Setting the Table

Setting the Table by Danny Meyer

About:

At the age of 27, Danny Meyer decided to leave his six-figure sales job to follow his passion of being a restaurateur. He didn’t have much experience, but he was determined to find it. And thus, Union Square Café was born. Now, about 20 years later, Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns 14 distinctly different dining experiences throughout New York City. Now that he has plenty of restaurant experience, Meyer cultivated his experiences into the book Setting The Table, which shares his struggles and successes in an effort to encourage the reader to reimagine how he or she can incorporate pristine hospitality into their own business.

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The Pro:

Meyer walks you through his past and the ideation and development of several of his restaurant offerings. Who doesn’t like to read about food? Meyer provides a genuine and relatable voice to readers whether or not they’re familiar with the restaurant industry. After all, isn’t everyone’s business ultimately about serving customers? His stories and the way he relates them to general business practices was extremely thought provoking and interesting. Regardless of the obstacles he faces, the book will also make you question whether you should consider entering the restaurant industry.

The Con:

When I was immersed in the book, I was interested. It had my full attention. But for some reason, it took me an unnecessarily long time to finish. While each short story within the book had its own unique message and lesson, it started to feel repetitive after awhile. The book should be shorter, the stories more concise, or the book restructured differently. While I can’t necessarily pinpoint exactly where it went wrong, the content wasn’t deserving of my struggles to finish it. Wasn’t for lack of talent on Meyer’s part, but seemed to fall flat through the editing process.

Important Takeaways:

Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.

An “athletic” approach to hospitality: sometimes playing offense, sometimes playing defense, but always wanting to find a way to win.

It’s human nature for people to take precisely as much interest in you as they believe you’re taking in them.

Setting the table: Understanding who needs to know what, when people need to know it, and why, and then presenting that information in an entirely comprehensible way.

A great leader must repeatedly ask himself or herself this tough question: “Why would anyone want to be led by me?”

Rating: 

I give this book a B. I don’t want to. I wanted to give this book an A+. When I first started reading it, it felt like an A+. But by the end, I resented the book for being so difficult to finish. This book will help you in business and especially if you work (or want to work) in the restaurant industry. There are a multitude of takeaways I will carry with me and I now have goals to visit Meyer’s restaurants. Unfortunately, this appeal couldn’t be maintained for the entire length of the book.

How to Combat Distractions

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Like most, I typically take the month of January to diet. While most years I cut out a certain food, this year I wanted to focus on being as clean as possible. Cut out bread, potatoes, alcohol, sugar, chips, anything delicious. I can have a cheat meal once a week (or more, due to my rollercoaster of a social life) but I’m sticking to eating clean as much as I can. While for the most part I’m proud of myself, for the most part I’m also starving (no, I am not actually starving myself). It’s only been a week, and it’s been a rough week. I’m a “see food eat food” kind of person. When I see someone eating, I assume I should be eating too. So when my live-in boyfriend is still eating at 10pm, my stomach is yelling at me to follow suit. When there are TV commercials of delicious, mouth-watering steaks and ribs and burgers and…before i get too hungry, you know what I’m saying. Then there’s social media – with hundreds and thousands of people showing me all the tasty treats they’re eating. Same can be true for business. You see someone working hard, then you need to work hard. You see someone simply getting by, and you think it’s ok. It’s not ok.

This leads me to my overall thought – the entire world is a temptation.

Advertising, social sharing, people in general are all more or less swaying you from losing focus of your goals. This holds true for reaching your business goals,  your fitness goals, your personal goals, and especially your diet goals. There’s always someone or something trying to distract you, and a majority of people fall into the trap.

You’re forced to think, “Well everyone else is doing it, so it must be ok.”

The reason it works so well for people to give up is because it’s easier than fighting through it. I gave myself a pat on the back the other day because my friend ordered a glass of wine and I didn’t.

Really? I’m proud of that?

I have to be, because it’s not something I would normally do.

