likely have read or heard of Meyer's book Setting The Table. It's pretty much the bible of hospitality. 

I made a reservation before my trip. When I arrived, everything was peachy until I was seated at a four-top along a banquette all by myself. When I asked to move to the bar, the hostess told me I would have to ask the bartender. Request denied.

Many of you can attest, I'm not a fussy diner

In his book, Danny Meyer preaches "enlightened hospitality" and making your guests feel comfortable. He specifically mentions creating spaces in his restaurants to offer an intimate dining experience. At this four-top, I felt on display. After a simple request to change seats, I was frustrated about the disconnect in service and how it is showcased in Setting The Table. Alas, it's not possible for Meyer to be at every one of his restaurants all of the time.

This was my first time dining at one of his restaurants, Shake Shack excluded. After reading Setting The Table, I was an instant fanboy and now realize my high expectations overhyped the experience. So, after this messy beginning, a waitress noticed my funk and moved me to the bar without question.

Union Square Cafe's second-floor bar turned out to be a hidden gem. The bartender happened to be from Richmond and could make a mean Old Fashioned. Sitting to my right, I chatted up a server from April Bloomfield's restaurant, The Spotted Pig. Sitting to my left, an interior designer, and her partner, an architect who had designed the original Brooklyn Brewery.

This was the New York I wanted.

A 1 a.m. venture later that night proved to be my favorite dining experience -- a tiny, humble bar serving only french fries and beer. Genius!

I came home with three lessons. (1) We've been spoiled with so many incredible restaurants in my hometown of Richmond. (2) Even the best of the best can have an off day. Let's be more forgiving. (3) You don't need a fancy restaurant to exceed expectations.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, send me an e-mail. - Kevin