Ep 450: Unreasonable Hospitality with Will Guidara

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When Will Guidara decided to serve a two-dollar hot dog in his four-star New York restaurant, his life was changed forever.

This move to create a personalized street food experience for out-of-town customers earned such a positive reaction that Will began to practice “unreasonable hospitality” full-time, seeking out new and creative ways to create extraordinary experiences.

His national bestseller, Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect, details the service and leadership lessons he’s learned throughout his restaurant career, and in today’s episode, he shares surprisingly simple ideas to help you craft memorable moments centered on human connection, no matter what business you’re in.

As founder of the creative hospitality agency Thank You and host of the Welcome Conference, Will also has some practical advice for business owners that will make you reconsider your definition of hospitality and transform your approach to customer service.

Join us as we explore the importance of the daily huddle, why crazy generosity doesn’t need to cost a lot, what Will means by “one size fits one,” and more!

KEY POINTS FROM THIS EPISODE

  • How Will discovered unreasonable hospitality in his relentless pursuit of excellence.
  • Why you need to be focused, creative, and intentional about how you make people feel.
  • Practical advice for small business owners who want to create extraordinary experiences.
  • Small enhancements to your customer journey that can make a memorable impact.
  • The benefits of identifying recurring moments in your business and curating your reactions.
  • Crazy generosity: why it’s the thoughtfulness of the gesture that counts, not the cost.
  • “One size fits one” and the $2 hot dog that changed the trajectory of Will’s life.
  • How to systematize unreasonable hospitality by allowing your team to color outside the lines.
  • Ways that the money you’re already spending could be better spent.

TWEETABLE MOMENTS

“Anytime you’re trying to do anything of consequence, you need to be pretty audacious in your ambition but patient in your pursuit.” — @wguidara [0:06:22]

“Unreasonable hospitality means that you are – just as [focused, creative, relentless, and intentional] in pursuit of how you make people feel as you very likely already are in pursuit of the thing you’re selling.” — @wguidara [0:08:58]

“The smallest enhancements to the least likely touchpoints in the guest journey can have the greatest possible impact.” — @wguidara [0:16:25]

“Maya Angelou – says, ‘People will forget what you say, they’ll forget what you do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.’ That is the essence of hospitality.” — @wguidara [0:26:15]

“In unreasonable hospitality, one size fits one.” — @wguidara [0:34:44]

“Give your team the permission and the resources to color outside of the lines.” — @wguidara [0:37:00]

About Will Guidara

Will Guidara is the founder of Thank You, a hospitality company that develops world-class destinations and helps leaders across industries transform their approach to customer service. He is also the former co-owner of Eleven Madison Park. Under his leadership, the restaurant received numerous accolades, including four stars from the New York Times, 3 Michelin stars, and in 2017 was named number one on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

In his latest book, Unreasonable Hospitality, he shares many of the lessons about service and leadership he learned over the course of his career in restaurants, and makes the case that any business can choose to be in the hospitality industry by taking ordinary transactions and turning them into memorable experiences.
 
He is also the co-founder of the Welcome Conference, an annual conference that brings together the best minds in the world of hospitality. A graduate of Cornell University, he has coauthored four cookbooks, was named one of Crain’s New York Business’s 40 Under 40, and is a recipient of WSJ. Magazine’s Innovator Award.

LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Unreasonable Hospitality

Unreasonable Hospitality

Thank You

Welcome Conference

Will Guidara on LinkedIn

Will Guidara on Instagram

Will Guidara on X

‘The secret ingredients of great hospitality’ by Will Guidara (TED)

