A lesson in marketing from Sardi’s.

On Monday night, a ton of Broadway players were at that historic haunt, Sardi’s, being poker players at the annual Broadway Bets, a terrific poker tournament benefit for BroadwayCares.  (By the way – if you want to network with Broadway elite – going to one of our many charity events is a great way to do it!)

As I was watching my stack of chips slowly disappear, I couldn’t help but look around at the famed restaurant that has been satiating theatergoers for over 90 years.

What has kept people coming back?

Sure, location is a big part of their success.

And sure, just sticking around for 90 years is another part.

But like any great business, they have something that other people don’t, which makes them unique, and therefore stand out in the market.

It’s those cockamamie caricatures!

Even if you haven’t been inside the red walls of the restaurant recently, you probably still know that caricatures of famous Broadway celebrities adorn those walls.

And what’s great about these portraits is that they hit the trifecta of marketing.  Just look at what they do:

  1. The restaurant gets press every time a new caricature is created (And, uh, think they ever had a problem getting people to agree to be honored this way?  What celeb wouldn’t want their photo hanging on a wall?).
  2. The portraits make the restaurant a museum of sorts, making diners want to stop in, just to see ’em.  The price of admission?  A meal.
  3. And lastly, getting a celeb or VIP’s photo on the wall almost guarantees that they’ll come back.  Because the only thing a celeb might want more than a photo on a wall . . . is showing people their photo on a wall!

I’d bet you dinner at Sardi’s that the caricature idea didn’t start off as a marketing idea, it just became one (and by the way, that’s how the all the best marketing ideas happen – because they serve the customer first and not the cash register).

But now we can all learn from it, as it’s a perfect example that you might be able to apply to your show, your theater, or your Diner (hanging out headshots on the wall is a derivative of this same concept). Putting names on a wall, or on a seat, like so many non-profits do, is another example of this strategy in action . . . but I’ve got a feeling you can come up with something even more scrumptious.

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  • Solange De Santis says:

    It did start out as a marketing idea. From the Sardi’s entry on Wikipedia: “When business slowed after the move (to the current location), Vincent Sardi sought a gimmick to attract customers. Recalling the movie star caricatures that decorated the walls of Joe Zelli’s, a Parisian restaurant and jazz club, Sardi decided to recreate that effect in his establishment. He hired a Russian refugee named Alex Gard (1898–1948) (born Alexis Kremkoff in Kazan, Russia) to draw Broadway celebrities. Sardi and Gard drew up a contract that stated Gard would make the caricatures in exchange for one meal per day at the restaurant.”

  • Mike says:

    Ken I love your blog and the podcasts but the audio quality is HORRENDOUS. Sounds like you and your guest are at the bottom of a fishtank. Can’t you upgrade your mic?

    • Ken Davenport Ken Davenport says:

      Hey Mike – I’d bet you I know which ones you find are “fish-tanky”. We had a mic setting issue that caused an issue on a couple of recordings. But the majority should be better. Thanks for sticking with it.

  • Max Whilom says:

    My antique dealer/actress friend bought a set of 8 chairs with the name plates (One on each chair) of Celeste Holm, Celeste Brown, Patrick Duffy, Vic Morrow, Jayne Mansfield, Leonard Pennario, Tennessee Williams and Florence Henderson on the backs. The chairs are Gothic looking. Sardi’s says they didn’t come from there and so did The Lamb’s Club. It’s a great mystery going on now for almost 20 yrs. Celeste Holm, Duffy and Henderson were all contacted but had no memory about them. Had to be some place in NYC? (odd combo of people too) Anyone have any Idea?

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