In this era of best-selling business books, I recommend the exciting and true story of a 27-year-old who conquered the stratospheric world of New York City fine dining. Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business is by Danny Meyer, owner of 11 signature restaurants including Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, and Blue Smoke.

What does a restaurateur have to teach a remodeler? Lots.

Like remodeling companies, restaurants provide a service wrapped around a product, particularly at the high end. The client's delight or disappointment depends on impeccable service and product alike. Failure is common. Both businesses are resistant to replication. Success depends on repeat clients and great word-of-mouth referrals.

ENLIGHTENED HOSPITALITY There is much to learn from Meyer's story.

His restaurants have a unique selling proposition (USP). No two restaurants are the least bit alike, but all, according to Meyer's mission statement, “express excellence in the most inclusive, accessible, genuine, and hospitable way possible.” While most are fine dining, one is the Shake Shack, offering burgers and shakes to long lines of clients in New York's Madison Square Park.

Whatever area Meyer touches — park snacks, museum food, barbecue — he takes it to a higher level. His USP is not a type of food or a type of restaurant, but unexpectedly better food, delivered in a very special and friendly way.

What is your USP — your distinctive strategy that puts you out of reach of your competitors?

Meyer has developed a simple but clearly defined and frequently communicated philosophy of doing business that he calls “enlightened hospitality.” He defines service as “the technical delivery of a product,” and hospitality as “how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel.”

Enlightened hospitality requires a dialogue; it means being on the client's side. This requires “listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response,” Meyer writes.

Hiring and training to support this philosophy are critical. Training can deliver the principles and guidelines of enlightened hospitality, but each individual must have a positive attitude and good judgment to deliver as the occasion calls for it. Meyer is firm that this hospitality begins with the way his staff members treat one another. Only then will it shine forth on guests.

“The only way a company can grow, stay true to its soul, and remain consistently successful is to attract, hire, and keep great people,” Meyer writes. “It's that simple, and that's hard.” His perfect employee is a “51 percenter” — someone who scores 100% on a performance test, with 49 points for technical proficiency and 51 points for innate emotional skills for hospitality. The core emotional skills that he demands are optimistic warmth, intelligence, work ethic, empathy, self-awareness, and integrity.

When Meyer hires, he also aspires to find candidates who would qualify as one of the top-three all-time hires in their category. He doesn't merely fill positions, in other words. He reaches high.

Success generates opportunities. Deals constantly come to Meyer now that he has proven his philosophy, processes, and systems. He turns down 15 offers for every one he accepts. He says he looks for context. “What has guided me most as an entrepreneur,” he writes, “is the confluence of passion and opportunity (and sometimes serendipity) that leads to the right context for the right idea at the right time in the right place and for the right value.” He says he has made more money by saying no than by saying yes.

There's lots more to be gleaned from this excellent read, which made me want to experience each of Meyer's restaurants for myself. If you happen to be a foodie, you will have double the pleasure. Bon appetit! —Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260;;