Growing industry with ‘enlightened hospitality’

How your guests, employees and partners feel about you really does affect business – and your bottom line

Russell Brent

I have been in the restaurant business all my life – or at least ever since my teenage years, when I was washing dishes to pay for a freestyle skiing habit. I literally don’t know anything else. My parents encouraged college, so I got my undergrad and post-graduate degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology. I wanted to be an executive and sit at the table with the CEO of a huge corporation.

It took me too many years to figure out what my gifts were; it felt like what I have was, for a time, lost in the desert. But a few years ago, I read a book called “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer. He was an independent restaurateur that had no real restaurant experience, but was great with people. In his book, he described the key elements to success – stuff I never learned in grad school.

My takeaways are simple:

“Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction.”

This is so simple, yet so profound. It speaks to all aspects of business – your guests, your employees and your vendor partner. How they feel about you really does affect your business.

“Service is a monologue – we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.”

How many times have you dined at a restaurant or checked in at a hotel and feel like you were checked in by a robot? Are they asking questions? Are they listening?

“Shared ownership develops when guests talk about a restaurant as if it’s theirs. They can’t wait to share it with friends, and what they’re really sharing, beyond the culinary experience, is the experience of feeling important and loved. That sense of affiliation builds trust and a sense of being accepted and appreciated, invariably leading to repeat business – a necessity for any company’s long-term survival.”

Ken Blanchard, co-author of “The One Minute Manger,” called it creating raving fans. This culture is created by hiring the right people. Meyer is very careful to hire the right people to accomplish this shared sense of ownership. In his book, he tells the story of “moths to a flame.” A moth is attracted to a flame for two reasons: heat and light – 51 percent heat and 49 percent light. He hires the 51 percenters. He looks for a warm, curious nature first, then for the intelligence or capacity to do the job.

I have employed these same themes at my restaurant, but the great thing about Meyer’s advice is that it translates well to all types of business, not just the hospitality industry.

That said, Clark County still loses half a billion dollars annually to Portland. We have less than five restaurants per 10,000 capita. Meanwhile, Multnomah County has almost 15 restaurants per 10,000. In my eyes, it is Meyers “enlightened hospitality” that will help us take a chunk out of this upside-down cake.

Russell Brent is the owner of Battle Ground-based Mill Creek Pub. He can be reached at