Giftology

AJ Vaden on LinkedIn

AJ Vaden on Twitter

Rory Vaden

Rory Vaden on LinkedIn

Rory Vaden on Twitter

Take the Stairs

Brand Builders Group

Brand Builders Group Free Call

Brand Builders Group Resources

The Influential Personal Brand Podcast on Stitcher

The Influential Personal Brand Podcast on Apple

RV (00:01): Well, I’m honored to introduce you to someone who I love to hate because I am so jealous of this man and so inspired by him. Will Guera is the author of a book called Unreasonable Hospitality, which is an incredible book, and it’s doing something that we all aspire to do, which is to sell thousands and thousands of units every single week without knowing how , and whenever I ask, whenever I ask an author, I go, how are you selling books week in and week out? The one answer I hate to hear is, I don’t know. I have no idea. and will, will came to this private bestselling author meetup that Donald Miller and I and a couple other buddies hosted this summer. And when the Will’s name got thrown out about being invited to this, I was like, absolutely. ’cause I’ve been tracking this book Unreasonable Hospitality for years over, you know, a couple years now. RV (01:02): But before he was an author, will was the co-owner of 11 Madison Park. And if you are a foodie, you know exactly what I’m talking about. So this is a restaurant one of was actually named in 2017, number one on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants. It earned three Michelin stars while it was under, his leadership had four stars from the New York Times. And that was why Will was, you know, handling and managing the hospitality there. The co-owner of that restaurant. So not an easy place to get a reservation at, from what I understand. I had to research it. I’m not even hoity-toity enough to have been invited to this restaurant or even know about it. So that shows you like the, the level of people that get in there. But he also hosts a conference called the Welcome Conference, which is also something that just has so much street cred. RV (01:57): It’s so much legit, like so many legit people I know talk about this conference. So it’s an, it’s an annual hospitality symposium. It brings together, you know, just amazing people from all different kind of walks of life who are interested in hospitality to sort of share ideas and, and, and best practices. But will also is a graduate of the Hospitality School at Cornell University. He has co-authored four cookbooks, was named one of Crane’s Business 40 under 40. He’s the recipient of the Wall Street Journal magazine’s Innovator Award. And turns out, even though I don’t like him, it turns out he’s hard to not, like he’s an amazing guy. We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit. And my team, here’s the other thing, true story. My team was talking about this book before I ever met Will, and that’s how I know an author is really making dent a dent in the world. So, bro, welcome to the show, man. It’s so great to have you . WG (02:55): Well, I, I just wanna say that while you may love to hate me, I just love to love you, my friend , and, and I’m happy that we met however many months ago that was. And you know, what, what I think is so cool is when, when a couple people gather together other people, and in that gathering, like with intention and creativity, create the connection or the conditions for connection, it’s pretty remarkable the relationships that can come out of it. I mean, we were together for, I don’t know, 36 hours total, including when everyone was sleeping. And, and the relationships that came outta that for me are, are nothing short of extraordinary because you guys were so good at leading with vulnerability which begot vulnerability in return. And, and I think it was a lot of people that were excited to be there, but invariably when new people show up in a room, their walls are up to some extent. And you all did such a good job of getting people to lower their guards quickly enough that real relationships could be built. And that’s the only time we’ve seen each other in person. We’ve seen each other on the screen a bunch of times since. But I, I feel much closer to you than the number of hours I’ve known you should normally merit. And so it’s a pleasure to be here. I’m excited to spend some time together. RV (04:28): Well, thanks brother. And I, and I feel that’s like, I mean, that’s kind of the, in many ways the message of your book, you know, unreasonable Hospitality is like you create these bonds so quickly with people. So just explain, start at the beginning. Explain what’s the premise of Unreasonable Hospitality? What is it? How did you come up with it? And like, before we get to how to apply it, just define it for me. WG (04:56): Yeah. So how it kind of came to pass was I was at that restaurant 11 medicine park, and in 2006 I got there and the restaurant was, was fine. It was a mediocre restaurant served delicious food, but it was not all that significant in its technique or its ingredients and all that. The service was very friendly, but not all that precise. But the dining room, man, anyone listening to this who has never seen a picture of the dining room at the Madison Park, you should look it up. It’s truly one of the most beautiful in the world. And so I was brought in as a part of a team that was charged with elevating the restaurant experience to live up to the room itself. And we initially did that, at least we started out doing that by focusing on excellence, right? I think anyone who’s ever sold anything, whether it’s a product or an experience, when you want to make it better, you focus relentlessly on the product itself, on how to make it as good as it can possibly be focused on training and sourcing and techniques and education and discipline and all that stuff. WG (06:06): Got fancier plates and silverware and glassware and, you know and it started working pretty quickly. I mean, listen, like anytime you’re trying to do anything