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Lessons learned from Shake Shack and Danny Meyer


OT blogger Donna Suter shares the essential keys to success from master entrepreneur Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack. Implementing his tips will make your practice flourish!

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

I first met restaurateur Danny Meyer on the pages of “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.” This is a must-read for all my clients -it is on my bookshelf and should be a well-read member of your core business library as well.

I won’t spoil Bo Burlingham’s excellent prose by summarizing the entire book, but allow me to share one lesson that really stuck with me: He wrote that "small giants" are companies that eschew the mentality of "growth at all costs," in favor of a set of different practices and characteristics.1

This includes Danny Meyer and his company, Union Square Hospitality Group. Meyer founded the wildly popular Shake Shack in 2014 and continues to break all the industry’s rules while he amasses a fortune and a loyal following, his success the envy of any small-business owner.

I was drawn to Burlingham’s book because its pages are filled with insights from entrepreneurs who have achieved exactly what I want for you and my clients. Here are the main takeaways to run a successful practice:

  • Become deeply rooted in the community in which you do business.

  • Have close, personal ties to customers and suppliers to facilitate business.

  • Facilitate an intimate culture that emphasizes "caring for people in the totality of their lives," and perpetuate a mutual understanding and appreciation of the responsibilities of owners and employees toward one another.

  • Leaders, as well as employees, possess a burning passion for what the company does.

  • Operate sound business models that protect gross margins.

In online interviews and the Feb. 4, 2018, broadcast of “60 Minutes,” Meyer offers advice that should be your mantra for 2018: build a cultural foundation on the concept that patients who come to your office feel they matter. 


This isn’t new advice. In his 1982 bestseller, ”Megatrends," author John Naisbitt dubbed healthcare a “high-tech/high-touch” environment and rightly predicted healthcare offices that created a culture of treating patients like they mattered would outperform its peers. Naisbitt predicted that the two biggest markets in the United States would be consumer technology and escape from consumer technology. Thirty-six years ago, he theorized that in a world of technology, people would long for personal, human contact. I wonder if Meyer read Naisbitt’s book?

Meyer’s rise to success should be seen as a reminder to check the practice’s technological pulse. In an age when most offices are communicating with text messages and emails, can you really be head and shoulders’ above the competition if you teach employees to smile and make eye contact? Meyer invests in training and has made a fortune selling burgers ranging from $6.84 to $8.09. 

Healthcare should be even more diligent about adding back genuine human contact into each patient visit. If Meyer jumped into this conversation, he would agree that a friendly “Welcome to our practice, we’ve been expecting you,” paired with a friendly look is more than just good manners -it is good business. A happy patient is a compliant patient, and a compliant patient follows your care plan and makes preventing blindness easier on both ends. 


The first contact your patients have with your office is probably the telephone. To the potential patient -who may think all those floaters are a harbinger of blindness- getting sent to voicemail or navigating phone trees prevents human-to-human contact. (Which is ironic, considering most of the early adopters of Alexander Graham’s telephone were businesses wanting to make contact with patients and clients easier).

Healthcare can learn much from this food giant. Meyer told “60 Minutes” that Shake Shack puts human contact back into fast food. Meyer stressed this essential belief was one of two keys to Shake Shack’s success. As eyecare practitioners, you don’t have to be reminded first and foremost patients come to you because of your standard of excellence.  

That’s good news for the patient and your business plan. It just leaves you and your team with one practice-building strategy to work on: Enlightened Hospitality. Meyer considers it a cornerstone for customers, employees and the financial health of the practice.

In a Forbes podcast, Meyer summed up Enlightened Hospitality when he quoted a plaque in the office of his company’s CEO Randy Garutti: “The bigger we get the smaller we need to act.” 

His burger cart made it big in The Big Apple, a city that Frank Sinatra correctly crooned, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Your practice probably isn’t in New York, but don’t you think your patients deserve your team’s very best? Look for ways to add that human touch and you will build a brand that will take your practice to the pinnacle of success.


1. Spiegelman P. Are You a 'Small Giant'? Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/paul-spiegelman/leadership-are-you-a-small-giant.html. Accessed February 5, 2018.

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