Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table is touted as a business book. True, sprinkled throughout there are some fantastic nuggets on management and hospitality that make the book required reading for all people in a position of leadership or, really, anyone, anywhere who has a job, coworkers and a boss. But in reality, Meyer’s book could easily be shelved with kitch lit because it’s a tour through the burgeoning New York culinary scene in the 80s and 90s.
Founder of such legendary restaurants as Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shack, Meyer is a decent writer and conveys his journey and that of his restaurants in a very readable way. Meyer shares some personal aspects of his journey from a food-loving Midwesterner to an aspiring chef to restaurateur but is mostly focused on letting the reader in on what he has learned over the course of his career. As a recovering manager of people I identify with and appreciate his management style and as a graduate of Disney’s Approach to Quality Service his approach to hospitality and service is on point.
But for those of us reading Setting the Table for insights into the culinary world there is no shortage of interesting tidbits. The glimpse into the creation of now legendary restaurants with up and coming chefs such as Tom Colicchio and Kerry Heffernan is fascinating and the twists and turns, many of them unexpected and foundation shaking (losing an executive chef a week out from opening) provide for some colorful narratives. The opening of Blue Smoke is particularly interesting, who knew there were so many complexities to opening a barbecue joint in the middle of Manhattan?
Setting the Table is fun to read after Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires because her time with the New York Times coincided with some of Meyer’s timeline and the different points of view are an interesting dichotomy. Read them one after the other in any order.
Setting the Table is a breezy read. Highly recommended from both a business and culinary perspective.