At Gabriel Stulman’s six cozy restaurants in Manhattan, waiters, bartenders and hosts can drink on the job, play their own music over the sound system and wear just about anything they like. Happy staff makes for happy customers, the thinking goes. “How much fun can you have as a diner if everyone around who’s serving looks miserable?” said Mr. Stulman. As company policy, his whole team is encouraged to offer a drink or dish on the house every day, and to lavish guests with such warmth they may want to pay it back with a hug.
“We started a competition at all of our restaurants – who can get the most unsolicited hugs,” said Mr. Stulman, 33, last month. He was outlining his unorthodox policies at the first Welcome Conference on hospitality – part TED Talk, part networking mixer – held in New York. “We have this mantra,” he continued, addressing an audience of his peers on the service side of the restaurant trade. “Treat celebrities like locals, and locals like celebrities, because everyone loves to be made to feel special.”