Unreasonable Hospitality: The remarkable power of giving people more than they expect

book review exceeding expectations hospitality Sep 27, 2023

A little over two years ago, on a beautiful summer night, my wife and I prepared to go out for a nice evening together.  I had recently purchased a Mazda MX-5 with a retractable top, so I was looking forward to taking it for a drive on a night that was so pleasant.  

When we got in the car, Andrea asked me, “Where are we going?”  I said, “I don’t actually know.  My intention is to drive northeast for a little while, taking whatever roads look interesting.  Then once we start feeling hungry, we’ll eat at whatever restaurant we’re closest to as long as it looks like it might be good.”

She loved that idea, so we set out on our evening journey.  About an hour later, we found ourselves at the Plumsteadville Inn, a restaurant that was founded in 1751.  We had never eaten there before, but the parking lot was full so it seemed like it was a popular option.  After parking, we walked inside, got a table, and enjoyed a fantastic dining experience.  We loved it so much that we’ve been going there nearly every Friday night ever since.

Here are just a few things I like about the Plumsteadville Inn.  Everything on the menu is delicious.  Literally, everything.  The place is clean and well-decorated, both inside and out.  The staff is friendly and attentive (many have started to feel like good friends at this point).  They pay attention to detail.  The live music is always great.  They reward regular diners with generous discounts.  And if we have any unique or special requests, they honor them.  I brag about the place all the time.

As a business owner in the online world, I’m paying attention to what they’re doing and considering ways I can learn from their example as I run my own business.  In general, I think the restaurant industry provides some of the best examples of what it’s like to create a great experience for your customers and to serve them well by exceeding expectations.

Not long ago, a helpful book on this subject came to the market.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  “Unreasonable Hospitality" is a book by restaurateur Will Guidara who was the co-owner of the acclaimed restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York City. The book outlines Guidara's philosophy and approach to hospitality in the restaurant industry. It’s all about “the remarkable power of giving people more than they expect.” 

Guidara has a helpful philosophy of hospitality that I think online entrepreneurs should take some time to learn from.  Let me share some of his guiding principles and some of the concepts he elaborates on in his book.               

1. Anticipate and Exceed Expectations - Guidara believes in going above and beyond to understand and anticipate the needs and desires of guests. This means providing service that surprises and delights, often in ways that guests wouldn't expect.

2. Create Memorable Experiences - Guidara emphasizes the importance of creating memorable moments for guests. This could be through personalized gestures, unique offerings, or unexpected touches that leave a lasting impression.

3. Attention to Detail - Guidara places a high value on meticulous attention to detail in all aspects of the dining experience, from the food and drink to the service and ambiance. This ensures a seamless and extraordinary experience for guests.

4. Empathy and Genuine Care - Guidara encourages his staff to approach their work with genuine care and empathy for the guests. This means being attuned to their needs, being responsive to their preferences, and treating them with warmth and sincerity.

5. Adaptability and Flexibility - Guidara acknowledges that every guest is different and may have unique preferences or requirements. Being adaptable and flexible in accommodating these preferences is crucial to providing exceptional hospitality.

6. Continuous Improvement - Guidara believes in a culture of continuous improvement. This involves seeking feedback, learning from mistakes, and always striving to enhance the guest experience.

7. Empower and Support Staff - Guidara places a strong emphasis on empowering and supporting his staff. When team members feel valued and empowered, they are more likely to provide exceptional service.

8. Community and Connection - Guidara believes in the power of building a sense of community and connection within the restaurant. This includes fostering a positive work environment for staff and creating a welcoming space for guests.

Building an online business or a message-based platform isn’t that different from running a restaurant when you really think about it.  You’re trying to serve people and make their lives a little better.  You’re attempting to give people more than they expect.  You provide a menu of products and services they can select from.  You’re hoping that if you serve them well you’ll get another opportunity to serve them again in the future.

One particular statement Will Guidara makes early in the book is that “Service is black and white.  Hospitality is color.”  Consider that idea for just a moment.  There are the basic tasks of service that we could all reasonably expect a business owner to focus on, but hospitality gives service its personality.  Unreasonable hospitality is the color that truly sets your business apart from the rest.

If you get the chance to read Guidara’s book, I’d encourage you to check it out.  I think you’ll find it genuinely interesting, particularly if you serve in a position of leadership or online influence.  

When others go out of their way to serve us well, we can’t help but share about how wonderful they are.  If that’s the kind of response we’d like our customers or our audience to express, let’s start giving them much more than they expect.

© John Stange, 2023

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