It stands proud on the corner of Van Ness and Pacific as though a monument to days gone by. The cost to build Harris´ Steakhouse today, a long time San Francisco landmark, would hover around the 10 million mark. Maybe more. Once inside the panels of thick Honduran mahogany would make a wooden boat guy from Maine genuflect in respect of the high shine gleaming in the chandelier adorned dining room.
And, the place does big numbers. It is a special occasion restaurant and also caters to those who desire a great aged prime steak. The aging cooler beckons viewing through the thick spotless glass that previews beef not yet old enough for a plate.
When Bob Shapiro walked through the double doors of Harris´ private dining room Sunday his entrance resembled Johnny Carson´s nightly prance on stage. Shapiro was mystified by the 20 or so guests that were invited to his surprise birthday party.Younger than Carson, older than Leno, Shapiro heads Light Soda in The City and is as much of a landmark in the restaurant community as the steakhouse where he stood.
The party was great. The food was perfect. The company and conversation superb.
And it was a bonus for the guys at Harris´.
Panning the room, between illuminating conversations with San Francisco barrister-raconteur, Peter Dwares, I couldn´t get the thought out of my mind. Why don’t resaurants actively promote surprise birthday parties. I never did it. I wish I had. What a tremendous promotional idea surprise birthday parties could be for the restaurateur.
Do the numbers. How many people coming to your restaurant have birthdays? Exactly. And, each of those people has friends, who probably have birthdays.
The captive-audience-appeal numbers work out quite nicely. This could add up to substantial added revenue. And, the surprise birthday party is something everyone wants to throw for that favorite birthday person but seldom accomplishes the goal.
I would imagine the reason the idea is put on the back shelf-until next year- is two-fold:
Organization and expense.
The promotional possibilities could be very simple. Many restaurants ask for your birthday so they can offer a free piece of cake, or a cocktail, or an appetizer on the day of celebration. Think of the possibilities if you had some promotional information and sent out a surprise birthday packet with two or three menu selections, an example of an invitation with the restaurant´s name and picture on the front, and a few choices of cakes. Set the per person price and include a list of wines and cocktails and you might increase business on those slow nights.
Don´t worry about the lack of a private dining room. You can accommodate the group at a large table or a few four-tops in the corner.
The point is that few people entertain the idea of a surprise party until it is too late to organize. By keeping the suggestion fresh through advertising, check cards, and the occasional customer email, you could book some business that otherwise might slip through to another restaurant.
And that would be a pleasant surprise.