Hiroaki Rocky Aoki founded the first Benihana restaurant in New York in 1964. His innovative approach to dining featured an authentic Japanese farmhouse interior. Food preparation took place in front of customers on steel cooking grills. Chefs were taught to be entertaining, engaging employees with fascinating knife skills and a flair for the dramatic, including the use of fire as part of the show. A famous restaurant critic at the time, Clementine Paddleford wrote a raving, positive review in a local newspaper and the business grew dramatically as a result. Soon after, a second location was added in New York.
By 1972, six Benihana locations were opened across the United States. Currently more than 70 restaurants are active, with franchising possibilities offered to others. The chain has expanded to include locations in other countries as well and has acquired three other restaurant chains, HARU, RA Sushi, and Rudy’s Restaurant Group.
The success of the original Benihana concept can be explained in part by the unique dining experience the company was first to offer. Groups of up to eight individuals are combined in each serving area, which means smaller sets, such as couples, often share the food preparation activities with other guests. Benihana currently holds the title of the longest running dinner show in the world.36
Not surprisingly, a series of entrepreneurs has jumped on the bandwagon and created similar dining programs. Some have developed chains of restaurants while others offer single locations in various cities in the United States.
The concept of combining food preparation, dining, and entertainment is not limited to Japanese steakhouse-type organizations. A series of restaurants features singing waiters. Missouri-based Lambert’s Café sells “throwed rolls” that the servers literally toss at patrons. To achieve success, one key appears to be creating a logical combination of the entertainment program with the food to be served.
At the same time, other elements deserve attention, including the colors chosen for the restaurant’s décor. For example, the Logo Company states that green suggests something “natural, organic, youth, nurturing, (and) instructional…” among others. Green fits with medicine, science, government, and ecology, but maybe not food (think mold). Orange generates cheerfulness, red creates excitement, gold conjures images of warmth, and blue suggests dependability and strength.37
Colors combine with music, furniture, server outfits, and many other ingredients in order to construct a total dining experience. Then, marketing communications can be added to the mix. Focus groups and other forms of research help the marketing team discover if all of the elements work together. Eventually, a company name, logo, and an advertising program can be designed to entice patrons to try something new and different.
Read the case study “The Japanese Steakhouse Experience” Above…
Write a three (3) page paper, typed and double spaced, using the West Writing Assignment Template, in which you answer the following:
Explain the positioning approach used by Benihana.
Identify the core target audience for Benihana.
Using information from the case history on identifying a story, what story could Benihana use to explain its concept? Describe the story.
Compare and contrast the story-telling approach used by the sake industry in Japan to how alcohol tends to be promoted in the United States.
Alcohol sales are an important component of the profitability of a restaurant. Discuss how the Japanese sake industry could integrate its story-telling approach to increase its sake sales in the environment of a restaurant chain such as Benihana.