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

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.