Will Guidara's Unreasonable Hospitality: 5 Takeaways

In “Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect,” Will Guidara traces his path from a thoughtful young boy, the son of Frank Guidara – a top restaurateur in his own right – to the business partner of chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park in New York City.

That restaurant was originally a brasserie within Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), and they turned it into one of the top-rated restaurants in the world. 

Guidara attributes his success to the wisdom of his father and Meyer, both important mentors who helped him develop his own philosophy around hospitality. The recently published book offers many takeaways for both the front and back of the house and others in the foodservice world.

Allow positivity to set the tone for your relationships

That observation comes from Guidara working for Randy Garutti, the CEO of Shake Shack, but at the time was general manager of Tabla, an Indian-French restaurant in USHG by the late chef Floyd Cardoz.

“Ask him how his day was going, and he’d say, ‘You know, man, I’m trying to make today the very best day of my life,’” Guidara writes. “I might have rolled my eyes, but that kind of unwavering positivity turned out to be impossible to resist, largely because Randy believed every bit of what he was saying – and before long, so did we.”


Be corporate smart and restaurant smart

Meyer just had four restaurants when Guidara started working for him. Customers loved them and they were good places to work, but they didn’t have much corporate infrastructure yet. Guidara said they were restaurant-smart, but he learned the importance of being corporate-smart when he worked for multi-concept company Restaurant Associates, where his dad was an executive. There, controller Hani Ichkhan kept such meticulous records that he could tell by the numbers that lobster prices had spiked, and he moved to have them taken off menus – something that only someone with power at the center could notice and act on. Guidara says being corporate-smart and restaurant-smart are often contradictory, but you need both to be successful (and USHG went on to become one of the most corporate-smart restaurant groups in the country, too).

The 95/5 rule

Be hard-nosed and fastidious about 95% of your expenses, but splash out on something exorbitant where it can have significant impact. Among Guidara’s examples were the insanely expensive Italian plastic spoons he bought for the gelato cart outside of The Modern, when he was that fine-dining restaurant’s general manager. It seemed ridiculous, but they were so beautiful that he insists that people came back to the cart to use them again and again.


Give people ownership of  their responsibilities

At Eleven Madison Park, Guidara let staff run with what they loved. One guy was obsessed with coffee, so he put him in charge of the coffee program. An aspiring mixologist was put in charge of the cocktail program. All of that resulted in a better wine program, because the sommelier was freed up from other beverages he didn’t necessarily know  or care about.

Create “Legends”

Eleven Madison Park’s staff would go above and beyond to create unique and memorable experiences for their guests. When the children of a family visiting from Spain had never seen snow, Guidara and his team bought sleds and took them via limo to Central Park for a few hours of fun before they returned to Europe. Another was a European four-top on their way to the airport after their meal, who lamented that, despite their great gastronomic experiences in the city, they had not tried a hot dog. So Guidara bought one from a cart nearby and Humm divided it precisely into four pieces and plated it with a swoosh of mustard. As Guidara put it, “they went nuts.” Small but highly personalized efforts like that will win people over for life, and exemplify what Guidara means by “unreasonable hospitality.” 


From From the front of the house to the front of the camera

❱ Formed Made Nice, a company with chef David Humm (partnership dissolved in 2019) that included other restaurants, including the namesake fast casual, Eleven Madison Park and NoMad

World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Eleven Madison Park, according to San Pellegrino

New York Times, four-star review, Eleven Madison Park

James Beard Award for outstanding service, Eleven Madison Park

Judge, HBO’s “The Big Brunch” competition