No Miss Steaks
How Does the Woman Card Play at Steakhouses?
For decades, the winning formula of man and steak has built thousands of thriving temples of testosterone, complete with red leather banquettes, dark-toned wood walls, bourbon straight up and an unmistakable ‘girls keep out’ message underlying it all. Fast forward, it’s 2016 and time for women to turn the tables and dine at them too. Can steakhouses, long steeped in manly traditions, open the doors and provide a welcoming environment that plays well with across the board? Restaurant Inc. delves into this meaty topic with steak knives held high, the better to slice right to the truth.
In fact, it’s already happening in many places around the country, and while there may be a high-profile fail along the way (Eva Longoria’s SHe by Morton’s), there are many more success stories.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, a respected national chain, makes a small plate of Certified Angus hanger steaks that’s proven great appeal to women, while Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill in Charleston, SC, bills themselves as ‘female friendly’ with an open floor plan, modern portions of approachable protein cuts, artistic food presentation, warm color palette and fresh, craft cocktails. One prime example is STK, billing itself as ‘not your daddy’s steakhouse.’ “They’re doing it right by making it approachable and focusing on the entertainment value of the dining experience, which resonates with women,” says Technomic’s Kelly Weikel.
The key, according to Jonathan Segal, CEO of One Group, the company behind the uber popular STK brand, is including elements that appeal to both sexes. “You can’t just say you’re a steakhouse for women … that implies that men aren’t welcome. Steakhouse operators would be remiss to discount half of the population by focusing singularly on men or women, so we take a holistic approach that focuses on what every diner is seeking … a memorable, fun night out,” he explains. STK’s concept blends a modern steakhouse and a chic lounge into one. “We offer a dining experience unlike anywhere else, where the cuisine, service and atmosphere is second to none when compared to a ‘traditional’ steakhouse,'” promises Segal.
Segal has been an equal opportunity marketer throughout his career. In the 1990s, with his partners at a former hotel booking company, he began a campaign for female business travelers, adding meaningful amenities like hair dryers, makeup mirrors and irons in every room. Reimaging the steakhouse with STK is a natural evolution of his quest to create an inclusive brand that appeals to all customers. Numerous interviews with women revealed the main flaws in the current steakhouse model, revolving around portion size, lack of social scene and dining rooms that resembled a gentleman’s club. All have been meticulously addressed in the innovative STK concept, which plays out nightly like this:
- Environment/décor bears no resemblance to a typical steakhouse, instead featuring pastels, purples and cream colors. The DJ and bar are the focal point of the room, and diners can choose to eat there, at an elegant table or in an intimate booth.
- Menu selections reflect traditional steakhouse dishes with a spin – crab salads instead of crabcakes; a replete selection of fishes; steaks in small, medium and large cuts; bite-sized desserts such as a tiny ice cream cone sampler or bag of donuts.
- Entertainment, the value proposition of STK, creates a destination known not only for upscale meals, but for drinking, dancing and socializing. “They can come for drinks, stay for dinner, and keep hanging out with us. Our clientele is past the clubbing all night stage but they don’t want their evening to end at 9:30 either. We offer an experience they can build their whole night around.” As a result, STK’s revenues are 60% food/40% liquor, compared to the usual 30% liquor at steakhouses.
Fact is, it works. The guest ratio is 55% women/45% men, with repeat business standard operating procedure. At a recent visit to the Chicago location, STK’s charm was in full evidence. Customers grazed through the appetizer menu at the bar, others enjoyed full service dining at the tables and still others gravitated to the dance floor as the DJ kept energy levels high with a thoughtfully curated selection of feel-good hits. Dancing in every part of the spacious restaurant is a nightly occurrence, according to the bartender who approached each customer with just the right blend of enthusiasm and menu knowledge.
“Customers don’t remember their favorite nights out in a singular way—it’s not just the food, or just the décor, or just the music. The combination of all of those things creates a vibe that you can only find at STK,” says Segal.
The original STK opened in New York City’s Meatpacking District 10 years ago, and growth was deliberately kept to a minimum. “At first, we kept the brand to one singular location,” reveals Segal. “We wanted to get it right and that meant not growing too fast, too soon.” Today, STK has found a warm welcome in almost a dozen cities from Atlanta to London, with nine more ready to launch. Segal keeps the crowds coming despite an almost nonexistent advertising budget, turning instead to press attracted by daily celebrity sightings, industry awards, skillful use of social media and, of course, word of mouth.