Be our guest

So, I've put aside Stephen King for a few days, because I had to get through the book on yon left. Danny Meyer, for those who don't live in New York City, is a genius restaurateur (and yes, that is how you spell it) who runs five or six restaurants in the city, the earliest of which (The Union Square Cafe) opened in 1985. He's never had to close one down. That's completely astounding, considering the half-life of a New York restaurant is a year at best.

Anyway, I'm not getting into the food service business — or, in this case, the hospitality business, which Meyer is famous for — but I'm going to be doing an article on him soon and you just have to be prepared. He comes across as a real mensch, not the kind of fightin' man CEO hardass you'd think. I'm sure he's had a good ghostwriter, and of course it's all his point of view, but I like the cut of the man's jib. He insists on putting his employees first, even before the customers, then he has a list that includes the community and one other group before coming to the importance of the investors.

If only most companies could be this way. The way corporate America seems to work is along these lines: How much can you get for the investors in the shortest period of time? If you have to cut corners in any area, do it. If you have to grudgingly give out charity donations, then remember they're tax deductions. Everything is so me me me and investor investor investor that when Meyer comes to the very simple conclusion that if you have employees who like their work and enjoy being hospitable towards the customers (going above and beyond what's needed many times), then the customers will want to come back. If you give to your community, you beautify the world in which you do business, and people associate you not with money-grubbing tax deductions, but in Meyer's case, a revitalized Union Square. Or Madison Square Park. And suddenly, it all circles around: There is goodwill that can't be bought that surrounds your company, thanks to your putting your investors last. And guess who gets to scoop up that profit? The investors.

He can be a little gosh-golly-gee-whiz about the whole thing, but Meyer makes you believe that there really can be good hearted people doing business in the world. As I read I remember going back to the first visit I had at Union Square Cafe, about two years ago. A musician friend was in from L.A. and we met up. As musicians are, he was obscenely late. Like, over a half hour. I had no cell to call him and did want to have lunch, so I put up with the lateness. I sat up front despite being asked a few times if I would rather have the table, but I didn't want to take up the spot someone else could be in. And the people watching me read while waiting for my other party just couldn't have been sweeter. I was under the impression USC was a difficult place to get a reservation, but I'd gotten one easily and just guessed it to be luck; I never thought they'd still have a table for us when he finally arrived. The meal went late until we and one other couple were the only ones left in the room, and he got out his guitar and actually played me a few songs right there in the room. It was transcendent, as something like that would be, but nobody asked him to quit it (it wasn't exactly Led Zep) and nobody asked us to hurry the heck up so they could prepare for the dinner crowd. And they took good care of the guitar during lunch.

The food? Oh, yeah, that: Excellent. But it's the everything else that made it a special afternoon.