ben bensons steak house

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Ben Benson’s Steak House is a classic New York steakhouse.  Meat, potatoes, spinach and big drinks.  In the 80s I used to do some fun advertising for Ben, when the “steakhouse wars” were the rage. Lots of creative print advertising in the city with Poppe Tyson, my dad’s agency, and creative director Fergus O’Daly in the bull’s eye.

One of my best marketing ideas at the time, which I pitched to Ben, was to offer captains of industry who frequented the establishment on rainy days a free Ben Benson golf umbrella, if they left theirs at the office. Follow the color scheme, make the logo big but delicate and provide best customers with a meaningful spiff.  Oh, and the advertising walking around midtown wouldn’t hurt. I could get the umbrellas for about $19 a piece, printed. 

“You know how many steaks I have to sell to pay for one of those umbrellas?” asked Ben.   “My sirloins (remember, if was the 80s) retail for $24 and cost me $18.   I’d have to sell 3 steaks to pay for one umbrella.”  This, from a guy running a multi-million dollar steakhouse with a $100,000 ad budget. Still, in Ben’s mind steaks jumping across plates was context.  Understand the context of your customer before you sell them and you have a higher chance of success. Peace.

(Psst Ben.  Your sirloins are $50 today and an umbrella is still about $19 – just sayin’.)

 

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Ben Benson 

Ben Benson is a New York steak house legend and a very smart businessman.  Talk about personal branding?  Ben and partner Alan Stillman double handedly invented the “singles scene.” Friday’s, on the upper east side of NYC, was the branded place to pick up members of the opposite sex when it first opened.  The bar and its sister bars Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays, which didn’t fair as well, eventually evolved into the TGI Friday’s chain, now with different owners.

Ben and Mr. Stillman parted ways with Mr. Stillman becoming a corporation, a publically traded company (I think) with lots of restaurant properties around the city and country.  Ben stuck to his knitting, stuck to his store (123 West 52nd Street, NYC, “I think you’ll love it.”) and has built a brand the old fashion way: One steak at a time. Mr. Benson, who has had some health problems (Who wouldn’t being surrounded by sirloins all his adult life?) has outlived many peers in the business world. Literally and figuratively.  Thousands of captains of industry who used to dine at Ben Benson’s ordering $400 bottles of wine are long gone and forgotten. Not Ben.

A Marketing Lesson. 

I once told Ben he should give away umbrellas on rainy days to his best guests who had been caught unaware by the weather. (Ben has a wonderful, striking logo.) The umbrellas cost about $19.00 a piece and would be walking billboards around the city I told him. “You know how many steaks I have to sell to pay for one of those umbrellas?” was his response.  “My steaks are expensive — I only make about 2 dollars a steak. I’d have to sell eight steaks to pay for one umbrella.”  The lessons I learned from Ben resound. When I ask clients to spend their money I think of steaks jumping across plates and it grounds me.  Ben is a Harvard Business Review case study. Study him.  (But buy a steak first.)

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