of consequence, you need to be pretty audacious and your ambition, but patient in your pursuit. And we were, we were pushing hard over a number of years, but in the grand scheme of life, it wasn’t that long before we went from two stars in the New York Times to three Stars and then to four stars and zero Michelin stars to three Michelin stars. And both of those rating systems, those represent the most stars you can get. But there was this one list that we really wanted to be on, and just my nature, I’m a competitive person. I wanted to be at the top of which was the 50 best we set out to create one of the best restaurants in New York and then in America. WG (06:55): And once we had done that, I wanted to create one of the best restaurants, not only one of the best restaurant in the world. The thing about that list though, and even as you hear me say it, perhaps it sounds as ridiculous as it is, I mean, how can one restaurant be the best restaurant in the world, right? It’s too subjective, there’s too many restaurants. But that list acknowledges when you, when you reach that top spot, is you’ve become the restaurant that’s having the greatest impact on the re on the world of restaurants at any given time. And so in order to do that, I needed to figure out what our impact was gonna be. You know, I looked at the people that had topped the list before me. They were chefs, chefs who were unreasonable in pursuit of the food that were serving, relentless in pursuit of innovating the kind of techniques that would evolve the craft of cooking forward into the next generation. WG (07:54): But I’m not a chef. I’m a dining room guy. I’m the guy that likes to be out there throwing the party, welcoming people, making them feel at home. And I decided that if we were gonna become their number one, number one, it was not going to come by being unreasonable in pursuit of the product we were serving. It was going to come by making the choice to be unreasonable in pursuit of people and relentless in pursuit of the one thing that will never change, which is well, our human desire to feel seen, to feel cared for, to feel a sense of belonging, to feel welcome. And so that first year when we were put on that list, we came in last place, we were number 50. And that night on a cocktail napkin, I wrote, we will be number one one of the world. WG (08:39): And then I also wrote those two words, unreasonable hospitality. And that became my mission statement going forward. I mean, simply put, what does it mean? Listen, I believe if you’re trying to be extraordinary in your field, excellence is required. But at the end of the day, excellence is table stakes When you get to the top tier unreasonable hospitality means that you are making the choice to be just as focused, just as creative, just as relentless, just as intentional in pursuit of how you make people feel, as you very likely already are in pursuit of the thing you’re selling. That you don’t reserve your best efforts only for the thing, but for all the feelings and emotions that surround that thing. RV (09:30): So is it, and so at its essence, is it that, is it, if somebody feels special and somebody feels seen, then mission accomplished? WG (09:46): I mean, Yeah, basically, right? Like, listen, we’re in the midst of so many transitions just globally right now, whether it’s the digital transformation which is being supercharged by artificial intelligence, whether it’s the post covid hangover with either our collective remembering of our need for connection or our coming into this new reality where we’re either working remotely or in a hybrid world. I think now more than ever, people are craving human connection. And so yeah, if you can make the people around you, you, not just those you’re serving, but all those that you work alongside in order to serve those people, feel valued, feel seen, feel cared for, feel that genuine sense of belonging, if you can accomplish that, not by accident, not organically, but with intention, if you can give people memories, if you can make them feel a genuine part of what you’re doing and who you’re trying to become. And I know I’m speaking very philosophically, and we’ll impact this and get the weeds on it in a moment, but yes, a hundred percent mission accomplished. RV (11:13): Yes, it’s ironic. I mean, you, you even see like the explosion of social media over the years, and it’s like, what is that? More than people just wanting to be seen, recognized, valued, appreciated for who they are, what they know, what they could do in the world. So yeah, I wanted, I wanna know how to apply it, right? And so I, I told you a lot, most of the people listening are small business owners, but in this one we’re gonna be, I’m gonna be super selfish and I want you to consult Brand Builders group because you know, we’re, we’re starting to scale. We’re gonna hit right around eight figures this year. It’s our fifth year in business. We got about 40 people on our team. And you know, so we’re, so we’re growing and we’ve been, we’ve been on the excellence journey, right? RV (12:00): I mean, really we’ve been on the survival journey. Like startup is like mm-hmm. You move from survival, and then we try to streamline and then we, you know, excellent. But like, where we really want to get to is making people feel special, right? Every person, the, the, the podcast listener, the person who reads a book, the person who subscribes to the blog, all the way down to the people who become customers and affiliates, and then ultimately team members. But if you’re a small business, and my guess is most of the people listening to this are even smaller than us, and you don’t have unlimited budgets and things like that. How do you do this tactically? And, and what I’m really curious about is how to operationalize it, right? Like the founder of the company can make people feel special a lot of times through their words, or they just have this passion, but like, how do you create a culture of it? How