4 Things I learned from eating at Per Se.

It took me six months to get a reservation, and it costs about as much as a Macbook Air, but I finally realized a dream this week and ate at Per Se, a Thomas Keller restaurant that is one of the top 10 restaurants in the world.

Since I was making a pretty decent investment into this three hour excursion into culinary delights, I figured I’d try to get more out of it than a full stomach.  So, while my taste buds were busy, I let my eyes and ears soak up the rest of what was going at at this iconic eatery to see what I could learn about luxury event marketing.

Here are four things I picked up:

 1.  Did I mention it took me six months to get a reservation?

Per Se has a super scarcity factor that drives its demand.  With only 62 seats, and a three hour service, they can’t seat that many tables each night.  But rather than open up their reservation book a year in advance (which they could do, and probably charge a fee for), they only open their book up a month in advance.  That means, every day, people are burning up the phone lines, praying that they don’t hear a busy signal.  Oh, and when you get through?  Odds are they are booked . . . and you get put on the wait list instead.  All this just fuels your fire to actually go. When they called me and took me off the wait list, I felt like I won the lottery.  When you have a successful restaurant, business or show, it’s easy to want to sell as much of it as you can as fast as you can.  But it may be smarter to dole it out slowly.

2.  As if what was on the menu wasn’t enough.

The Per Se menu is a “tasting menu” of over 10 courses.  Or so the menu says.  In actuality, they deliver a whole bunch more food that isn’t on the menu.  Especially at the end.  Just when you think you’re done, out come some sugary donuts, and chocolates.  Delivering more than what the customer expects is a great way to make the customer feel that they are getting more value for their money, which is essential when you’ve got a juicy price tag . . . like Per Se . . . or Broadway Musicals.

3.  Takeaways are also known as Talkaways.

On the way out the door, we got two wrapped packages of cookies to take home.  What did we do with them?  One, we ate.  The other?  We gave to friends.  The first allowed us relive the experience for ourselves all over again.  The second allowed us to brag a bit about what we had done the night before, which helped fuel their word of mouth fire.  Oh, and when I asked for a menu, they gave me two menus, and a magazine . . . for free.  More merch to remember the experience and gaze on every once in awhile.

4.  I didn’t have to ask for them to look behind the curtain.

As you might have guessed, I’m an inquisitive fellow.  So at about course #4, I started peppering my waiter with questions.  About when the menu was decided, how long she trained before working at Per Se, etc.  Instead of saying, “Pay no attention to the chef behind the curtain,” this staff invited us both for a tour of the kitchen (!).  Oh, and when we were back there, she interrupted a Chef menu meeting so we could say hi!  Not only are the days of hiding how your business works long gone, but sometimes it’s best to not wait for your customers to ask.  Empower you employees to give your customers insider access.
Per Se has great food.  And while all of the above tactics and tricks are fantastic for future sales, none of it would work without its great three-Michelin star rated product that people want to eat.

But making your special product feel even more special, and making your customers feel even more special than that, well, that’s a sure fire way to sell out whatever is on your menu . . . including a musical.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.