Danny Meyer Business Quote

What the founder of Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern & other iconic brands says is the secret to his (and your) success


When Danny Meyer says “people,” he isn’t just referring to the customer, he’s talking about his employees, too. And with more than 30 years of industry experience and 13 successful brands to his name — including household names like Shake Shack, Union Square Cafe and Maialino — Danny Meyer knows what he’s talking about.


Meyer recently joined us in Charleston, S.C. to share his hard-earned lessons learned with 300+ other industry brand leaders and thought leaders at HourMinds 2017His secret to success? Putting employees first. Here’s why.


Employee happiness is customer happiness

The age-old saying of “the customer is always right” doesn’t cut it for Meyer. While customer satisfaction is an undeniably important part of a successful business, the focus should not be on the customer’s happiness. It should be on the employee’s happiness.


“The hospitality experience that our staff members are having completely drives the hospitality experience that our guests will have. You have happier people doing more thoughtful things.”


The Virtuous Cycle of Enlightened Hospitality

Success starts with happy employees, because they fuel what Meyer refers to as The Virtuous Cycle of Enlightened Hospitality. This cycle consists of a business’ five main stakeholders: the employees, the customers, the community, the suppliers, and the investors.


As the fuel, happy employees create happy customers. The subsequent revenue allows you as an employer to contribute to the community around you and buy more from your suppliers, ultimately resulting in happy investors who are eager to invest more. Finally, it circles back to the employees who are benefiting from the success of the company.


Each stakeholder is equally important for the cycle to function, Meyer notes, but it has to start with your employees.


So, how do you create happy employees?

According to Meyer, happy employees are those that feel they have a higher purpose. There is something greater than a need to pay rent that inspires them to go to work everyday.


To instill this sense of purpose, Meyer treats his employees as if they were volunteers and seeks to motivate them with more than just a steady paycheck. He aims to create an environment that provides employees with things they would get from a family: love and a feeling of being important.


That’s only achievable, though, if you have the right employees.


Meyer sees his teams like a jigsaw puzzle — a culmination of unique pieces that fit together perfectly. Whether 10 pieces or 10,000, finding those that belong together is challenging. Occasionally, you come across a piece that looks like it should fit. You try different ways to make it fit. But eventually the piece starts to fray and your puzzle still isn’t complete.


Employees work the same way. It’s in both your business and people’s best interests to find the perfect fit.


What is Hospitality Quotient?

So how do you know who is the right fit? For Meyer, it comes down to two major things: skill and hospitality quotient. A hospitality quotient, or HQ, is an employee’s desire to make others happy. Someone with a high HQ is happiest when their energy is focused on making others feel better.


HQ is that “it” factor Danny has spent his entire career trying to define, because it’s what successful, scalable brands are built on. Including his own. It’s comprised of the six core personality traits below.

6 Traits of Hospitality Quotient

  1. Kindness and optimism
  2. Intellectual curiosity
  3. Work ethic
  4. Empathy
  5. Self-awareness
  6. Integrity


A high HQ combined with the necessary skillset makes a great employee. And while you can teach someone the skills they need to be successful in a role, you can’t teach them to change their innate dispositions. Like IQ, HQ is largely fixed. And you’ll waste a lot of time and money trying to develop people who just aren’t right for certain roles.


Rethink your strategy

Meyer pours so much energy into finding the best employees because he’s a firm believer that, like food, a business is “never going to be better than the worst ingredient you put into it.” And that the best ingredients are only as good as you treat them; when you find great ones, don’t let them go to waste.


And while his approach may stray from more a more traditional, customer-centric model, Danny Meyer’s continued success proves it’s not just fluff. It works. As an employer, it may be time to rethink your strategy and go all in on putting your employees first.


Find out how you can put Danny’s secrets into action. Check out our follow-up post for 3 tips on how you can find and hire candidates with high Hospitality Quotient.