do you, how do you systematize it to where every person who walks in the dining room has this amazing experience that they all, they all feel that way? How do we create that in our small businesses? WG (13:09): So the first thing I did when I got home from those first awards and I had that cocktail nap napkin with the big ambitious goal and the strategy through which we were gonna achieve it, I sat down with my team at our daily premium meeting. If anyone out there has worked in a restaurant, you may know what premium is. That’s the 30 minute meeting. Most restaurants have together in a circle right before we unlock the doors and welcome people in for dinner. Most restaurants do that meeting, although many of them waste it by talking about something that’s so like, clearly could have been accomplished via an email, a new menu item, or a new glass of wine or whatever. I think that 30 minute meeting, a daily huddle within any organization is one of the most transformational things any company can do. And it’s an opportunity not to talk about the what, but about the why and the how. WG (14:02): It’s an opportunity for a leader to share moments of inspiration, invite the team to do so in return. It’s an opportunity not just to talk to your team about what they need to learn to be better at their jobs, but about all the things they can think about or learn from or be inspired by to be better human beings. I think that meeting is when the people you work with cease being a collection of individuals and come together as a trusting team. And only when everyone on the team like, you know, falls into that beautiful pocket, can you unleash their most fully realized collective creativity and capacity. And so I go deep into that because any single business out there that serves other people, if you don’t have some version of a daily huddle, I think you’re leaving so much opportunity on the table. Think of it like a daily locker room speech, like Al Pacino and any given Sunday, there’s a beautiful opportunity to fire pet, make sure. RV (15:04): Fight for that. You gotta fight for that in WG (15:07): . And so I got to together with the team and I said, Hey, we’re gonna be the number one restaurant in the world, and we’re gonna do it by focusing unreasonably on hospitality. And so the first thing we did is we started going through like the main touch points in the guest experience to try to figure out how to make each of them more awesome. How we were welcoming people at the door, how we were taking their order, how we were delivering the food, whatever. But then one day I had this, this moment where I kind of realized we were focusing only on the most obvious touch points and the guest experience, which were invariably the ones that are competitors were focusing on. What I’ve come to realize is most people in the service industry don’t understand every touchpoint in the experience because they’ve never paused for long enough to interrogate it. WG (16:01): And so what we did is we closed the restaurant for lunch one day, brought every single person on the team in. By the way, I think brainstorming as a group is always a beautiful opportunity to balance the gap between information and authority if you engage every single person on the team. And we did an exercise that I now call interrogating the guest experience, where for four hours this team broken up into a bunch of groups, tried to identify every little touch point everything from picking up the phone to call and make the reservation, to walking through the door to going to the bar to have a drink. If your table wasn’t ready to getting up and using the restroom in the middle of the dinner, you get the gist, every little touch point. And then once we’d isolated every single one of ’em, then we got to do the fun part. WG (16:53): We got to figure out how to make every single one of them, or at least as many of them as humanly possible, a little more awesome. What I came to realize is the smallest enhancements, the least likely touch points in the guest journey can have the greatest possible impact. Because if you focus on creativity into a part of the experience that no one else has ever paused for long enough to consider the impact can be significant. I’ll give you an example, A story I tell in the book. The check was close to the end of the list, right? That is a touchpoint when you’re serving someone the moment you drop the bill on their table. And yet it’s one that very few people have ever invested any creativity into, right? A because it’s transactional, and we generally tend to believe that if something feels transactional, it can’t feel hospitable. WG (17:45): But b, because it’s just a hard moment to get right at a restaurant when you ask for the check. If it takes us too long to get it to you, people get really impatient when they’re ready to leave. We can undo all the goodwill that we’ve built. We can’t drop the check on your table before you’ve asked for it, otherwise you feel like we’re trying to rush you out. That’s also the moment at a fine dining restaurant where you realize how much that meal cost, which makes it a lot harder to appreciate how much you loved it moments earlier. Uhhuh , RV (18:12): You open it and you go, okay, brace for impact. Oh God, brace for impact. WG (18:17): I mean to the point where no one’s really ever done anything creative with the check. I mean, you know, I actually read in John Lin’s book, another one of our buddies from that, from that day Giftology. Yeah. He talked about Cornell University did a study where they studied a bunch of restaurants that gave a mint with the check versus a bunch of restaurants that didn’t. Yeah. And the restaurants that gave out mints got on average 18% more in tips than those that didn’t. This beautiful display, that generosity begets generosity in an asymmetrical way. But anyway, we identified that touchpoint. So then as a group, we figured out how to make it more awesome. And this is what we came up