In the fantastic second season of Hulu's The Bear, the primary question is “Will Carmy be able to open up a fine dining restaurant?”
The deeply wounded Carmy is navigating not only the stresses of coming up with money, passing inspections, and developing a menu, he’s also trying to preserve relationships with his family and friends who are part of the enterprise.
One of those people is “Cousin” Richie who is easily triggered, bitter at being 40 with no career, and perpetually negative. Carmy sends Richie to a three-star restaurant to be an intern for one week.
Literally cursing at his misfortune, Richie is relegated to polishing forks. For the entire week.
Somewhere during that week, Richie begins his transformation. He listens, he learns. He starts understanding the importance of service – even in the rarefied world of fine dining. Polishing forks means something. Not to put too fine a point on it, he is born again.
In one scene Richie is seen reading Will Guidara’s Unreasonable Hospitality. Its subtitle gives you the key to the book’s thesis: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect. Reading that book is part and parcel of Richie’s change.
Unreasonable Hospitality has been my Book of the Summer (if others can have the “Song of the Summer” I’m going to have my “Book of the Summer”). After listening to Guidara on Carey Nieuwhof’s Leadership podcast sometime in May, I ordered Unreasonable Hospitality from my local independent bookstore.
In short, Unreasonable Hospitality is the story of Guidara’s single-minded obsession with making New York City’s Eleven Madison Park (EMP) not just the number one restaurant in America, but the number one restaurant in the world.
The restaurant’s superpower? Well, read the title of the book again. Here are just a few examples of EMP’s legendary Unreasonable Hospitality:
- A wait staff overhears guests lamenting that even though they had many culinary treats in NYC, they hadn’t experienced a New York-street hotdog. EMP was their last stop before catching a plane. Just like that, a staff person goes out and purchases the best street hotdog, has it cut it up and plated as you’d imagine a world-class restaurant would do. It was presented with great fanfare to the awe-struck table.
- Guests worried because they’d been taking so long to eat their dinner, that a parking ticket would await them when they got back to their car. A staff person left EMP and fed the customer’s meter. Again, guests were left slack-jawed.
- EMP is a place where people go for very special occasions. When staff hears there was an engagement offered and accepted at the restaurant, out comes a distinctive Tiffany blue box with two champagne glasses and bubbly for the happy couple to celebrate. The keepsake comes at no extra charge to the couple.
I know, there’s nothing new under the sun. In his 2007 revolutionary book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase writes how churches need to practice “radical hospitality.” Guidara’s book can give congregations a new perspective on what “hospitality” means.
What that hospitality looks like in your setting is up to you and your congregation. While the comparison between restaurant and church (or nonprofit) is admittedly not perfect, there are some similar questions you can ask yourself:
What is your audacious goal?
How will you pursue it and make it happen?
What is the experience of a first-time visitor – whether that’s during worship or if someone knocks on the door during the week?
What are you doing that could be construed as “unreasonable hospitality”?
I’m still struck by Cousin Richie’s born-again experience. He wants to be a part of making someone’s experience at the restaurant one that they will never forget.
He learned that the experience of being in service to one another is not transactional, it’s transformational – not only for the person being served but for the person serving as well.
It’s the exact same thing we want for people who come through our doors. It’s the Gospel in action. As Guidara says, “giving more is addictive.”
May your congregations and nonprofits embrace unreasonable hospitality that will unleash more generosity into the world. Lord knows, we need it.