Will Guidara and his business partner transformed “a beloved, but middling” two-star bistro into the top restaurant in the world in just ten years.
Guidara discovered the value of tales while developing Eleven Madison Park into a famous eatery in New York City. She also learnt how to tell and create stories.
When I interviewed Guidara about his new book, Unreasonable Hospitality, we discussed several topics related to the customer experience. But the following story stuck out as a remarkable example of exceptional customer service and the storytelling lessons it provides leaders in any field.
“One afternoon, I was clearing appetizer plates from a table of four foodies on vacation,” Guidara began. “They were on their way to the airport and talking about all the amazing culinary adventures they’d had in New York: Daniel, Per Se, Momofuku, and now, Eleven Madison Park. They said the only thing they didn’t have was a hot dog from a street cart.”
Guidara said it was a lightbulb moment, an opportunity to create an unforgettable experience.
“I calmly went back to the kitchen, ran outside to a hotdog cart, bought a hot dog, and ran back inside. We cut the hot dog into four pieces, adding a swish of ketchup and mustard, perfectly plated sauerkraut, and relish. Then, right before their final savory course (a honey lavender-glazed Muscovy duck), I placed on the table what we in New York call a dirty water-dog. And I said, ‘To make sure you don’t go home with any culinary regrets, a New York City hot dog.’ And they freaked out!”
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Guidara says he’d served thousands of fancy dishes in his restaurant career, but no one had reacted like the four guests did when they saw the hot dog. “It changed my entire approach to the business from that point forward,” Guidara recalls.