with when I knew you were done. You didn’t ask for the check yet, but you were done. I went over to your table with a bottle of cognac and a glass for each purse, and I poured a splash of cognac into each glass. WG (19:08): Then I put the bottle on the table and said, Hey, this is what their compliments help yourself to as much as you’d like. And then I put the check down and said, and your check is right here. Whenever you’re ready for it, what do we do? Well, no one ever had to ask for the check again. No one could ever feel like we were trying to rush them out. We’d just given them an entire bottle of free booze. At the moment when they realized how much the meal cost, we’d matched that moment with a gesture of crazy generosity, which maintained the value proposition we were trying to offer. And at the end of a very long meal where we had been serving people immaculately, we gave them the gift of being able to serve one another, which is the very essence of hospitality. I’ve met so many people over the years who, in spite of the fact that we were serving some of the best food in the world, don’t remember a single thing they ate that night, but they remember the cognac and the way it made them feel. So the first answer to that question, and I have a few different answers, is look at the entire experience, interrogate it and find a couple of those really unlikely touchpoints and make them profoundly best in class. Because if you focus on something that no one else has, it gives you an unfair competitive advantage. By definition, you win because you’re doing something somewhere where no one else has done anything before. WG (20:36): Does that make sense? Uhhuh RV (20:37): , I love, I I I love that. I mean, even, even just the exercise of identifying every touchpoint in your entire customer experience is super enlightening. And you go, oh, when was the last time we updated that voicemail? Or when was the last time we updated that email responder? Does anyone even check that inbox? Like, does what, what does, what is the first message that somebody gets when they sign up for our program? What, what is, what happens when their credit card payment declines? Like even just identifying those is super WG (21:12): Well, yeah. And what you’re gonna find is you probably do a bunch of stuff really badly. You probably don’t do anything in a bunch of areas. Yeah. And you’re probably really proud of the way you do some things. I did this exercise with an automotive with an auto sales group. It’s like a group out in California that has a ton of dealerships. And when you’re interrogating all the touch points after about an hour, you think you’re done, I urge you to keep going for another two hours because it’s when you finish picking the low hanging fruit and you have to climb a little bit higher up in the tree, that’s when you find the real stuff that gives you the real opportunities with them. It was like a bunch of like big, you know, manly car dealers. About 45 minutes in, they were bored with the exercise and I kept on pushing ’em and they were annoyed with me. WG (21:57): But by the end, well, we realized that the first time you get a flat tire three months after you buy the car, maybe that’s a step, that’s a touch point in the journey. The first time you opened your glove compartment, maybe a week after you buy the car. That’s a touch point in the customer journey. Once you isolate those things, now you can elevate them. Like everyone talks about extending and experiences as far into the future as they possibly can. And so, and if a week later you reach into the gove compartment for the first time and you see a beautiful little note and just a nice, thoughtful, not overly expensive gift waiting there for you, the way that you’ll feel about the people that sold you, that car jumps so dramatically because their thoughtfulness and their care becomes so much more evident. WG (22:50): So, okay, that’s one. I think another practical which this came, I’m going to go chronologically way out of order, but for the cadence of the conversation is a similar exercise, but instead of interrogating the touch points in the customer journey, I call this one pattern recognition of recurring moments. So, okay if you and your team sit down and you say, okay, I don’t wanna think about the touchpoints, the things that happen as a part of the guest journey for everyone we serve, instead, I want to spend the next couple weeks identifying the five things that just happen often. So in a restaurant that could mean that oftentimes people are on their way to the airport right after their meal. It could mean that man, you know, like twice a week a party of four shows up as a party of three because one of the people’s spouses got sick and is at home in bed with, with the flu. WG (24:01): Or it could mean man, like once every week, someone is getting engaged here. Okay, now you’ve identified recurring moments. These are things that just happen often. Every single business has recurring moments. If you identify them in advance, then along with your team, you can determine how you’re gonna react to those moments and even develop the stuff you might need to make those reactions more awesome. In my world we had a graphic designer design and we had these beautiful boxes, made 11 Madison Park airplane food for every single person that was gonna the airport after their meal. We had this amazing thing packaged, prepared and ready to deploy easily for our team. So every time someone mentioned that, we hit them with this beautiful gesture of hospitality. We had an amazing chicken soup recipe ready on the dessert screen of our micross terminal. So when a server was entering desserts for a table that showed up one person short, ’cause they were homesick in bed, chicken soup ready to go. WG (25:07): So that person, even though they missed the meal, could still quote, eat at 11 Madison Park, or, man, my favorite one, I tell this story all the time because I just think