It's a situation you won't hear about in business school-and one most restaurateurs will never face-but in January, it happened at Music City Roadhouse, Michael Sternberg and Larry Work's 300-seat Washington, DC, eatery. The phone rang. It was the White House, calling to find out if President Clinton and Vice President Gore could bring a party of 20 in to dine that night. With a packed house in his line of vision and reservations booked solid all night, General Manager Stephen Mayer had no choice but to turn the president down.
Refuse to feed the president of the United States? To hear Sternberg tell it, it's not as newsworthy as it sounds. "It's kind of like movie stars in Hollywood restaurants-nobody cares," says Sternberg. "In Washington, it's not that big a deal-it's just another politician out eating dinner." The restaurateurs weren't too worried about being blackballed because only two weeks earlier, President Clinton had dined at their nearby fine-dining restaurant, Sam & Harry's.
Did Sternberg and Work do the right thing? Yes, says public relations guru Larry Meltzer, co-owner of Meltzer & Martin Public Relations in Dallas. "If you're in the hospitality industry, you really have to take care of your regular customers first," Meltzer says. "It's not right to turn them away unless you can make accommodations for them that are either equal to or better than what they would have gotten while they were [at your place of business]." Besides, Meltzer notes, "The restaurant probably got more publicity for turning [the president and vice president] down than they would have if they'd invited them to come in."
Use Your Noodle
Going public? A little creativity goes a long way.
There's more than one way to go public. Pasta company Annie's Homegrown Inc. proved that last October when it started slipping dollar-bill-sized inserts into its macaroni boxes announcing that the company intended to go public and inviting pasta eaters to send for a prospectus.
Co-owners Ann Withey and Andrew Martin decided to do a direct public offering and not use an underwriter because "we wanted our shareholders to be our customers," says Celinda Shannon, operations manager for the 15-employee Hampton, Connecticut-based company.
The company has already received 12,000 responses. And buying a box of Annie's upscale pasta products isn't the only way to find out how to buy stock. Annie's has a home page on the World Wide Web and has received 30 investments from Internet requests alone.
Already available in Safeway and Lucky grocery stores on the West Coast, Annie's is going public to buy shelf space in other major supermarkets across the country. With 1 million invitations to purchase stock in as many boxes of macaroni, Annie's shouldn't have any trouble rolling in the (pasta) dough.
Read All About It
What are business owners reading these days? The top 10 business books at press time (based on net sales) were:
1. The Dilbert Principle, by Scott Adams (Harper Business, $20)
2. The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 1996 (John Wiley & Sons, $14.95)
3.Beardstown Ladies' Common Sense Investment Guide: How We Beat the Stock Marketand How You Can, Too, by the Beardstown Ladies Investment Club (Hyperion, $10.95)
4. Learn to Earn, by Peter Lynch (Simon & Schuster, $13)
5. What Color Is Your Parachute-1996, by Richard Nelson Bolles (Ingram, $14.95)
6. The Road Ahead, by Bill Gates (Penguin Books, $29.95)
7. Investing for Dummies, by Eric Tyson (IDG Books Worldwide, $19.99)
8. J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 1996, by the J.K. Lasser Institute (Macmillan, $14.95)
9. Beardstown Ladies' Stitch-In-Time Guide to Growing Your Nest Egg, by the Beardstown Ladies Investment Club (Hyperion, $19.95)
10. The Future of Capitalism, by Lester Thurow (William Morrow & Co., $25)
Source: Waldenbook Co. Inc.