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Brennan's reveals strategy for longtime customer loyalty

May 22, 2015, 6:00am CDT UPDATED: May 22, 2015, 8:35am CDT

Print associate editor- Houston Business Journal


It can be easy for a new restaurant to get people to visit, but what's even harder for a well-seasoned restaurant is to keep them coming back. Brennan's of Houston has mastered that art. Its secret? Maintaining staff morale.

In 1967, Brennan’s of Houston opened downtown as a secondary location to the New Orleans location, which is now run by a different sect of the family. Still today the restaurant is a pillar of Houston fine dining, not necessarily for its critically acclaimed food — although it is delicious — but mainly because of the hold it has on Houstonians.

“We determined a long time ago that there will always be great restaurants in Houston to eat at, and we asked why people were still coming and coming back to us,” said Alex Brennan-Martin, president of the restaurant. “Everything they said revolved around memories they’ve made here.”

Brennan-Martin takes pride in that part of his job, teaches his 120-person staff to do the same. Whether they're in the kitchen or by the door, the staffers’ jobs focus is to make the meal something to never forget.

To make an evening enjoyable to the guests, you have to make sure your staff is enjoying their evening as well, he says, and part of the challenge is changing the way everyone thinks.

“I think people often look down on servers,” he said. “Oftentimes servers look down on themselves. They don’t see the importance of what they do.”

Brennan-Martin explains the restaurant’s "golden rule" of making memories to every single new employee that comes on board, which isn’t too terribly often because, even in an industry where turnover is high, Brennan’s has staff members that have been working at the restaurant since as early as 1974.

“The servers have so many other opportunities, but they stay because when you make a difference, when you see that you’re a part of making a memory for others, there could be nothing more honorable," he said. "Selfishly, we get to do that. And people have trusted us with that.”

Brennan’s has always had benefits for its employees — 401(k)s, paid vacations, health insurance. And that's set the restaurant apart from other places his servers have worked at.

“When someone comes on board at our restaurant with previous experience, they notice something different. We’re treating them with respect," he said.