The best definition of power is the ability to write your own rules.
Who says a fine-dining restaurant group can’t open a limited-service burger chain and take it public? Who says customers should tip servers rather than pay enough to support a salaried position? Who says a New York independent restaurant group can’t invest in a California growth chain? And who says successful executives can’t focus on a business’ bottom line and the well-being of its team?
The NRN Power List, now in its third year, is the most definitive list of industry leaders who are not only setting trends today, but also shaping them for tomorrow. Building the list each year is both fun and fraught with tension. We focus on those that are leading the restaurant industry into new territories through food, like the Tastemakers, or through robust M&A, like the Dealmakers. We also have identified Disruptors, Ones to Watch, Heavy Hitters, Groundbreakers and Influencers. There are many debates and difficult decisions. And this year, we went through over 100 Reader Picks submissions to be certain we were leaving no stone unturned in presenting industry leaders and game changers.
Our No. 1 executive on this year’s Power List is Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group LLC. Meyer is the epitome of where the restaurant industry is quickly headed — a confluence of chain and independent, quick service and fine dining, healthful cuisine and indulgent food. He doesn’t follow rules. He has the power and influence to write his own playbook, succeed, and then bring others with him.
In 2015, Meyer’s moves sent ripples through the restaurant community, from limited service to fine dining. He started the year by taking one of his brands, Shake Shack, public in a deal that valued the chain at more than $1 billion. He finished 2015 with a decision to end the practice of tipping servers at his fine-dining restaurants in New York City — a move that is already being watched nationwide by independent restaurateurs and full-service restaurant chain operators alike. In between, Meyer’s influence moved to Tender Greens, the 21-unit fast-casual upstart out of California that received a minority investment from his restaurant company.
In preparing for this year’s release of The Power List, NRN’s third installment, I re-read Meyer’s 2006 book “Setting the Table.” It is filled with unparalleled business guidance. While I didn’t set out to actively take notes, but instead to skim what I read years ago, I found myself reading with the book in one hand and my notebook in the other.
There is more to The Power List than what you’ll see here. Watch NRN.com for the Readers’ Picks — a list of submissions from the industry that although they were left on the cutting room floor, are indeed helping to shape the industry. Also watch our video above outlining more of who we picked and why. As always, join our discussions on Twitter and look out for a Facebook chat.
And finally, try to write your own rules.