But self control and focus are more difficult than we get credit for. No matter what goal you’re trying to achieve, there are a laundry list of distractions eager to stand in your way. The world is designed to fight against you, not for you, especially in America.

It’s interesting that I came to this conclusion from trying to maintain a diet for a week, but I am. It’s hard out there.

To fight for your convictions and stand your ground when so many people are telling you to give up. And that’s the reason that those that make it look like they do it effortlessly, because they keep their eye on the prize.

If it really was that easy, we would all be able to do it. And we would all be a lot skinnier for it.

My advice to you, and myself, is to confront the distractions head on. Once you identify the distraction, it doesn’t seem as daunting as it once was. No one is going to know you gave up except you. So make yourself proud in 2017 and say no to the distractions.

Get Disciplined, Not Motivated

The Challenge

It’s hard to stay motivated day in and day out. There are days when I feel pulled in 42 different directions, I’m lethargic, my neck hurts, and I start to think “Is this worth it?” My subconscious starts building this defense that maybe I should remain working for someone else and staying the course. It’s not so bad. It’s certainly less stressful.

There are other days when I see others so much farther along. I observe my boss pitching a new client with ease and finesse, knowing nothing but the name of the guy he’s speaking to. I see a guy I went to college with on CNBC selling a drone that recites your day’s to do list to you while trimming your hair. My younger brother calls to tell me he’s just been promoted and is making more money than me. My subconscious re-emerges to tell me, “You can’t get to where they are. You’re too far behind. It’s not ever going to be enough.”

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Motivation works against you. You wake up feeling energized and determined to control the day, and, almost in an instant, you realize you’ve let the day control you. In order to make motivation an ally, to keep your motivation always on your side, you have to achieve discipline. Without discipline, there’s no drive, there’s no ambition, and there’s certainly no motivation.

Depending on who you are, you can train yourself to be disciplined in a multitude of different ways. For me, my discipline is driven by my to-do lists. I’ll digress for a second with this quote by actor Ben Feldman.

“Goals aren’t enough. You need goals plus deadlines. Goals big enough to get excited about and deadlines to make you run. One isn’t much good without the other, but together they can be tremendous.”

This quote reminds me that your goals are nothing without a plan. That plan has become my discipline.

The Process

I begin each year, rather than with New Years Resolutions, with goals. I then break those goals up until quarters (deadlines). Each quarter, I have a manageable amount of goals I hope to accomplish. These are either baby steps towards a bigger goal, or the big kahuna staring me in the face telling me I must make it happen within the next 3 months. Then, at the beginning of each week, I write my personal goals for the week on a post-it note. This post-it note will be transferred onto each of my daily to-do lists for the week. My daily to-do list include tasks for, you know, my actual paying job. But that post-it note is always with me throughout my day, staring me in the face, challenging me to make things happen for myself as much as I make things happen for my company and clients. This week, that to-do list told me to write this blog. Mission accomplished.

There is nothing quite like crossing something off my to-do list. I think I might like the action of sliding a line through a bullet point more than actually accomplishing the goal.

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The Success

This quarter, I had to accomplish a goal I had been dreaming about for at least five years. I wanted to be published in the Huffington Post. I had researched the process last year (within one of my quarterly tasks) and this year I was determined to make it happen. And this quarter, I accomplished that goal.

When I received the email saying my article would be published, it was a Monday morning and I was sitting in my office ready to take on another workweek. Instead, I became a child. I silently fist pumped onto my legs, squealing inside. I couldn’t believe that I had accomplished my goal. I was smiling for myself and myself alone. I did it. Of course, the accomplishment took motivation. It took determination, considering I had emailed editors a few times with no response. It took a timely, interesting pitch, one that came to me out of nowhere when I saw what a recent editor had written. It took passion, passion for the piece and passion for the goal. But ultimately, all these things would be nothing without discipline. The discipline it took to follow editors I related to. The discipline to write on others’ articles on a consistent basis to understand the tone and structure of the writing. And, ultimately, the discipline to achieve this goal on deadline.

