Shake Shack Founder Danny Meyer Talks Tech Advances in Restaurant Biz

February 27, 2020

In this episode of Slice, famed restaurateur and Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer sits down with New York Stock Exchange Vice Chairman Betty Liu to discuss how technology has transformed his business and the restaurant industry at large.


Nora Ali: Welcome back to Cheddar Business.

Nora Ali: Shake Shack is one of

Nora Ali: the many restaurant chains leading

Nora Ali: the way in tech innovation.

Nora Ali: The founder of Shake Shack

Nora Ali: famed restaurant tour, Danny Meyer,

Nora Ali: also owns a vast portfolio of restaurants in New York

Nora Ali: and beyond through his Union Square Hospitality Group.

Nora Ali: In this episode of Slice,

Nora Ali: New York's Stock Exchange Vice Chairman Betty Liu,

Nora Ali: sits down with Meyer to talk about what

Nora Ali: other changes are on top. Take a look.

Nora Ali: [MUSIC]

Betty Liu: This is like old times Danny.

Danny Meyer: Good to see you.

Betty Liu: I know. Great to see you.

Danny Meyer: In your home.

Betty Liu: In our home in the New York Stock Exchange.

Betty Liu: Okay, so first question to

Betty Liu: you is really actually related to,

Betty Liu: we are living tech here, you know,

Betty Liu: we talked about people and technology,

Betty Liu: how is technology changing your business?

Danny Meyer: Dramatically. If you ask me what tech was when I

Danny Meyer: first became a restaurateur in 1985,

Danny Meyer: I probably would have pointed to the-

Betty Liu: Cash register? [LAUGHTER]

Danny Meyer: -to the NCR cash register on the back bar.

Danny Meyer: Today, it's almost everything.

Danny Meyer: So it takes a lot

Danny Meyer: of the friction out of the experience for our guests,

Danny Meyer: whether it's making reservations.

Danny Meyer: I would say probably the biggest way we're

Danny Meyer: trying to use tech is to advance touch.

Danny Meyer: So the more we can know about our guests,

Danny Meyer: the more we can know about

Danny Meyer: people's preferences and deliver on those preferences.

Danny Meyer: Everybody wants convenience.

Betty Liu: Yeah.

Danny Meyer: But they also want experience,

Danny Meyer: and so if we can add more convenience to

Danny Meyer: the amazing hospitality experience, that's a good thing.

Betty Liu: Is there a place where you would not use technology,

Betty Liu: where you think that technology

Betty Liu: actually would not enhance the experience?

Danny Meyer: I don't really enjoy the,

Danny Meyer: the image of not having a human being taking my order

Danny Meyer: and being there to explain or

Danny Meyer: share their enthusiasm for the food or wine.

Danny Meyer: There's something about the human experience

Danny Meyer: and touch of knowing that,

Danny Meyer: that sommelier or that server sat

Danny Meyer: in a wine tasting today and loved

Danny Meyer: that wine so much that they want to share

Danny Meyer: that enthusiasm with me. I don't want to give that up.

Betty Liu: You have, um, an investment arm,

Betty Liu: enlightened hospitality investment.

Betty Liu: So what are you looking for here with these investment?

Danny Meyer: So we're looking for a lot of things.

Danny Meyer: We're looking to learn from

Danny Meyer: other businesses who came up with

Danny Meyer: ideas we only wish we had come up with,

Danny Meyer: [LAUGHTER] who are led by

Danny Meyer: people who we would have loved to have hired;

Danny Meyer: and when we talk about hospitality,- [OVERLAPPING]

Betty Liu: Yeah.

Danny Meyer: -we mean business. We mean business

Danny Meyer: so much that we want to

Danny Meyer: invest in other people

Danny Meyer: who are putting their people first,

Danny Meyer: who are putting their guests second,

Danny Meyer: who are putting their community

Danny Meyer: third, their suppliers fourth,

Danny Meyer: and their investors fifth,

Danny Meyer: not as a linear totem pole

Danny Meyer: where the investors on the bottom,

Danny Meyer: but as a virtuous cycle.

Betty Liu: What are some of the investment?

Betty Liu: What are some of the companies you're most excited about?

Danny Meyer: Well, I'm excited about all of them.

Danny Meyer: I mean we wouldn't have done

Danny Meyer: the investment in the first place.

Danny Meyer: They're mostly in the food and or tech segment

Danny Meyer: that touches the hospitality industry.

Betty Liu: Right.

Danny Meyer: There's even one investment that you might

Danny Meyer: be surprised with called Madison Reed,

Danny Meyer: and it's a do it yourself hair coloring business.

Danny Meyer: At the end of the day, whether you put the food

Danny Meyer: into your body or you put the dye on your hair,

Danny Meyer: the way you treat people and the way they

Danny Meyer: treat their staff made them a really,

Danny Meyer: really good candidate for us.

Danny Meyer: We also have a company that's based on

Danny Meyer: chickpea pasta called Banza.

Betty Liu: Oh, yeah. [OVERLAPPING]

Danny Meyer: And they're a fantastic brand that's growing like crazy.

