At Nobu, customers really like surprises

They’re not afraid to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a meal, but sometimes it’s just a T-shirt they really want.

When it comes to Nobu lore, there’s a mystique surrounding the restaurant empire. For instance, there’s the man who spent $100,000 a month there in New York City, and the jet-setting client who travels to Nobu openings anywhere in the world.

When customers transform into fans, it’s good for business.

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s empire stretches into five continents, with 27 restaurants spanning the globe from Melbourne, Australia, to Dallas.

At the Caesars Palace location, an average of $120 is spent per person, with about 533 people dining each night. That’s an average of $63,960 spent each evening . If that business volume is representative of all locations, Nobu is a $1.73 million-a-night business.

The Las Vegas Nobu’s clientele is a mix of celebrity — Howard Stern is a huge fan — and well-to-do commoners.

Each Nobu features the omakase, with diners leaving their seven-course tasting completely up to the chef after choosing a price tier.

The price can go as high as a customer wants, depending on what’s on hand in the kitchen.

In Las Vegas, high rollers push the envelope. Bryan Shinohara, general manager of the Caesars Palace location, said he has seen a wagyu beef banquet on the teppanyaki grill cost $688 per person and a tasting menu cost $450 per person.

“You can be asked four or five basic questions, and then, based on how you answer those questions, they’ll know exactly how to custom-tailor the menu, and everything you have will blow you away, and it will accommodate all of your likes and cravings for the evening,” said Shinohara, a 12-year employee.

Not only is the rotating menu a draw, but diners flock to the restaurants because of their quirky or temporary features.

For example, you can order the only Nobu breakfast available at the in-room dining at the Nobu Hotel in Caesars. It has eggs Matsuhisa, blueberry and yuzu soba pancakes or breakfast okonomiyaki. In Monaco, there’s a two-week, pop-up Nobu open during the Formula One races, and the Nobu empire also operates a mobile venue on Crystal Cruises. There are three seasonal locations, one each in Switzerland, the Hamptons in New York and Mykonos, Greece.

“My research and others has shown the biggest factor in creating loyalty is an emotional commitment or attachment to the brand,” said Sarah Tanford, assistant professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Tanford said people are more than willing to pay more for the brand, even if something similar costs less and is readily available.

To build that emotional attachment with a customer, Tanford said, businesses need to make people feel special.

“Each person wants to feel like they’re being treated not like everyone else,” she said.

Shinohara said the Hard Rock’s Nobu has developed a strong following since it opened in 1999. The Caesars location opened in February and already has regulars. Both restaurants have reviews on Yelp, but the Hard Rock location has more than 600.

Corey Tess of Columbus, Ohio, posted on Yelp in June that she’s a “huge” Nobu fan and has been to the restaurants in Las Vegas, New York City, the Bahamas, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles and Malibu Calif.

“My dream still includes hitting the Tokyo Nobu and the Monte Carlo Nobu,” she wrote.

Her story is reminiscent of one of Shinohara’s. He tells of running into a Las Vegas regular when he was helping to open the Moscow restaurant.

“There was a young lady that was a regular at the Nobu from Las Vegas. I was just walking by her table and kind of locked eyes,” he said.

The globe-hopping diner had just eaten at a new Nobu in South Africa and stopped for dinner in Moscow on her way to a Nobu that just opened in Dubai.

In another tale, a couple coming to Caesars in October is headed to Nobu in New York City two days before, then going to the Malibu location two days later.

Another duo loves Nobu so much they got married at Caesars Palace so that they could stay at the Nobu Hotel and have their four-person reception in the restaurant, with a custom menu and two-tiered Nobu wedding cake.

Then there’s the legend of the gentleman in New York City who spends $100,000 per month at Nobu.

“He had a party here at the Hard Rock a few years ago. We got a call from one of the owners saying whatever he wants, he gets. When you get a call like that, they’re not joking ,” Shinohara said.

But what the diners seem to really want is a keepsake.

“Anything that has Nobu on it, you really can’t keep in the restaurant,” Shinohara said.

Customers often ask to buy T-shirts, chef hats or sake cups. For the record, no Nobu T-shirts are available.

“The requests are pretty strange, sometimes,” Shinohara said.

One guest wanted to buy an abalone shell. Another wanted to buy the fork a celebrity had just finished using.

“Of course we didn’t sell the fork, but that might be the weirdest thing,” Shinohara said.

Then there are the Nobu knockoffs.

“I’ve seen executive chefs and general managers come in and ask what are your eight signature dishes and what are your most popular. And then they order all of those, take them, then their restaurant opens and it’s the exact same thing. Even to the plating,” Shinohara said.

He said the two Las Vegas restaurants are doing well, although the Caesars location probably has taken a little off the top of the Hard Rock’s customer base.

“In Las Vegas, the newest thing is always the hottest thing,” he said.

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