Danny Meyer on How to Hire the Right People For Your Restaurant

Danny Meyer on How to Hire the Right People For Your Restaurant
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

How do the world's best restaurateurs hire their teams?

We got a pretty good idea when we had the pleasure of hosting Danny Meyer in our office (virtually, of course!) for a fireside chat with 7shifts CEO, Jordan Boesch. Danny Meyer is the founder of Union Square Hospitality Group and Shake Shack, one of the most prolific restaurateurs of our time. Danny is also a founder of Enlightened Hospitality Investments, a growth fund that invests in hospitality companies. EHI led 7shifts' own series B funding round this spring (read more about how we're putting it to work here), and has invested in companies like Goldbelly, Salt & Straw, and Clear.

Among many other stories, Danny dove into his hiring process from the very beginning at Union Square Cafe, how it evolved into the process they use now at all of his restaurants. Below, we've recapped Danny's process and the 6 qualities that all great restaurant team members should have.

Pro Tip: Asking someones' mayonnaise preference isn't always the best tell of a great employee.

Danny Meyer Headshot

The importance of your “HQ”

“At USHG we are looking for talent whose skills are divided 51-49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. We refer to these employees as “51 percenters.” I'll take Shake Shack as an example because nobody in the history of Shake Shack has ever been asked to show on their resume how many times they've made a hotdog. Rather, the majority of what we're hiring for at a restaurant like Shake Shack—and I would say that this also applies to our full-service fine dining restaurants at Union Square Hospitality Group, are six key emotional skills, that when possessed at a very high level, means someone has a high hospitality quotient, or high HQ,” says Meyer. Measuring HQ is a way to ask, "What's your propensity to care about making other people feel better when you do the thing you do?"

The Six Qualities of a Great Team Member

That Hospitality Quotient is represented by six factors that Danny Meyer and his team at USHG use to make decisions about hiring. Here are those six qualities, in Danny's own words:

1. Kind Optimism

“The first thing is kind optimism. It's not a bad thing for each of us to possess a little bit of cynicism or skepticism, but if the primary emotion is cynicism, it's not necessarily going to be a good thing,” says Meyer.

2. Curiosity

What can you learn that you didn't already know? We don't want to hire finished products. We want to hire people who are constantly learning and who are curious about learning,” says Meyer.

3. Work Ethic

The third factor is someone's work ethic. “We can all train each other how to do something, but there's an emotional skill that you either have or you don't, which is that you care deeply about doing something incredibly well,” says Meyer.

Work ethic in a restaurant team

4. Empathy

The fourth is empathy, the ability and natural instinct to try to walk in someone else's shoes and to say, "How would I feel if I were that person in this situation, and how would I want to be treated?" One of the great things that we uncovered is that as much as we all learned the golden rule at a young age, "Do unto others as you would want done unto you," we unearthed that there's a subtle but powerful difference that the golden rule of hospitality is 'do unto others as you believe they would want done to them.' Very different because we're all different people and hospitality exists when the person on the receiving end of your work truly believes you're on their side.

“We can all train each other how to do something, but there's an emotional skill that you either have or you don't which is that you care deeply about doing something incredibly well.”

5. Self Awareness

Meyer explains that self-awareness is the fifth factor: “Self-awareness is understanding what your personal weather report is on any given day, and it's different every day. If you're having one of those wonderful 72 degrees, no humidity, sunny days, you better spread that everywhere. If you're having one of the kind of days we had earlier this week in New York which was miserable, it was 92 degrees and 1,000,000% humidity, "Go take a shower, but get out of my way because...it's not going to be fun to be around you."

6. Integrity

“The sixth emotional skill we try to hire for is integrity, which is having the judgment to do the right thing even when it may not be in your own self-interest. Now if we can hire somebody who's great at the stuff they do and we ascribe 49 points to those hard skills, that leaves 51 points for who you are while you're doing it,” says Meyer.

team in a restaurant

More from Danny & Jordan's conversation

During our chat, Danny went over his career, philosophy on hiring for his teams, the state of the restaurant industry, the early days of restaurant technology, and why mayo preferences aren't the best tell of potential fit for a new hire. You can listen to the full, unedited conversation on the latest episode of the Pre-Shift Podcast.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!