Now, while this process may seem trivial, time consuming or confusing to you, it works too well for me – so well that I was actually impressed with myself (which doesn’t happen often). I am disciplined to deadlines and to-do lists. Without them, I lose motivation.

The next step

Now, it’s time to ask yourself – What drives your motivation? What part of your process needs discipline? How are you most encouraged? How are you motivated to work? Some people need a drill sergeant, some need an accountability coach, some just need personal time. Start with figuring out what will make you more disciplined. Once you’ve determined that, you’re ready to go for the goal.

A Letter to Shonda Rhimes

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Let me describe me as a child. I had big Harry Potter-looking glasses (before there was Harry Potter) with the lenses sticking out past and around my eyes due to the sexy added bonus of my astigmatism. I had frizzy hair that I didn’t know (or want to know) how to maintain. I would stop at the water fountain at school every chance I could to try and defuse the loose ringlets jarring out of all sides of my face. They weren’t fluff, they were frizz. And they could take you along with them.

My solace from the complexities of dealing with “the awkward stage” was reading. I would read books while our class walked in line to recess. I would read books while in recess. I would read books in the cafeteria at lunch. I was isolated and alone, but I didn’t feel alone.

When I wasn’t reading fiction, I was writing it. I would write about who I envisioned myself to be when I was “older.” How I hoped I would be. I would create who I wanted my friends to be. This is where you really spoke to me Shonda – “I named them and wrote every detail about them. I gave them stories and homes and families. I wrote about their parties and their dates and their friendships and their lives and they were so very real to me that – I built it in my mind as a place to hold my stories. A safe place. A space for my characters to exist. A space for ME to exist. Until I could get the hell out of being a teenager and could run out into the world and be myself.”

Looking back, I’m almost alarmed at how nerdy and awkward I was. But I didn’t feel nerdy and awkward at the time. I felt awesome. A type of awesome that my peers just weren’t ready to understand yet. But I would lie. A lot. If I did make friends, I would lose them because I had devised some manipulative, truly uncanny lie that I got them all to believe. Not because I didn’t want to be honest, but so that I could pretend to be someone else. So I could see what other people would do in the situations I had put them in. The human race was, and still is, a mystery I yearn to figure out.

(Disclaimer: I am no longer a young and crazy pathological liar. In fact, lying now gives me anxiety)

Television was another escape of mine. To learn about someone else, to feel for someone else. This holds true back then and still to this day – I’d much rather feel sorry for someone else than myself. It was my escape. Analyzing another person’s life was way more interesting to me than figuring out my own.

My biggest, guiltiest, most addicting escape was Grey’s Anatomy. I could feel their pain and I could relate to their words. And I aspired to one day become Christina Yang,

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up The Year of Yes. I knew it would be entertaining. How could it not, written from the mastermind behind TGIT. I had no idea, though, how much I would relate to you, Shonda. How the stories of your past reminded me of my own stories. It’s almost like connecting to Grey’s Anatomy on a deeper level. Because what writing, and storytelling, mean to me is similar to what it means to you. Your connection with writing brought me Grey’s Anatomy. And it brought me Christina Yang.

I’m not a movie person as much as I’m a TV person. The reason for this goes back to my desire to understand the human psyche – my interest in character development. For connection with a character and curiously watching how their life progresses. No matter how much I wrote as a child, and even now, I could’ve never created someone I’d want to aspire to be more than you did with Christina Yang.

Because of all these things, I spent much of my younger years aspiring to be a television writer. In college, I would scribble down funny quotes my friends would say that would one day be used for one of my successful sitcoms. For reasons not to be explained here, I decided I would keep writing as a hobby, and an outlet, rather than my primary source of income. I don’t regret that, but reading your book made me very reminiscent and gave me reminder, and motivation, to keep finding time to write.

There’s no real reason for this letter, if you’re still reading and you’re looking for one. Ultimately, I wanted to say Thank You, Shonda. For reminding me of who I use to be, how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go. But no matter what, I’ll keep “laying track” with the encouragement of knowing that it worked, oh did it work, for someone who deserved to get where she is.

