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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  • Daniel Torres says:

    Love this write up. Matthew and I just celebrated our 13 year anniversary at Eleven Madison Park and had a very similar experience. Thomas Keller is a genius. P.S. When in the kitchen the chef mixed us up a cherry compote and frozen gin cocktail. It was outrageous. I will have to make a reservation at Per Se now. Hope all is well, Ken. 🙂

  • Sara says:

    You should have asked me! I could have gotten you a reservation months ago 😉 Glad you enjoyed, it’s quite the experience. Here’s a tip- next time, when you are on the wait list, trying sending the reservationist flowers, chocolate, free tickets to a show….you’d be surprised how well that works. They have a lot of power over who comes off that wait list first!

  • Edwin Rojas says:

    What a brilliant post. Great passion in what they do, and your writing shows they exude it!

    Fascinating read, and there’s a lot here to learn from. Thank you for sharing.

  • Charles says:

    In hospitality, it’s all about exceeding the guest’s expectations. Great restauranteurs constantly think about ways to go above and beyond. Whether that’s little extras throughout the meal, or takeaway snacks on your way out. I think producers would be wise to do the same…

    In fact, didn’t they do this at AMERICAN IDIOT with the impromptu Green Day concerts after certain performances? But what about giving away free loot to patrons? T-shirts, hats, etc? Free walking advertising. Sure you’d have to pay for it somehow, but you just figure out a way to fold it into the weeklies. What if every seat at the Circle in the Square had a Godspell t-shirt pre-set before the house opened? Bam – the theatregoers are in a great mood right from the start cause they’ve already gotten more than they’d bargained for… How else could you employ that idea?

    One quick side note, Ken… while I’m sure you didn’t spend too much time thinking about the picture you chose to include on this blog post, it’s worth pointing out something. After all, “the devil is in the details”. The genius responsible for Per Se is Thomas Keller (Chef/Owner) and he is not even in the picture. In actuality, the gentlemen in the center is the former Chef-de-Cuisine, Jonathan Benno. That’s right, I said former… important to note because he hasn’t worked there for about two years. He does however have his own restaurant now – Lincoln – conveniently nestled right next to Lincoln Center Theatre.

    I thought you’d want to know. Just like in theatre, ya gotta know who’s name goes above the title, right…?

  • Robin says:

    I bet your chairs were comfortable and you weren’t cramped, which is a pretty universal experience at all Broadway houses. Maybe you can learn something from that 🙂

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