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The Grand Masters of CRM

Customer Relationship Magic in the Era of Café Society

October 23, 2012 By Denny Hatch
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Many years ago we were staying at an inn on the Jersey Shore. One of the guests said to the innkeeper, "I would love to do what you do and be part of the magic."

"I am not part of the magic," was the reply. "We make the magic happen."

What triggered this column was Susanne Craig's Fall Restaurant Review in The New York Times titled "What Restaurants Know (About You)":

Increasingly, restaurants are recording whether you are a regular, a first-timer, someone who lives close by or a friend of the owner or manager. They archive where you like to sit, when you will celebrate a special occasion and whether you prefer your butter soft or hard, Pepsi over Coca-Cola or sparkling over still water. In many cases, they can trace your past performance as a diner; how much you ordered, tipped and whether you were a "camper" who lingered at the table long after dessert.

The idea that today's sad-sack restaurateurs are forced to rely on computers and electronic databases to keep track of their customers depresses the hell out of me.

I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s when New York Café Society was flourishing and the great supper club owners—Grand Masters of CRM—had mini-Cray computers operating in their heads, knew everybody and ran their emporia with warmth, charm and absolute precision.

My father told the story of being at the Stork Club on the Saturday night following the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. American morale was shattered and the country was flat-out scared and reeling after a week of devastating news from the Pacific. What's more, Hitler had just compounded the horror by declaring war on America. The atmosphere in the Stork Club was muted to say the least.

Suddenly, an electric jolt went through the main room as proprietor Sherman Billingsley escorted a grizzled, pock-marked old U.S. Marine sergeant—resplendent in his dress blues with a chest full of ribbons—and his blonde floozy through the crowd to a ringside table by the dance floor. Both were quite drunk. When they got up to dance, everyone in the place arose as one and let out a huge cheer.

 

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