Benihana’s new ad campaign: a slice of theater

Benihana’s new ad campaign: a slice of theater

Amy Zuber

MIAMI — Benihana, a 46-unit Japanese-restaurant chain, is tapping into its signature exhibition cooking and communal dining in a new advertising campaign aimed at attracting customers who want entertainment as an added value with their meal.

Accompanied by the tag line “Eating should not be this much fun,” the campaign focuses on the high energy associated with teppanyaki — seafood, steak and vegetables grilled at the table, an exhibition-cooking style that has defined Benihana for more than 30 years.

“The ads remind our existing customers how much fun they had the last time they ate at a Benihana,” said Joel Schwartz, president of Benihana Inc., based here. “And if they have not eaten here before, the ads will show them how much fun they can have.”

The previous ad campaign for Benihana, which was created about five years ago, emphasized the healthful qualities of their food with the tag line “We have been the restaurant of the ’90s since the ’60s.”

“The ads stressed the fact that Benihana has always offered healthful food,” said Gad Romann, creative director of Romann and Tanneholz Advertising, the agency that created both campaigns for Benihana.

“It was not just part of the craze at the time,” he said. “The ads also showed the freshness of the food. We have nothing to hide. We have always had an open kitchen and used fresh vegetables. The healthful component has always been there.”

The new campaign, which Romann said would run at least two years, also highlights the aspects of the chain that are inherent in the original concept.

“Keeping up with consumer trends is something we have always done successfully at Benihana,” Romann said. “The idea is not to reinvent yourself, but to nudge your equity one way or the other to see what it is about our product that appeals to the new trend.”

The new, $5 million campaign, which is scheduled to be released this month, includes print, billboards, radio and television ads, Romann said.

The color print ads feature a typical Benihana chef and/or fresh ingredients like vegetables, seafood and meat. In one ad the individual food ingredients are positioned upright, almost as if they are performers on a stage. The message beneath the image reads, “The only restaurant that can be reviewed by both the food critic and the theater critic.”

Another print image depicts a Japanese chef holding a large knife and fork with vegetables, seafood and meat flying around him in the background. “In another age, he would have been a great samurai swordsman. And you would have been hungry” is the accompanying message.

“The idea is to maintain, reinforce and update the image,” Romann explained. “The core of the message has always been the same. We just update it. We want to be the only known Oriental restaurant chain in the country.”

The 60-second radio spot features various Benihana chefs who are so talented as exhibition cooks that they aspire to become actors. After struggling to perform in plays like “Hamlet,” they eventually return to what they do best — cooking.

The 30-second television spots emphasize the social aspect of dining at Benihana. One ad, which is shot in fast-moving frames, features a chef chopping vegetables and flipping shrimp at a rapid pace. In another spot eight diners interact with each other and the chef around the table.

“Benihana is a very social restaurant,” Romann said. “All the tables accommodate eight people, so many times strangers interact. When you go to Benihana, you are not getting a lonely table for two.”

Schwartz said the campaign is aimed at generating repeat business as well as attracting new customers.

“We want to bring the Benihana name to a different audience,” he said. “There are some people who don’t know about us. The ads show that Benihana is a place the entire family can come to and have a good time — a place they will see the chef perform and flip shrimp.”

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