Culinary entrepreneur, industry pioneer, and champion for more equitable and professional compensation among restaurant staff in the kitchen and dining room, New York City restaurateur and the Chief Executive Officer of the Union Square Hospitality Group Daniel Meyer is a name to know in the restaurant scene. Daniel or “Danny” Meyer was born on March 14, 1958 in St. Louis, Missouri, a classic American midwestern state, with a strong affection for great food and hospitality. But unlike many kids from Missouri in the 60’s, he spent most of his childhood traveling abroad, tasting new things and seeing distant places with his father who ran a travel business designing European tours. In 1985, at the age of 27, Danny was already opening his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe. After gaining nine years of industry experience and achieving great success with his first place, in 1994 he unveiled the epic Gramercy Tavern a few blocks east. Four years later he opened Eleven Madison Park in 1998, later selling to acclaimed chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur, Will Guidara.
From Danny’s first purchase of the Union Square Cafe in 1985, he formed the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) which now includes some of New York’s most beloved and acclaimed restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, Maialino, and others. A focus on hospitality has been a distinguishing factor since his first opening, with the same goal to offer something extra in order to compete with the other great places in the already saturated New York neighborhood. Being service oriented is a mantra that the group developed into a mass format and rolled out into more casual concepts to great success like their global chain, Shake Shack, the modern-day “roadside” burger restaurant that USHG first opened in Madison Square Park in 2004.
The small restaurant group grew into a multi-faceted foodservice organization, offering large-scale event services, industry consulting, and educational programs. Setting industry standards in hospitality for hiring practices, innovative leadership, and corporate responsibility led to a new way of doing business for the group that they call, Hospitality Included . In New York it is illegal for wait staff to split their tips with the kitchen. So with the intention of designing a better and more transparent system, Daniel quickly became known for his initiative to eliminate tipping throughout his New York restaurants. He re-thought the restaurant’s pricing and added a service charge, unsure if finicky New York diners would accept the change. Instead, the no-tipping policy was such a success at the first restaurant, it had its best month in history right after the pricing rollout.
In the past and in his current role Danny has been open to criticism from customers taking into account their feedback and learning from it. This has clearly been a winning formula for Danny with he, his restaurants and the chefs together earning 28 James Beard Awards. In addition, Danny was named to the TIME 100 List of the Most Influential People in 2015, then went on to receive the Julia Child Award in 2017.
USHG’s dialogue about Enlightened Hospitality is explored further in the industry book, “ Setting the Table (HarperCollins, 2006). A New York Times Bestseller, the signature business model applies to most industries.
Making people feel great has been the defining factor for Danny Meyer. He is known for seeking out staff with high emotional intelligence. He promotes empathy, even suggesting that his staff take notes on their usual clients and remember important events or menu preferences. A good reputation goes a long way. His famous Shake Shack chain was proof of this, going public on the New York stock exchange in 2015. He later open a barbecue concept Blue Smoke, a cocktail bar called Porchlight and restaurants in the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The group also owns Daily Provision, a fast-casual concept, Creative Juice with gym chain Equinox, Sweet Green, and Salt & Straw, the famous Portland,Oregon artisanal ice cream chain.
Danny has been generously recognized for his leadership, business achievements, and humanitarianism, including the 2012 Aspen Institute Preston Robert Tisch Award in Civic Leadership, the 2011 NYU Lewis Rudin Award for Exemplary Service to New York City, and the 2000 IFMA Gold Plate Award.