Morton’s The Steakhouse took to heart public relations guru Peter Shankman’s tweeted plea for a steak dinner after a day of travel, meeting him at Newark Liberty International Airport with a 24-ounce Porterhouse, an order of Colossal Shrimp and a side of potatoes. This story was one of the most-clicked items in Friday’s Restaurant SmartBrief. I talked to Roger Drake, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Morton’s, to find out how the grand story unfolded and what he would recommend to other restaurants looking to wow their guests. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.

What was going on behind the scenes, from corporate seeing the tweet to delivery of the steak dinner?

What happened here is that we know [Shankman] and have communicated with him over the years. He has a huge following on Twitter, he knows us, dines with us, he has attended events. When he half-jokingly posted on Twitter about wanting a Porterhouse, a marketing manager, Jillian Beard, reached out to the general manager (Mike Khorosh) of Morton’s Hackensack to see not only whether we could do it but also do it in a nice package and wow him. Then staff member Alex Sariyan went to the airport. It’s part of Morton’s random acts of kindness, which we do on a regular basis. For example, we have tracked down guests to return jackets. There’s an incredible amount of stories like this.

It’s indicative of the culture of Morton’s going above and beyond every day in restaurants all over the world. If there’s anything you can say within the social circle, it’s that we are communicating with our guests and creating more brand ambassadors. We do it inside the restaurants, and it translates on Twitter and Facebook with the same level of hospitality. We hear about the great experiences, but we are providing thousands of dinners every week, and things are going to go wrong and we want to make it right.

How did this boost employee morale? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Morton’s has had a social media presence for the past three years, and it was early in the fine-dining segment. The team — people who run the national Twitter and Facebook accounts, along with those who post to the blog and YouTube — meets on a weekly basis. They work with local teams in all of our markets. There’s a lot of pieces to a social media profile, and Morton’s doesn’t have a social media department. Everyone divides and conquers depending on responsibility.

This will be a huge topic in tomorrow’s weekly meeting. We’ll talk about what went right in this situation and the power of social media and importance of closely monitoring. This execution seemed to go very well. It’s a great example of teamwork. Lots of things could have gone wrong, but it went flawlessly. These things don’t happen unless it’s part of your culture, and that is really what Morton’s is all about: noticing little details, making it a memorable dining experience and wowing our guests.

What advice would you give other restaurants that want to pull off a surprise such as this?

Because of this and [Shankman’s story] — and other comments on Twitter — Morton’s gained 800 followers on the national Twitter account. Immediately after the excitement, we awarded a random person who tweeted with #SteakThankYou. Once you’ve engaged them, keep them engaged.

Morton’s has always been big on PR firms: local PR firms that work in every market. Part of the success is making sure PR firms are monitoring what guests are saying about us. You can’t just throw things out there. It’s an extension of what we do.

Read more about Morton’s social media activities on SmartBlog on Social Media.

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11 responses to “Behind the scenes of Morton’s “greatest customer service story ever told””

  1. BrandonUttley says:

    Great story! And no doubt Morton's had a ton of fun as they were pulling that delivery off.

  2. Hospitality Expert says:

    I love this story. It's a great example of listening to the customer via social media. The action resulting however, it's NOT a new trend. The Ritz-Carlton has been doing things like this for years. If you read Joseph Michelli's The New Gold Standard, you'll get a glimpse into many of these stories. It's how they built their business and how others are succeeding by learning from the best. Even others (namely Zappos) are claiming they invented many of the service and employee-facing techniques that Ritz-Carlton's been doing for years. They're just too humble to take this kind of credit.

  3. John L. says:

    I think this is a great story. Kudos to Morton's. However, we also need to realize that Shankman is an influencer. As this post states, he has over 100K Twitter followers and is the founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO). Therefore, pleasing this one customer will have a significant ripple affect. If just about any other customer sent out the same Tweet, think the only thing they would have when they got off the plane was an empty bag of peanuts.

  4. Stan Phelps says:

    There are no traffic jams on the 'extra mile'. Kudos to Morton's for noticing the little details, treating customers to unexpected extras and giving them something to tweet, blog, Yelp and post to Facebook about.
    A great example of marketing lagniappe.
    'The longest and hardest nine inches in marketing . . . is the distance between the brain and heart of your customer'
    My recent post The Fifth Ingredient of a Purple Goldfish (Sticky) – Chapter 11

  5. […] By now you’ve heard about The Best Customer Service Story Ever Told featuring Morton’s The Steakhouse, right?   It’s such a brilliantly serendipitous story, which as it turns out, is part of Morton’s overall strategy of providing random acts of kindness to their customers. […]

  6. Jonathan Trenn says:

    I have a bit of a unique outlook on this. I’m a social media strategist AND I’m a former waiter at a Morton’s in Northern Virginia, having worked there from October 2009 to October 2010. I actually put together a nine page proposal and sent it to Roger Drake, the VP of Marketing Communications. It entailed creating a regional social media for the DC area.

    I can still recite the verbal menu presentation.

    Look, this was a great idea that was perfectly executed. It shows me that the team in Chicago was on the ball and knew who Peter Shankman is.

    But it’s a stunt – a damn good one at that. Stunts are fine…it’s what follows that matters. On Twitter, on Shankman’s blog, etc. I see a lot of praise for Morton’s. Now is the time for Morton to capitalize on this. They need to not only get the people in Chicago headquarters involved, but they need to enlist their local PR folks (because some run local Twitter accounts) to reach out and develop relationships with those who are now joining the conversation praising Morton’s and saying they want to try one out.

    My two cents.

  7. […] knows the value of using local public relations firms and actively works social media. (Read this interview with Morton’s VP for […]

  8. Cathi says:

    That is good public relations, but I don't consider it "a random act of kindness."

    When the COO of my favorite restaurant, Philippe (in Houston) learned that the dinners I was picking up to go were for the birthday supper of a dear friend stricken with very advanced cancer, he would not allow me to pay. Now THAT is an act of great kindness. Thank you, Chris, and Chef Philippe, for a wonderful meal, and for deeply touching my heart, and my friends', with your kindness, generosity and excellent cuisine.

  9. LizBiz says:

    Given that your customer "has a huge following on Twitter", I'd hardly consider what Morton's did a random act of kindness. It's more like a pretty calculated act of marketing.

    That one of your reader's (see above) was willing to buy diners for a sick friend from one of the top restaurants in Houston *is* an act of kindness.

    But then, that's just one diner's opinion and I do not have a huge following anywhere.

  10. […] Morton’s senior vice president of marketing and communications Roger Drake gave the behind-the-scenes low-down on what it took to impress Shankman and pretty much everyone who has heard the story since: What […]

  11. I would love to win some stickers! They would come in extremely handy as a marketing/branding tool.