After the restaurant opened in its original location on East 16th Street, in 1985, Mr. Meyer worked hard to instill a certain ethos in his employees. It borrowed from Boy Scout law (helpful, friendly, courteous, kind) and served as a polite Midwestern demurral to the notion that New Yorkers went out to eat in order to be intimidated by frighteningly attractive servers whose cheekbones could slice shallots.
The servers at Union Square Cafe weren’t like that. They were boy- and girl-next-door types. They didn’t shovel your driveway or walk your dog. But they’d do just about anything else to win you over. When it worked, you left convinced that you’d gotten something more than you’d paid for.
Mr. Meyer eventually settled on a word to sum up that something more and enshrined it in the name of his company, the Union Square Hospitality Group. From there, the notion of hospitality as the prime directive of restaurant service spread through the land, trickling down to your corner burrito chain.
In the meals I ate before writing my Union Square Cafe review, I experienced that hospitality over and over. In one case, I wasn’t quite the right audience for it. I’d ordered a slice of the espresso chocolate cake, and was asked if I’d like a cold glass of milk to go with it. Well, no, I would not. The thought makes my tongue wrinkle for some reason. But lots of people love the idea, and Union Square Cafe is there to tell them to go right ahead, and drink milk with dessert if that’s what you want.
Another restaurant might try to impress diners by suggesting an esoteric sweet wine whose “flavor profile” supposedly complements the coffee in the dessert but whose real point is to show you how smart the sommelier is. The servers at Union Square Cafe don’t want you to be impressed. They want you to be happy.
Even for a milk-hating curmudgeon…