You can learn more about Year of Yes in my book review.

What Would Mini-Me Do (WWMD)

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When I ever reach a fork in the road, I find myself reverting back to one question, “What would my 5-year-old self do?” or “What would mini-me do?”

WWMMD, if you will.

You know, the person you were before you knew too much information for your own good. The person who would never consider the percentage a company puts into your 401k when deciding between jobs. The person who thought of what would be the most beneficial (and fun) now versus what was going to be the best option 5 years down the road.

The person who wasn’t afraid of anything, let alone failure.

I often feel that when I was 5-years-old is when I really had my life together.

I was still silly type-A me, making to-do lists, reading too much and adamantly sure that I could single-handedly take over the world. I still, to an extent, think I can make an impact on the world. But when I’m faced with a difficult challenge, things aren’t always as black and white as they were when I was five.

It’s sad when you reach the point in life when you understand why adults told you to

never grow up.

But honestly, I am really able to put things into perspective when I think about my problems as if I were still a child. It’s then that you can pick out what’s really most important to your inner self and, more importantly, your inner child. It’s in your five-year-old soul where your dreams really lie. Where the things that meant the most to you, the things you strived to do and the person you aspired to become.

Do you still want to be that person?

I challenge you, the next time you’re stuck at a crossroads, to think about what you would do if you were still that naïve little child with an infuriated curiosity and unfathomable passion for learning. Maybe that was just me as a child, but you get the point.

Before you knew how much you actually were costing your parents and how much you needed to save to have a five-year-old of your own. If you’re still lucky enough to be at the age where you don’t have to worry about a family or a mortgage, let your five-year-old self-free. Even if you do have a family and a mortgage, maybe your five-year-old self can help you figure out a way to have it all.

WWMMD? The answers might surprise you.

Steps For How to (Try to) Figure Out Your Life

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When I first graduated college, I had a major quarter-life crisis. I had enough experience to get me through three careers – but yet I didn’t know what path would get me to the one I loved.

I have always wanted to have a career, not just a job, so to not know the answer to such an important question crushed me. It was at this time that my mentor very easily stopped me from drowning in depression. If I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I needed to prepare to get the job I wanted – whenever I decided what that was. He gave me a list of books to read, had me answer specific interview questions, fine tune my elevator pitch and, best of all, he gave me a purpose. The most helpful tool he provided to me, and one that I pass on to my friends who are still stuck in jobs while looking for careers, was a simple excel spreadsheet.

If you don’t have Excel – grab an old-school piece of paper. Draw 4 lines down the page and one across the top to create headlines.

On the top of each column, make a list in this order:

  • What do I love to do?
  • What kinds of job let me do what I love to do?
  • What industries are these jobs in?
  • What companies have these jobs?
  • Who in that company has a job that I want?

The first column is going to be the easiest and also the most important. Write down everything you can think of that excites you and motivates you. I literally wrote down “express my opinions.” Envision your ideal workplace – the environment, the people, the day-to-day tasks – and list them here.

The next few sections take a bit of research, but the research is eye opening. If you’re not sure which jobs entail what you’re envisioning, look up “random job title” and “job description.” This exercise is where LinkedIn will become your best friend, especially if you’re looking for companies in specific areas of the world.

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The most fun part of this exercise for me was finding the people in said companies with the jobs I wanted. If you’re getting exciting looking at stranger’s responsibilities at their job, that’s when you know you’ve found the job for you.

What’s more, my mentor suggested I actually reach out to these people in these jobs – not to get hired but to get knowledge. Ask them how they got to where they are, what they like about it and what they don’t like. Everyone has a story to tell and it is truly remarkable how many “too busy” executives want to find the time to bestow knowledge on younger generations. They may not have time to help you get a job, but they do have time to talk about themselves. And we all know knowledge is power.

Now, I’d love to tell you that after completing this exercise I was ready to begin my career. Unfortunately, I quickly ditched my spreadsheet and ventured off to NYC for what I assumed was my dream job.