it embodies the idea so well, is that a lot of people get engaged at a restaurant. Yeah. And if you go to a decent restaurant, you propose to your person and they say, yes, there, they better pour you a free glass to champagne like we did. But that’s just reasonable. Once he’d identified that as a recurring moment, we could figure out how to make it unreasonable. Tiffany and co had their offices across the park. I started knocking on doors until I found the chief marketing officer convinced her to give me 1000 of those baby blue boxes each with the two champagne flutes in them, put ’em in a closet in the back that we emptied out and called the Hospitality Toolkit closet, which is where we put all the stuff we needed for these gestures. WG (26:02): Next time someone got engaged, we poured in free champagne just like we always would have. But what they wouldn’t notice was that their champagne glasses looked a little different from everyone else’s. And when they were done with their champagne, we brought the glasses back, washed them, dry them, put them back in the box, and gave them to them on their way out the door. Again, I’ve met so many people who got engaged at our restaurant and years later don’t remember a single thing they ate, but they’ll never forget how we made them feel with those glasses. Maya Angelou has a quote. She says, people will forget what you say, they’ll forget what you do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. That is the essence of hospitality. And so the second piece of advice is to get together with your team people all the way at the bottom of the hierarchy, very much on the frontline, as well as all the way at the top of the hierarchy, not quite as close to the frontline. And come up with five, just five recurring moments and with creativity and intention and a little bit of investment. Figure out how to make your reactions to those moments fricking bonkers. Awesome. And watch what happens. RV (27:13): I mean, that’s so good. You used this term earlier, and I wanna come back to this. You said we’d match that moment with crazy generosity, which is like what you just described, right? I mean, leaving a bottle of cognac on the table for every single person, that’s a lot of dough. You added up now and you know, certainly Tiffany’s champagne glasses. Now if they donate ’em that sure, that sure helps. But like how crazy is the crazy generosity and how do you, how do you justify it and not be scared that like, I’m gonna go bankrupt, just like doing all this stuff. WG (28:01): Well, so it’s a good question. I mean, listen, the chicken soup, the impact of that was just as significant as anything else. And that cost us maybe a buck 50. I RV (28:12): Know that’s brilliant. Mm-Hmm, WG (28:14): The bottle of cognac actually didn’t cost us that much because at that point in the meal, people had had so much wine, they weren’t having more than the sip or two of cognac. RV (28:21): Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. They’re not gonna sit and chuck a whole bottle. They’re probably drunk already by the time he gets there. WG (28:27): I mean, like with most of these things, and yes, the Tiffany glasses were free, but I’d say a couple things. I mean, the story that I’m most known for because it was such a turning point, is the hotdog story, which I, I’ll, I’ll tell in a moment ’cause I think it helps answer the third way to deal with this all. And that’s one of the most impactful gestures and it cost two bucks. We’ve done a bunch of gestures of unreasonable hospitality for people that have been totally free. It’s not the cost of the gesture that counts, but the thoughtfulness. And obviously you need to look at your average check whatever your average bill size is, and tailor the moments of systemized hospitality accordingly. We are a very expensive restaurant. We could afford to put down a bottle of cognac. You look at five guys what do you think of when I, when I say five guys? Well RV (29:22): The burger, but I’ve never been there, but just the , WG (29:25): You’ve never been to a five guys. I’ve RV (29:26): Never been to a five guys, but should WG (29:28): I go? Okay. So anyone listening who’s ever been to a five guys? I would say half of you just probably thought peanuts because five guys. Okay. You think about the customer journey interrogation is the only fast food place I’ve ever imagined that has the wherewithal to recognize that the time wait spent waiting for your burger to be cooked is a touchpoint in the guest journey. They’re the only ones that have ever done anything for you during that wait. And what do they do? They put out a big, big box of peanuts and it’s still in the shells. And you just help yourself to some and eat them while you wait. That doesn’t cost them anything. At the end of the day, it’s so inexpensive that because they gave you something during a part of the experience where no one else has ever given you anything, it gives them an unfair competitive advantage. WG (30:15): I’ll give you another example. I went to speak at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and like many travelers over the past year, I’ve been consistently plagued with flight delays. I ended up getting to my hotel the night before my talk at like two in the morning after delay, after delay and got outta the car in front of the hotel ready to go through the whole normal rigmarole, which feels like it’s gotten even more insane recently. Driver’s license, credit card, phone number, email. And this guy named Oscar was in there overnight manager. He said, Mr. Guera, welcome. You must be exhausted. Here’s your room key. Go get some sleep. We’ll check you in in the morning. Found the hotel GM the next day, said, Oscar deserves a raise. That was amazing. He goes, yes, Oscar is amazing. That had nothing to do with him. WG (31:08): We had a meeting a couple months ago. There had been so many delays. We just decided to try to figure out how to systemize a bit of hospitality. And