Eleven Madison Park is a three Michelin-star restaurant in New York. I first heard about it on an episode of APR's Splendid Table. The show's host told the story of a couple of Memphis-based chefs who made a reservation to eat at the NY restaurant during a visit.
The two enjoyed an incredible meal and then, at its close, were presented with a gift box. Nonplussed, they opened it up to find a set of personalized bocce balls, intended for the playing court behind their own restaurant back home.
How could they have known?
The interviewee and co-owner of the restaurant went on to explain the difference between good service and true hospitality. Good service never lets your water glass go empty or leaves you waiting for the check. Hospitality goes deeper than that. It's not just about gifts, but about letting guests feel as though they're known.
When asked about the difference, co-owner of Eleven Madison Park, Will Guidara said,
“Service is black and white, and hospitality is color.” And I think there's truth to that. I think great service is greeting people, knowing what you're doing, getting the food to them on time, doing everything as one would expect it to be done. Great hospitality is really getting to know the person you're serving such that there is a true and genuine connection, and great service doesn't exist in the absence of great hospitality."
The show's host, Francis Lam responded,
"Service is almost like a set of skills, whereas hospitality is something greater. It's something maybe emotional; it's something that sounds almost like it can be creative."
This idea is really something that's stuck with me, and I'm thinking it through as it applies to working with my own clients. I don't want to just check the boxes of good service. I want the custom experience to be enjoyable from start-to-finish. I want clients to feel welcomed, warmed, taken care of, and known.
That means more than just giving brides a welcome gift to kick start the invitation process or delivering their paper on time. It means communicating clearly, establishing expectations, being kind.
There's a reason why people like working with small businesses. It's because it feels small, personal, friendly. That's why in the age of Walmart, minted, and shutterstock, small entrepreneurs have a place at the table.
Long live the hospitality that makes the difference.