Four months in, it was time to pull out the spreadsheet once again. This exercise is not one you do once and throw away. On average, Americans will change jobs more than 11 times in their lifetime. We are constantly changing as people and as a society and thus, what we “love to do” will change just as much. The second time I pulled out my handy worksheet, albeit less than a year later, it was interesting how much I had already changed. Since getting adjusted in the workforce in my first real job, I had a better idea of what was important to me in my next place of work.

When I got to the final section of my second worksheet, I had a few people to call. One of them ended up giving me a job, a job that I loved…until I didn’t.

I suggest keeping this worksheet each time you create it and watch how your interests evolve. Don’t get frustrated. Trust the process. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you devote the time to dissecting your own self.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with this exercise! I don’t expect this tool to be the secret to success – but I am always looking for ways to improve it. Please feel free to email me.

What Do I Want to be When I Grow Up?

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My only focus since I was the (likely world’s first) five-year old making to do lists was to keep moving forward. I didn’t know if any of the extra curricular activities, AP classes, internships or networking events would get me where I needed to be but I knew it couldn’t possibly send me backwards. I’ve also always said (and believed) that it’s better to busy than bored and I continue to make sure that not a day goes by that doesn’t bring me even the tiniest step closer to being better than I was the day before. The issue was, and is still is, that I don’t necessarily know where I’m headed.

After side projects and extracurricular activities in high school that most likely did nothing but give me more anxiety than I gave myself, I chose to take my talents to the University of Florida (Go Gators!) to get a degree in Telecommunications Management. I had dreams of using my passion for reading and writing to work in television. Throughout college, I would write down quotes from my friends that I was certain would be plots in my future television pilots. After graduation, I moved to New York City to begin my dream job with MTV2. I worked on two shows, one being Wild N Out, which reached an audience of 1.1 million – making it the highest rated-show in MTV2 history at the time. I didn’t make it through the entire first season before deciding that show business, and NYC, just wasn’t for me. It was very discouraging that after just the second day at my “dream job” I was already thinking, ok, now what?

Although I never saw myself as a forever Floridian, I needed the Sunshine State. Being raised by two entrepreneur parents, I needed independence as well. I returned home to get my MBA in Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University while also working at a marketing firm, where I learned how to combine my favorite hobbies into a full-time career. I spent about a year and a half at the marketing firm, where we helped entrepreneurs and startups get off the ground with anything from naming the company to finding investors. It was empowering and exciting to be involved in so many different industries that I had never expected to learn anything about.

This would be the part of the story where I realized marketing was it and I had found my calling. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to write that plot twist into my own life.

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These days, I’m an Account Manager for an advertising agency, a Skimm’bassador for theSkimm a new member adviser for Emerge Broward, and I do freelance writing for New Times and ContentBacon.

Figuring out what you “want to be when you grow up” is a lot harder and more complicated than it was when I was five. For a lot of jobs (i.e. news anchor, doctor, baseball player) you have to know where you want to be at a young enough age where you can begin actively preparing. Sometimes, by the time you realize this, it’s too late. Most times, however, you never figure it out. I don’t think I’ll ever know what I want to do for the simple fact that I want to do everything. I’m interested in real estate, owning a sports bar, writing a novel, working for the Dallas Cowboys and definitely most interested in saying “to hell with it” and traveling the world and writing a travel blog. I’ve learned through several quarter-life crisis’ that sometimes that’s ok. Although many will tell you otherwise, you don’t need to pick one thing to do. Most people don’t. A study from Forbes says that people will have 15-20 jobs in their lives. Once you (or I) come to terms with the fact that there will never be just that one job, you (or I) can start enjoying the ride, trusting the process and believing that all the bumps and turns are part of the journey. I use to think that a career was the one thing in life you can control, that’s why I focused so hard on it. Unfortunately, you can’t even control that. So for now, and maybe forever, I’ll stick with continuing to be better than I was yesterday while enjoying the mystery of finding out where it will take me.