anytime anyone checks in after 1230, we would just give ’em their room key to tell ’em they could check in in the morning cost zero. It just required a bit of thoughtfulness. They did some simple pattern recognition and decided to try to figure out how to be more warm, hospitable, gracious, and welcoming to people who are checking in really late at night. That’s a recurring moment. They identified it and then they figured out how to treat it more responsibly and more hospitably. RV (31:46): Yeah, I think, I think so much of this, it’s like the, the enemy of hospitality is almost just like speed and rhythm and convenience of just being in the motions and not, not stopping long enough to go, how can I, what could I, what could I do for this person in this, in this moment to make them feel special? ’cause We’re so busy just like cranking the machine, running the process, getting the people, getting the people through. So I love that. I love it so much. So yeah. So tell us, tell us the hotdog story. ’cause I wanna make sure that we, I wanna make sure that we hear the hotdog story before we let you go. So WG (32:29): My big breakthrough in all of this, and again, we’re, we’re chronologically all outta whack here ’cause I discovered some of these exercises later. But I was in the dining room helping out the servers on a busier than normal lunch service. So they were getting just crushed. And I went out there and was just busing tables. I think sometimes the best thing a leader can do to support their team is the most menial task. And so I love busing tables and I was clearing ta appetizers from a table of four foodies people who were on vacation to New York just to eat at great restaurants. And while I was at their table, I ever heard them talking about the restaurants that’d eaten at all the fanciest restaurants in New York. They had a blast and this was their last meal. They were gonna the airport to head home right after their lunch. WG (33:19): But in the midst of their conversation, a woman at the table jumped in and said, yeah, but you know what? We never had, we never had a hot dog from one of those street carts. And man, it was like one of those light bulb moments in a cartoon where, you know, the character has had a good idea how we ding like light bulb. Yeah, exactly. So, ran back into the kitchen, dropped off the plates, ran outside, got a hot dog, ran back inside, somehow convinced my fancy chef to serve it. And we cut the hot dog up into four perfect pieces, added a little s swish of ketchup, a little s swish of mustard and a canal of sauerkraut and relished to each plate. And before their final savory course, which at the time was a honey lavender glazed muscovy duck that had been dry age for two weeks, utilizing a technique that had taken us years to perfect. WG (34:03): I brought out what we in New York called a dirty water dog . And I explained it. I said, Hey, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t go home with any culinary regrets. And Rory, they freaked out. I mean, it was one of those breakthrough moments for me because I realized in spite of the fact that I’d served every fancy ingredient under the sun, I’d never seen anyone react to any of them like they did to that $2 hot dog. Athletes always go to the tapes and they’ve had a bad game to see what they did wrong, to see what they could have done better. But what they, what honestly none of us do often enough is go to the tapes and we’ve had a good game to see what we did well to make sure we keep on doing that thing. So I went to the tapes and the hotdog. WG (34:47): What it, what like, what happened so that that could happen? Well, the first, it just required me being present, not being so focused on what I needed to do next that I couldn’t fully focus on the thing and the people I was with. Then if I wasn’t present, I wouldn’t have heard the line about the hotdog. Two, listen, if you wanna be the best, you better take what you do seriously. And also we need to all stop taking ourselves so seriously. Way too often in customer service, we try to build these like beautifully articulated brands and then we let those brands stand in the way of us giving the people around us the things that will bring them the most joy when a hotdog in a four star restaurant is sacrilegious until you look at how it made them feel. And third, hospitality is about making people feel seen. WG (35:38): And if that’s the case, the best way to do it is not to treat them like a commodity, but a unique individual. I could have given them a fancy bottle of champagne. It would not have had the same impact as the hotdog because it would not have been specific to them. And unreasonable hospitality, one size fits one. Okay, the hotdog was the true north in those three things. We now had a roadmap. This is where it gets good. Now I turn to my team and gave them the permission and the resources to start doing this stuff themselves. We gave ’em a little budget, brought a person onto the team called the Dreamweaver, who is just there to help them bring their ideas to life and encouraged them to go out into the dining room and be present with their guests, not to take themselves too seriously and find one size fits, one gestures to deliver to their customers. WG (36:30): And with that, we were on fire. I mean, we did the craziest stuff. We sent people who were there with kids who were seeing snow for the first time to Central Park with sleds in the back of an Uber to go sledding. We turned our private dining room into a beach complete with 500 pounds of sand for a couple who was in our restaurant because their beach honeymoon got canceled. We bought people teddy bears for their kids ’cause they forgot to do it. We set up train sets on tables, all this stuff. All of which made the guests happy, all of which was amazing for our bottom line because yes, we did spend money on this stuff, although not all the gestures cost that much money. In fact, the one that started at