Elevating Excellence: Eleven Madison Park's Pursuit of Hospitality Greatness

Discover how Will Guidara’s meticulous attention to detail and relentless pursuit of guest satisfaction propelled Eleven Madison Park to the top of the culinary world, rewriting the rules of hospitality along the way.
Will Guidara at MURTEC 2024
During his MURTEC 2024 keynote, Will Guidara recapped how he helped transform Eleven Madison Park, into the world's top-ranked restaurant.

When Will Guidara took over Eleven Madison Park, he began a journey that would ultimately transform the struggling two-star brasserie in New York City into the world's top-ranked restaurant (according to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants). Initially, Guidara believed success lay in delivering an exceptional dining experience. However, he soon realized that every restaurant on the esteemed list offered such an experience. To claim the top spot, his restaurant needed to offer something extraordinary and distinctive.

“Far too many people are scared to say their goals out loud to others because they’re scared they’ll fail,” Guidara said. But Guidara refused to fail. So, every day he told his team that they would one day become No. 1 in the world and that they would accomplish it via “unreasonable hospitality.”

“At the time, I knew that we needed to be unreasonable in our pursuit of people, but I didn’t really know what that meant. That’s okay. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to articulate an idea that we never actually pursue it. But if you pursue the idea, it will eventually reveal itself along the way.” 

Related:  From the Boardroom to the Kitchen: How Tech is Shaping the Future of Restaurants

The first step along this journey to unreasonable hospitality was gathering all of Eleven Madison Park’s staff members together for a meeting to list out every single customer touchpoint. After one hour, there were 30 touchpoints. After three hours there were 120 touchpoints. Guidara then worked with his team to figure out how that could make those touchpoints less as amazing as possible for the diner.

“One of the touchpoints we identified was dropping the check,” he explained. “It’s virtually impossible to drop the check and have it be a good experience. You can’t bring it before the guest asks and you can never seem to bring it fast enough after they ask for it. So, we came up with an idea: We would bring glasses, a bottle of cognac, and the check to the table. We told our guests, this last drink is on us – have as much of the bottle as you’d like and whenever you’re ready, the check is here. This transformed this particular guest touchpoint because at the same time that we’re dropping the check we also dropped a moment of great generosity, and it made a big difference. We found dozens of ways to improve the guest experience in a similar way, but I still didn’t know what it meant to be unreasonable in hospitality.”

Then one day Guidara was helping out in the dining room. As he was clearing appetizers from a table where some European foodies were sitting, he overheard them say how disappointed they were that they weren’t going to have a chance to taste a NYC street vendor hotdog before they had to leave for home. Guidara, in a fit of inspiration, left the restaurant, bought the hotdogs, convinced his chef to serve them, and brought them to their table.

“When I brought the hotdogs to their table, they freaked out,” he adds. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was amazing! But the only reason that happened was because I was present and cared more about them then anything else. Had I been optimizing my time in the dining room for efficiency, I would have been scanning the room to see what I needed to do next and I wouldn’t have overheard that comment about the hotdog.”

When Guidara realized that this was the next step toward offering unreasonable hospitality, he gathered his team and encouraged all of them to be present, the way he had been. But after a few months, he realized that he had made a request of his team members but hadn’t given them the resources to carry out the request. So he created a new position: the dream weaver. This person’s sole job was to work with the servers to fulfill any type of personal request that came about. And with that person’s help, multiple moments were happening every night. For example, one server overheard a businessman mention that he forgot to buy a teddy bear wearing an I heart NYC t-shirt and he was leaving to head home. The dream weaver went and bought one for him, causing this man to cry with happiness. A family from Spain were eating with their children when it began to snow, and they remarked how their kids had never seen snow before. So Guidara’s dream weaver bought some sleds and took them to Central Park to sled for a few hours. 

“But what we were doing wasn’t scalable,” Guidara added. “So I closed the restaurant again and the team worked to name some common ‘moments’ that happen within our restaurant so that we could make magic happen all the time.”

For example, many diners would go straight to the airport after their meal at Eleven Madison Park. So the chef created to go containers filled with delicious snacks. When servers overheard a guest was going to the airport, they could easily go and get a box and give it to the guest. Many diners also get engaged in Guidara’s restaurant. So, he worked with Tiffany & Co. to store multiple sets of champagne glasses at the restaurant. After the diners drank their celebratory champagne, the servers would wash the glasses and return them to the guests in the Tiffany box as a memento. 

Guidara’s persistence paid off. A few years later, Eleven Madison Park was named the No. 1 restaurant in the world. And while that was incredibly gratifying, creating a brand and a team of employees that were famous for caring about people, for going above and beyond, for having creativity and passion that centered around making people happy – that was what was truly amazing. 

“The next time you find yourself pursuing a relationship, try to be a little more ‘unreasonable.’ Give people a sense of belonging. Let them know that you see them. It will make your business more profitable, but more importantly it will make you feel really good.”


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This is just one of the dozens of though-provoking sessions at MURTEC 2024.

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