Danny Meyer: There's one that is called Goldbelly.

Danny Meyer: And Goldbelly is really

Danny Meyer: at the intersection between convenience and

Danny Meyer: experience because they can deliver to

Danny Meyer: your doorstep an iconic food that you may know

Danny Meyer: from some other place in your life that doesn't exist in

Danny Meyer: New York City and they can deliver

Danny Meyer: great New York foods to

Danny Meyer: other places in the country as well.

Danny Meyer: Foods that touched your heart, whether you- [OVERLAPPING]

Betty Liu: Like feelings.

Danny Meyer: This- that's what they're doing.

Betty Liu: Yeah.

Danny Meyer: They're selling feelings and making it possible for you

Danny Meyer: to have those feelings without necessarily

Danny Meyer: having to get on an airplane to go do it.

Betty Liu: Curious, what's the difference

Betty Liu: between being an entrepreneur and

Betty Liu: starting restaurant and starting

Betty Liu: businesses and being an investor?

Danny Meyer: Such a similar thing.

Danny Meyer: I think I have a special empathy

Danny Meyer: for founder led businesses,

Danny Meyer: uh, because that's all I've done my whole life.

Betty Liu: Right.

Danny Meyer: Part of the reason that we've been able to grow,

Danny Meyer: Union Square Hospitality Group so much

Danny Meyer: that Shake Shack even became its own, uh,

Danny Meyer: separate public company right here at

Danny Meyer: the New York Stock Exchange is we're also

Danny Meyer: pretty good at betting on people and betting on leaders.

Betty Liu: I mean, you look at Shake Shack as,

Betty Liu: as one of those iconic companies that really

Betty Liu: heralded the fast casual trend,

Betty Liu: you know, here in the US

Betty Liu: and I'm kind of curious what you've learned,

Betty Liu: you know, five years on from that,

Betty Liu: where are we with that trend?

Danny Meyer: Well, I actually call it the fine casual trend,

Danny Meyer: and the reason I call it that is that it

Danny Meyer: represents the convergence of

Danny Meyer: the fine dining restaurant industry.

Danny Meyer: You know, people who went to culinary school

Danny Meyer: and cared deeply

Danny Meyer: about how they source

Danny Meyer: their ingredients and cared deeply about,- [OVERLAPPING]

Betty Liu: Yeah.

Danny Meyer: -how they design their places and

Danny Meyer: the systems approach of the chain industry,

Danny Meyer: whether it's fast food or,

Danny Meyer: or fast casual, 100 percent

Danny Meyer: of the leadership of Shake Shack came from

Danny Meyer: the fine dining industry and then learned

Danny Meyer: the systems necessary to scale it.

Danny Meyer: In the old days,

Danny Meyer: when I first got into the restaurant business,

Danny Meyer: the fine dining people didn't want to be

Danny Meyer: seen in a room with the chain people and

Danny Meyer: the chain people didn't want to

Danny Meyer: be seen in a room with us [LAUGHTER]

Danny Meyer: and so today we all know we need each other.

Betty Liu: Sustainability, you know, everyone

Betty Liu: talks about farm-to-table now and, you know,

Betty Liu: locally sourced ingredients, how do you see Union Square

Betty Liu: fitting in cities sustainability

Betty Liu: movement that's happening all over the country?


Danny Meyer: [inaudible 00:05:28] I mean, ever since Union Square Cafe

Danny Meyer: was born in 1985,

Danny Meyer: the reason I put it there is that there was

Danny Meyer: the best and biggest Greenmarket in all of New York City.

Danny Meyer: In fact, a lot of the reason that people want to cook in

Danny Meyer: our company is because they know

Danny Meyer: that we use ingredients that are,

Danny Meyer: not just local and seasonal,

Danny Meyer: but they are actually helping to sustain economies,

Danny Meyer: uh, out- outside of New York City.

Betty Liu: What's the food trend that you are most excited about?

Danny Meyer: You know what I get excited about more than anything?

Danny Meyer: When people make food I know,

Danny Meyer: but they make it better than I knew it could be.

Danny Meyer: It's way harder to make

Danny Meyer: your favorite BLT or your favorite pizza,

Danny Meyer: you, you know what an egg

Danny Meyer: sandwich is [LAUGHTER] in the morning,

Danny Meyer: but what if we could make

Danny Meyer: it better than you've ever had it?

Betty Liu: I know there's lines out of the door

Betty Liu: at your location- that's a hint,

Betty Liu: go grab an egg sandwich there, right?

Betty Liu: Is that- does that- [OVERLAPPING]

Danny Meyer: That's what I would do in the morning and at nighttime,

Danny Meyer: I'd get the best Rotisserie chicken in the city.

Betty Liu: Done there.

Betty Liu: All right Danny, great to see you.

Danny Meyer: Thank you Betty.

Nora Ali: Thanks to Danny Meyer, CEO of

Nora Ali: Union Square Hospitality Group

Nora Ali: with the New York Stock Exchange's Betty.