The Grand Masters of CRM

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Customer Relationship Magic in the Era of Café Society

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.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • tony the pitiful copywriter

    Always a pleasure to read your column, Denny. I remember getting copies of Who’s Mailing What when I started at Adam & Eve.

    Durham, NC, of all places is quite the foodie town. Even the NY Times did a magazine spread on us. I guess one of their kids is at Duke? Anyhoo, my beef with today’s restaurant "greeters" is their silly idea that young people their age have more money than their parents. We’ve been given the bum’s rush one too many times by a sweet young thang who preferred to be nicer to younger, more connected patrons. If we’re not too hungry, we make an excuse to leave or stay and then never come back.

    Hey, isn’t that called "customer service?"

  • Ben Gay III

    Denny, excellent writing, as usual. You transported me back to a wonderful time that has all but disappeared. Thank you.

  • Jayne

    Your newsletters never disappoint! This one accidentally ended up in my spam file and was almost "Deleted Forever," horrors! Your writing is so colorful…makes me feel like I’m sitting at a table in "21" and watching everything you’re describing! So look forward to these newsletters. Keep ’em coming!
    Jayne Clement

  • David Cowen

    Hey Denny, Back in the early 1990s, Mimi Sheraton once reserved a table at a small West Village restaurant near our office. When she showed up at the proper time, the greeter said, "Sorry. You did not confirm your reservation, and so we have no room for you." Of course she had confirmed, and boy, did she get even. The review of their food never happened, of course, but she reamed them a new you-know-what in place of her food review. The restaurant was out of business within a month. Best, David

  • Barry

    Another example of innate CRM long missed:

    A long, long time ago on another planet named Manhattan I was a near regular denizen of the Standhope Hotel bar across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Ave.

    I and my cousin, 20 years my senior, would enjoy a cocktail at a street-side table, either before or after a bout of bar hopping.

    We did this for maybe 6 months, typically on a weekend during the warmer months, maybe 2 or 3 times a month. Then I moved abroad for two years.

    When I returned, my cousin and I went back to the Standhope, and sat at an outside table.

    A waiter greeted us, or rather me, with an unexpected question: Your usual, sir?

    I smiled, and said he had mistaken me for someone else. (I was in my early 20s at the time). Besides, I didn’t recognize him, and would hardly consider myself a regular.

    He said he wasn’t mistaken and so I dared him to bring me my "usual."

    He returned with a double Chivas on the rocks — my usual.

    When we left every dollar I had in my pocket I left as a tip.