Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, spoke with Delta CEO Ed Bastian about topics such as becoming an antiracist company.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, the path forward for entrepreneur Danny Meyer resembled the narrow, rickety bridge in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”: Some things would have to be left behind, or the bridge would break under the weight.

“When we all agreed with the reality that this pandemic would one day be over, we asked, ‘What do we want to bring with us?’”

Meyer, the founder of Shake Shack and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, spoke with Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a candid conversation as part of the Gaining Altitude series. Bastian’s conversation with the hospitality visionary in this second episode served up an assortment of topics – ranging from losing revenue overnight and closing restaurants in 2020 to becoming an antiracist company, mental health and the future of hospitality.

Ed asked Danny to join him, not simply because his company’s mission toward “Enlightened Hospitality” resonates with Delta’s, but because of his leadership and focus on strong employee culture, especially in such a challenging period for the hospitality and travel industries.

“If we learned one thing over this past year and a half, it’s the power of humility and the power of listening,” Meyer said.

For him, that meant USHG’s employee-first culture needed to not only be diverse – but give everyone a seat at the table and an opportunity to feel included.

“Our journey as a restaurant company was one that began as a nonracist business. We have come to realize it’s on us to learn what it means to be an actively anti-racist business. I’ve been proud of the openness of the leaders on our team,” Meyer said.

“But really, it’s not just about diversity, but making people feel included. The worst thing you can do is invite six people to your party and ignore them.”

The leaders jumped in with both feet, talking candidly about the state of hospitality and the current shortage of talent. “I really think we need to be introspective – we didn’t have the option to work remotely during the pandemic. So how are we showing up to support our teams as they work late nights, take long commutes home? What can we do to make quality of life for these employees better?”

The pandemic presented Delta and the restaurant industry a chance to reflect and, perhaps, pivot. “We recognize now more than ever the importance of personalizing the experience. We are trying to anticipate what customers need – and maybe they don’t even know what they need,” Bastian said.

This includes technological updates to streamline and ease customer experiences. Danny shared how he differentiates the experience USHG offers their customers. Hospitality is service customized. “Service is what we do for everybody; hospitality is what we do for YOU.”

To deliver the best experience for customers, the leaders agreed the priority must be the well-being of people. They agreed mental health was a tough topic even before the pandemic.

“While the focus for us has been on protecting our people from the virus ... we also know that’s only the basics,” Bastian said, noting Delta’s efforts to promote wellness and resilience, whether it be physical, mental or even financial.

Gaining Altitude continues to serve as a unique opportunity to connect with our employees and our customers. Viewers from inside and outside of Delta were invited to be part of the conversation – submitting questions ahead of time and live. Check out today’s episode replay and our previous episode with Tristan Walker at delta.com/gainingaltitude.