Service That Sizzles

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
How's this for personalized service? Renaming a restaurant in customers' honor.

How's this for personalized service? Renaming a restaurant in customers' honor.

This is the approach the iconic steakhouse Smith & Wollensky is taking during the month of October. From the 3rd to the 31st, the restaurant is changing half of the name of its 49th Street and Lexington Avenue location in New York each day in honor of one customer who takes a "pledge" online "to make Smith & Wollensky their exclusive steakhouse."When my colleague Cynthia Clark told me and the rest of the editorial team about the promotion, I couldn't resist. I hadn't eaten there in years, but in the meantime have dined at its more casual cousin, Wollensky Grill, with which it shares a building. In fact, I even wrote about the grill's manager, Pat Brennan, because of his flair for building customer relationships. So this was a perfect opportunity to go back--and try to get my name in lights, so to speak, at the same time.

I went online and took the pledge, and made a reservation for this past Wednesday, guessing that a weeknight would increase my chances of winning. It worked. A few days prior to my reservation I received an email saying that my name had been chosen and for the entire day of October 5, Smith & Wollensky would instead be called Conlon & Wollensky.

Now the real anticipation began. I couldn't wait to go to the restaurant and see how the experience would play out. That evening, as I walked down 3rd Avenue, I could see the restaurant's awning in the distance. But because of a potted tree by the door, I could only see the "& Wollensky" on the awning. It was torture. My pace quickened. It wasn't until I was next to the restaurant that I could see "Conlon" in bold letters not only on the awning, but also on the sign on the building itself. So cool!

A friend joining me for dinner snapped photos of me and the restaurant; passing commuters looked on in curiosity--getting the restaurant an extra dose of attention.

We headed to the bar first, where I saw stacks of Conlon & Wollensky beverage napkins piled along the bar, as well as placed under all of the customers' drinks. There were also Conlon & Wollensky matchbooks. My friend made sure the bartender knew I was the "owner" for the day, and the three of us together with one of the regulars exchanged some lighthearted banter as the bartender and the regular debated whether I should fire the barman or toss out the customer.

Later my friend and I checked in at the host area and were greeted enthusiastically by Manager Michael Jenkins and several other staffers. The hostess asked how it felt to have my name on the restaurant. It was the perfect question. I was already thrilled, but with that question my face lit up and I exclaimed, "It's awesome!"

The rest of the evening was delightful. Our waiter, Juan, and his assistant, Lin, who both had "Conlon & Wollensky" patches on their jackets, were wonderfully attentive; the food was amazing. And Jenkins came over with a bag of goodies: boxes of beverage napkins, matchbooks, and business cards emblazoned with Conlon & Wollensky, as well as a set of gorgeous steak knives (the same ones the restaurant uses) engraved with Conlon & Wollensky. We even had another guest ask for my autograph. Juan, our waiter, said to ask for him when we go back. I definitely will--because I'll be going back. Soon.

Masterful. Smith & Wollensky created a promotion that engages long-time, casual, and prospective customers--potentially moving each to the next level: getting prospects to try the restaurant, casual diners to come more often, and long-time customers to increase their frequency. All while building serious buzz and word of mouth. And the restaurant is showcasing a customer experience that while special to winner of the promotion, is not far afield from the its usual, high standard of service.

Ultimately, it's a meaty promotion that's sure to leave customers hungry for more.