all cost 50 cents a person. But every dollar we spent on Unreasonable hospitality had the point of John Bruin’s mint reference on that check and asymmetrical return. WG (37:26): Because the moment you give the people you’re serving stories like that, they want to go out and tell them over and over and over again. And suddenly you look up one day and you have the legions of ambassadors out there preaching your dharma. And it also made us happy. ’cause For the first time, the people in our team were no longer just serving plates of food that someone else had created. We were imbuing the experience with our own creativity. We felt agency, we felt empowerment. We are no longer salespeople. We were product designers. And I have yet to meet an individual who won’t give more of themselves to help something succeed than once they feel they have a genuine hand in determining what that thing is. So that is the third way to systemize this into your culture is one, tie space. Give your team, well, yeah, no, but give your team the permission and the resources to color outside of the lines. Empower them to do the things that are right. Allocate whatever budget you can afford. It doesn’t need to be that dramatic. In fact, sometimes smaller budgets lead WG (38:34): To, to more creativity. But you can systemize this stuff through touchpoints. You can systemize it through determining in advance how you’re gonna react to recurring moments. But the most powerful and profound and transformative way is to look at your team, choose to trust them that become more trustworthy, give them more responsibility, they’ll become more responsible, and make it zone defense. Get everyone in the game and let everyone have fun starting to play. RV (39:07): Man. So good. I know why your book sells a lot and it’s the, it’s the answer that I hate. It’s a really good book. . It’s, it’s it’s the, it’s the, the answer that is the hard, hardest to replicate. And man will I just, I I love this. I just love it so much, brother. And what a magical thing to be remembered for helping other people feel special versus trying to be remembered yourself. And I think that’s why people are so drawn to you. It’s such a magnetic and it’s such an unusual, it’s an abnormal trait that you carry to go in a world full of people who walk around going, look at me, look at me. You’re literally an ambassador walking around going, how can we help? Say, look at them, look at them. And I just, I think that’s magic about you, bro. And it’s, it’s lightning in a bottle and it’s fun to, it’s fun to be a part of, WG (40:12): Hey, lemme say one more thing. And by the way, I feel the same way about you. The amount of time you spend, I mean, you’re, I think it’s super important to identify the importance of your work and the nobility of it. The capacity you and your team have to impact others. You guys are literally working your butts off to help other people’s dreams come true. And if I’m on your team and there’s ever a day that just feeling grumpy or I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and I’m having a hard time bringing my most fully realized self to the table, that is what I’m tapping back into. There are a few things more powerful you can do with your time than unreasonably supporting other people’s dreams coming true. And I think that’s pretty powerful. But the one thing I wanna say, we talked about budgets and just for people who are still not convinced listening to this, who are like, yeah, I can’t afford to do this. WG (41:13): I wanna see two things. Well, if you can’t afford to do it, you’re probably the person that actually needs to start doing it because this does drive revenue and business and will put you in a position where you can afford to do more of it. So if that’s your first reaction, just check yourself a little bit because that’s not the attitude that’s gonna get you to the top. A like, there’s that old adage, it takes money to make money, I hate it, but you know what, there’s some truth in it. But the other thing is that most people already spend money on this stuff. And so as a starting point, just take the money you were already spending and spend it better. If you send out some nonsense Christmas gift to everyone in your list, and it includes some dumb water bottle with your company’s logo on it, or a hat or a shirt, take the same budget and just be more thoughtful, be more connective, be more human. WG (42:08): Be more unreasonable. Instead of spending three hours picking the right water bottle, spend an entire week picking a different gift, using the same budget for every single person on that list. Or if you don’t wanna go that far, pick out three gifts and then just categorize the people you’re sending the gifts to into three groups and give the proper gift to each group. You don’t need to jump into the deep end on this stuff, but I guarantee you, if you’re a little creative, you can find a way to wade into the shallow end and then see for yourself whether or not it works. RV (42:45): Yeah, I love it. Well, the book is called Unreasonable Hospitality. Clearly that’s what it’s about. It’s a, it’s a game changer. We’re, we’re in on this and this is something that we see as a, as a way to take ourselves up to the next level. Where do you want people to go? Will, if they want to connect up more with you and stay, stay tied into what you’re doing? WG (43:10): I’m on Instagram at w Guera. Most of our stuff [email protected], including our newsletter that you can sign up for there which is called Premium based on that meeting that I hold so near and dear. And then yeah, hopefully I’ll, I’ll see you at, at Rory’s place one day in the not too distant future. RV (43:32): I love it, bro. We wish you all the best. WG (43:34): Thanks brother.

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25 of the World's Most Recognizable Influencers Share Their Tips on How to Build and Monetize a Personal Brand

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