On a recent trip to Tampa, a colleague and I ate at Bern’s Steak House, which does a great job of creating an emotionally compelling dining experience.
- The first thing the waiter tells you is that after dinner you will receive a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar – and also that they have reserved a table just for you upstairs in the dessert room. So immediately you feel like an honored guest, not just any old schlub off the street – even though you are just a schlub, and they provide all their customers with the same treatment.
- The waiters go through an extensive training process so they can answer any kind of question you can ask about meat. And the menu reads like a how-to guide for ordering steak – it’s incredibly detailed. So even if you’re not a meat connoisseur, you can still feel intelligent and confident when placing your order.
- After dinner you are taken on a guided tour of the kitchen and wine cellar, both of which are equally massive. The wine cellar is dark and maze-like, with narrow passageways and shelves that go floor to ceiling with wine. Supposedly, it’s the largest private wine collection in the U.S. On the tour, the highly-enthusiastic (half-crazy) sommelier regales you with all sorts of tales about the exclusivity of the collection (e.g. it is supposedly worth more than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football franchise).
- Then you go to your “reserved” table in the dessert room. Your table is in an enclosed pod, designed like a hollowed out wine barrel. You can’t see or hear other diners, although they’re all around you. It’s your own private room, complete with a direct phone line to a piano player who takes your musical requests. Think about how often you turn down dessert after dinner. But if they’ve reserved a special room for you in the mysterious “dessert room” it’s pretty hard not to go up there and see what it's about. And once you’re there, it’s pretty hard not to order something. Great marketing, and a fun experience.