5 key lessons business owners can learn from Danny Meyer’s Covid-19 Open Statement

Set the Tables
“My appreciation of the power of hospitality and my desire to harness it have been the greatest contributors to whatever success my restaurants and businesses have had. I’ve learned how crucially important it is to put hospitality to work, first for the people who work for me and subsequently for all the other people and stakeholders who are in any way affected by our business—in descending order, our guests, community, suppliers, and investors. I call this way of setting priorities “enlightened hospitality.” – Danny Meyer. Image credit: Introspective Magazine

On 18th March, CEO Danny Meyer posted a public statement, ending with a team message in which he addressed what Union Square Hospitality Group will have to navigate through to survive Covid-19. As founder and CEO, Danny Meyer made his concept of “enlightened hospitality” the foundation of USHG’s operating model, and successfully built a convivial restaurant empire comprising some of New York’s most beloved restaurants and cafes, such as Shake Shack, The Modern, Gramercy Tavern, and Union Square Café. USHG has earned numerous prestigious awards, and perennially rank among the world’s favourite restaurants. In fact, this website is partly inspired by his book, Setting the Table: The transforming power of hospitality in business. 

It’s worth reading his statement in full and note his structure composition. This will help immensely for business owners who are communicating to reassure customers and encourage employees. Here’s the breakdown.

Open Statement

1. Being brutally honest and direct about what USHG (and all of us) are facing

His opening paragraph recognised the truth about the hospitality industry right now – health safety, economic livelihoods, layoffs 

  • “This is, without a doubt, the most challenging period any of us has ever encountered as leaders. Reconciling who we are as a people-first company with this brutal moment is nearly impossible.” 
  • “…at no other point has there been such a sustained and massive dual threat to both the physical safety and economic livelihoods of our people, or the hospitality industry as a whole.”
  • “We’ve always endeavored to put our people first, and so to conduct such a massive layoff of our cherished colleagues today leaves me gutted.

2. Managing expectations and stating USHG’s priority: Team first

Central to Meyer’s business philosophy is always “Put employees first”. There is no difference in this situation. Meyer laid out what is at stake and shared candidly on what his management team is doing to safeguard USHG employees’ welfare. Making a public statement as such serves as an assurance to his team. 

  • “The reality is that we’ve had to make drastic and previously unimaginable choices for how we conduct business just to protect our team and our communities.” 
  • “Our revenues have been decimated, and the foundation of our business has been seriously tested.”
  • “In the absence of income, restaurants simply cannot pay our non-working team members for more than a short period of time without becoming insolvent. In that scenario, no one wins.”
  • “To seed the (relief fund) effort, I’m immediately contributing my entire compensation, and our executive team is taking a meaningful pay cut.” 
  • “100% of the revenue generated by USHG gift cards purchased on our site will be directed toward that fund.”

3. Addressing the need and taking the lead as industry representative

He is calling on external parties and organizations for emergency support. Taking the opportunity to exercise his position of influence, he aims to rally industry stakeholders to step up and lend a helping, socially conscious hand to restaurant and bar workers.

  • “Our employees need that support to sustain their livelihoods while waiting for our restaurants to reopen.”
  • “I am calling on our city, state, and federal leadership to step in with a full emergency relief package for restaurant and bar workers, and I pledge my immediate service—on behalf of, and along with other industry leaders—to help come up with economic solutions that work for all.” 

4.What we all need to press on: Hope

  • “Hope that with the help of our government, we can find a way to create meaningful economic safeguards for all hospitality employees who have been forced out of their work.”
  •  “Hope that this industry itself will still be standing.”
  • “Hope that the challenging steps we’re taking today will allow us to get back together, delighting our guests, investing in our communities, and buying products from our suppliers as soon as possible.” 

Employee Team Message 

5.Using video messaging instead of issuing an open email or statement, Meyer is able to engage personally with his team

  • Meyer starts the message expressing how he feels and the troubles weighing on his mind 
  • He repeatedly begins his sentences with “My heart goes out…” to assure his team that they are not alone in this 
  • He reminds his team why they do what they do and to never lose sight of that  
  • He assures them that there will be sunshine after this storm. Meyer promises a singular focus – “We want to be back in business” – and ends with gratitude for his team

To watch Meyer’s message to his team here 

The full open statement here: 


By Theresa Burhan. Edited by Lim Ai Leen. We are living in interesting times. The impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality business is unprecedented. In light of the unique circumstances we find ourselves in, we thought it would be helpful to gather learnings and insights from industry veterans in hopes that we can help each other out. Have stories and insights to share? Let us know at editor@setthetables.com








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