Book Review on Setting the Table

Phil Schroeder


...The other book is more serious: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer (HarperCollins Publishing). I had heard about the book, and finally someone pressed it into my hands to read on another long airplane ride. Much of the book is autobiography, but there are gems embedded in the story relevant to every dying church that lives in the illusion that they are a “friendly” congregation.

    Meyer’s repeated point is that opulent, radical hospitality does not happen by accident or good intentions. It is trained and embedded as a corporate habit through consistent and universally applied accountability. The successful restaurant (and the growing church) expects members to make themselves less comfortable so that they can make their guest more comfortable. Only then can they savor the food.

    A favorite insight is Meyer’s “51% Principle”. Performance reviews weigh both technical skills and relational commitment, and the great restaurants prefer staff who are more relationally intuitive than technically savvy. 51% of success is emotion, passion, caring, and sensitivity to the seeker. Good churches train greeters, ushers, and refreshment servers with communication skills. Great churches empower hospitality leaders who actually love strangers to grace and earnestly desire to bless them within the next hour. It isn’t hard to translate Meyer’s five “emotional skills” to church life.

    But when was the last time you met an usher with: 1) optimistic warmth, 2) intelligent curiosity, 3) a serious work ethic, 4) empathy to feel what the stranger feels, and 5) honest self awareness? It all seems so obvious. Great hospitality helps grow churches. Yet stuck churches cannot do it, or will not do it, or refuse to believe it. Instead they allow the oldest dysfunctional member to remain forever an usher, saying “Just do the best you can.”

    Meyer celebrates “the warmth of deeply emotional food memories”. If we translate that to church, and really believe that Christian community is all about feeding on the real presence of Jesus Christ, we ought to be able to celebrate the “deeply emotional food memories” of Christian people. Let the chef and the waiters serve up the real experience of Christ, and pay less attention to the table settings of tradition.

Tom Bandy


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