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Benihana, the 61-unit Japanese restaurant chain that created an icon out of its lightning-fast, knife-wielding chefs, is boosting ad spending about 20% for a new campaign that puts the spotlight on customers.

The $5 million campaign, from the Romann Group, New York, positions the brand as a place to go for more than special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and prom night.

The campaign, which includes TV, radio and print ads featuring the tagline, "There's always a reason to go to Benihana," stems from research that revealed customers go to Benihana when they want to feel special, not just to celebrate a milestone.


"We are really taking it from the customers' perspective," said Marci Kleinsasser, director of marketing for the company since last fall. "Before, we focused on the chef and the knives and the tricks."

The TV spot has three vignettes: overworked employees going to Benihana for a break; a couple celebrating that they've finished wallpapering a room; and a family celebrating after the son's basketball game.

"We're trying to get [customers] to tie into the Benihana experience and to come back more frequently," said Gad Romann, president-creative director of the agency. "The idea was to expand the brand experience."

Although the chef is downplayed, he is not forgotten, appearing in the background of both print and TV creative.

Radio schedules for the Benihana campaign kick off today. TV spots broke last week in 27 spot markets, with buys on sitcom reruns and local news programs.

"Multiple media [are] almost crucial now," said Mr. Romann. "You literally want to surround the consumer by blending the various media."


Benihana, with estimated sales of $95 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, has been on a growth path. Sales and customer counts for the outlets open more than one year have increased for each of the last 22 quarters.

The company is slated to open the first unit of a new sushi concept, called Sushi Doraku by Benihana, next month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with an eye toward national expansion.

"They are the original eatertainment concept," said David Rose, a restaurant analyst with Jefferies & Co., Los Angeles.

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