Friday, October 19, 2018
Danny Meyer Reflects on Hospitality and his Newest Tie to Hartford

Danny Meyer Reflects on Hospitality and his Newest Tie to Hartford

AMANDA LAFFERTY ’21

MANAGING EDITOR

Free burgers, crinkle-cut fries, and custard? Say no more. On April 26, Trinity seniors flocked to the Koeppel Community Sports Center for a Shake Shack Senior Send-Off party. The event was hosted by Trinity’s Board of Trustees including Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer ’80, P ’20, and boasted ice skating, music by the Trinitones and DJ Trouble Kidd, and assorted Shack fare.

The event gave students a chance to sample items from Shake Shack’s menu, as the fine-casual chain would open its first Hartford area location in West Hartford the following day. The WeHa outpost will continue Shake Shack’s pattern of partnering with local restaurants and breweries for certain menu items. According to We-Ha.com, this location will serve beers by Hartford brewery, City Steam, including, “Naughty Nurse Pale Ale on tap, and the Naughty Nurse IPA by the bottle.”

The back half of the Koeppel Center was sectioned off for ice skating, available to all attendees and even Trinity’s mascot, the Bantam, who made an appearance on the ice. The front half was dedicated as a space for students to indulge in Shack fare, enjoy a two-song performance by Trinity acapella group, the Trinitones, and hear a set from Trinity producer, DJ Trouble Kidd.

Throughout the night, attendees lined up to try the signature ShackBurger, a cheeseburger made with 100% all-natural Angus beef and topped with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce. After the burgers and fries were given to hungry students, a blueberry custard was also offered.

Towards the end of the event, attendees had the chance to hear a few words from Meyer. The Shake Shack founder thanked the satisfied crowd for their attendance and jokingly hinted at the possibility of opening a Shake Shack “closer to Trinity” if the West Hartford location proves successful.

Meyer, also a member of the Board of Trustees, graduated from Trinity with a political science degree, and while he originally pursued the world of politics in Chicago as the Cook County Field Agent for an independent presidential campaign, he quickly changed gears.

Meyer’s career as a restaurateur began in 1985 with Union Square Cafe, a restaurant located in New York City. Since this first endeavor, Meyer has opened a multitude of restaurants with Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), including the fast-casual spot Shake Shack. What started as a small hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001, has manifested itself into an internationally acclaimed chain. Shake Shack’s menu includes the signature ShackBurger, the SmokeShack, the Shroom Burger, chicken sandwiches, flat-top grilled hot dogs, crinkle-cut fries, custards, and shakes among other options.

Prior to the start of the Senior Send-Off event, the Tripod had a chance to sit down with Meyer to discuss his career and his philosophies.

When asked how he makes his philosophy of customer satisfaction work at a chain like Shake Shack, Meyer said that “the same principles that work at full-service fine dining work at what we call fine casual… People want to like what’s on the plate, like what’s in the glass, but more importantly, they want to like how you make them feel.” To help ensure this, every employee at Shake Shack receives his book, Setting the Table, which was written for fine dining restaurants and discusses the lessons he has learned from pursuing an “Enlightened Hospitality” principle. Meyer added that “the cool thing about hospitality is that it doesn’t cost any more to smile than to frown.”

Another philosophy Meyer believes in is a no-tipping policy. “We didn’t take it on because it would be easy, we took it on because it feels like the right time to disrupt a system that unfortunately stymies the professionalization of the restaurant industry,” Meyer said.

He discussed tipping as a mechanism that perpetuates inequalities within restaurants, for employees both in the kitchen and in the dining room. A no-tipping policy is something that the Union Square Hospitality Group has instituted at many of its restaurants, to help ensure employees are treated well and equally.

Meyer gave advice for Trinity students who are interested in an entrepreneurial career, the same advice he would have given at the time that he began his. “If you are passionate about something and you’re lucky enough to know it, don’t deny the world of receiving that gift,” Meyer said. “Surround yourself with other people who are also interested in the same thing, who know how to do things you don’t know how to do, and don’t spend too much money at the beginning.”

Meyer ended by saying, “At the end of the day, people will respond to your enthusiasm if you truly have a solution to a problem that people didn’t even know they had.”

 

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