How this Classic Steakhouse Inspires Lifelong Customers
With competition fierce, every restaurant is looking for ways to inspire loyalty from its customers. Lawry's the Prime Rib—Chicago decided to start at the beginning. The company created the Junior Carver Program, a loyalty program that focuses on children.
Lawry's, which has 12 locations, eight of which are international, was founded in 1938 in Beverly Hills by Lawrence Frank and his brother-in-law Walter Van de Kamp. Frank, whose family was in the butcher business, moved to California from Milwaukee. The two men went into business making potato chips. During this time, Frank developed a salt for the chips that proved to be a great hit. Frank and Van de Kamp took the proceeds from the salt business and opened Lawry's.
The concept behind the restaurant was Frank's grandmother's Sunday dinner. "Sunday dinner was very special to Lawrence, and he thought others would enjoy it as well," says Shannon Tauschman, sales and marketing manager at Lawry's Chicago location. Tauschman describes the founders of Lawry's as “showmen,” and their goal was to make eating out at the restaurant an experience.
From the founding of the restaurant, the experience was meant to include children. Frank strove to create an environment that could expose children to a classic and elevated restaurant experience and help to develop the family experience within out-of-home dining. It was this idea that inspired Tauschman to create the Junior Carvers program.
Part of the showmanship/experience at Lawry's is its unique style of service—much is done tableside. This includes the spinning bowl salad and the carving of the prime rib. The prime rib is brought to the table in a 700-pound solid stainless steel cart. Once the cart is tableside, employees hand carve the prime rib and put it directly onto the customer's plate. "The carver's love the children, and the children love the cart," Tauschman says.
Lawry's already has a successful frequent dining VIP program for adults. It includes a point for every dollar spent (at 250 points, VIP members get a $25 dining reward) and double points on birthdays and anniversaries, which is typical. But Lawry's flare for showmanship takes the VIP program a step further. All guests who dine at Lawry's on a special occasion have a maroon congratulations celebratory ribbon draped tableside, a personalized hand-signed card from everyone at Lawry's, and a complimentary raspberry trifle. VIP members get all this plus personalized Lawry's seasoned salt and pepper shakers sent to their home.
This special program left children out, however. Now, with the Junior Carver's Program, Lawry's has a program to draw in children under 12. Rolled out in December as a lunch with Santa, children get a punch card. Since then, when children come in, the restaurant manager goes and asks if the child already has a punch card. If the answer is no, the manager gives the child one along with information explaining the program.
The card, which has four pieces of sage advice on the back, is punched with a steer's head upon each visit to the restaurant. With the fourth visit to Lawry's, children have earned the status of Junior Carver, receiving their very own Junior Master Carver Medallion and Chef Hat. The children also receive a free dinner and are featured in Lawry's newsletter and Facebook page (with parent's permission).
Tauschman describes Lawry's as a special occasion restaurant, and notes there are many regular guests and loyal customers. "We want children to have such a good time at Lawry's so when parents ask them where they want to go for their birthday, the answer will be 'Lawry's.'"
The card is already inspiring children to be loyal returning customers. Tauschman has overheard children at the restaurant say to their parents, "Where's my card?" and seen children encourage their parents to go to Lawry's.
Since instituting the program, multiple children have reached the status of Junior Carver. Their families are loyal customers, and the children are following in the footsteps. One child told Tauschman that she is always going to wear her medallion when she comes to eat at the restaurant and can’t wait for the next visit to Lawry's. Another child bugged his parents to return to Lawry's ever since he got his punch card to earn his marks.
Lawry's prides itself on providing the best quality prime rib. Because of the enormous amount the chain purchases, it has established good relationships with purveyors. It also goes out to the packinghouses and meets with ranchers in order to establish the quality of the product. It's all this that ensures Lawry's offers a top-notch product and inspires customer loyalty.
With programs like the Junior Carver, the average age of Lawry's loyal customer may soon reach single digits.