Great Hospitality Creates Great Brands

Laughing African American barista fists bumping with customer in cafe, excited bartender wearing apron standing behind bar counter, greeting friend or regular customer in coffeehouse

In 2017, Eleven Madison Park was named the Best Restaurant in the World.  So how did a New York City “dirty water dog” come to embody a brand known for serving high-end dishes like Foie Gras marinated with white asparagus, orange blossom, and chamomile? In his Ted talk, owner Will Guidara shares the story of how that $2 hot dog led to a philosophy of creating extraordinary experiences through what he calls “unreasonable hospitality.”

Not every restaurant brand may comfortable with the concept of unreasonable hospitality. But, there are takeaways from Eleven Madison Park’s approach that can influence how other brands create a customer-centric approach.


As Guidara says in the video, being present is one of the main requirements for being able to create memorable moments. Brands like to discuss developing meaningful connections with their customers and creating communities. That task becomes challenging if a brand lacks humanity and awareness. Just like we encourage ourselves to be present in the moment, if brands and those representing brands aren’t present, they’ll miss opportunities to create memorable experiences for people.

Brand training can help people understand how to look for these opportunities. Whether it’s listening, observing, or asking the right questions, those that are on the front lines with guests are shaping the perception of the brand. Striving for brand love requires being present because you are trying to tap into an emotion and elicit a positive feeling. And if a brand being present does help lead to brand love then loyalty, positive word of mouth, and willingness to pay a premium are just some of the outcomes.   Remember that the experience is the brand.


When a customer of the pet product website Chewy, unfortunately, lost her dog, Gus, she still had an unopened bag of his food. She contacted Chewy’s customer service team to see if she could return it. They gave her a full refund, told her to donate the food to a local shelter, and sent her flowers with a note signed by the person she spoke to.  The story gained traction and got a ton of press. Other customers started sharing how similar experiences they had with Chewy. They have been doing this for a while, don’t try to exploit it, and let the real peoples’ stories lead the discovery of what they’ve done for people.

These memorable moments would not be possible if they didn’t empower their team to do these kinds of things. Their gestures took their brand from a faceless corporation to one with humanity and heart.  It’s a perfect example of how you create loyalty by being able to live out a brand ethos. Hospitality is defined as “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” If you are a restaurant brand are you in the business of providing hospitality.

Even if a brand is not in the hospitality sector, it can keep a hospitality mindset of being warm, friendly, and generous, when the people making it go are allowed to treat customers as cherished guests that have entered their brand house. Maybe not every brand has an opportunity to bring a customer to tears with an act of kindness, but even a small gesture or action that shows empathy can create a micro-moment of connection.


Whether it’s laughter, surprise, or creating a happy moment, positive emotions are strong indicators of potential brand love. Studies have shown that customers who have had positive moments associated with brands develop deeper loyalty and are more likely to have brand love. Share of heart can lead to share of wallet. It doesn’t have to be all about grand gestures or surprising moments either.

On a recent Sunday night, I was out for dinner with my significant other and we were eating at the bar. We started talking to the restaurant owner who was the one serving us. Our conversation turned to wine and he had mentioned a bottle that he thought was a great value that he just put on the menu. We ordered a glass each and eventually asked for our check. Before we left, he put the cork in the bottle of wine, put it in a to-go bag and gave it to us with our other leftovers, and said to enjoy it. It was a nice gesture that we appreciated and we actually had a conversation about it on the ride home. We felt it was so nice of him. How we thought it was a smart thing to do because the restaurant was closed on Monday and Tuesday and the wine probably would have gone to waste anyways, but instead he created a moment for us that felt special. The true cost to the restaurant was insignificant but we felt a deeper connection to that place now. Not just because we were given something for free, but because we just felt taken care of as customers. Since then, that restaurant has become one of our favorites. Not just because of that one experience, but because we see that type of approach to hospitality in how they operate and how their staff treats everyone too. It’s a place we have brand love for.

Great hospitality creates great brands. So empower those that are representing your brand with the knowledge, leeway, and support to create moments, small and big, that trigger positive emotions. You’ll be on your way to developing true brand love.