What do you get when you take a foot-long frankfurter made from Kobe beef, grill it in white truffle oil and serve it on pretzel bread with caramelized onions, heirloom tomato ketchup and Dijon black-truffle mustard?
The short answer, according to Joe Calderone, spokesman for Serendipity 3, a high-end bistro in New York, is the $69 Haute Dog, one of the world’s highest-priced hot dogs. To date, he said, the restaurant has sold more than 50 of the upscale dogs, but in the longer run, the item has garnered PR attention worth untold thousands of dollars.
And that is really the point of this kind of marketing strategy, Calderone said. It is not necessarily about creating the most expensive menu item, but rather the biggest buzz for the restaurant offering it.
He said these types of items receive a tremendous amount of worldwide attention, and, as a result, help to generate traffic for the restaurant.
“You can’t even put a dollar amount on it,” he said.
The Haute Dog, which debuted last July in honor of National Hot Dog Day, is not Serendipity’s first try at the luxury-item marketing rodeo. Calderone said the restaurant, which is famous for its opulent desserts and frozen hot chocolate, began offering über-expensive items in 2004, starting with a $1,000 Golden Anniversary sundae celebrating the restaurant’s 50th birthday.
“That was the first one,” he said. “We worked with Guinness World Records to create the most expensive, opulent sundae.
“When we originally envisioned it,” he continued, “we had Guinness come in, held a ceremony, and of course it got a lot of publicity. We made it for everyone from Diane Sawyer on ‘Good Morning America’ to [personal finance expert] Suze Orman. At the time, it really was for publicity, but it morphed into an unbelievable dessert that some people call a work of art.”
Six years later, the sundae, which is made with special ingredients, including edible gold leaf, and served in a Baccarat crystal goblet, continues to draw attention, even in tough times. Serendipity received orders for three of them in December alone.
Of course, Serendipity is not the only restaurant to market the most expensive and luxurious food items around. Brûlée at the Tropicana Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., and Arnaud’s in New Orleans, offer pricey extravagance, too.
Brûlée’s Brownie Extraordinaire is a $15,000 dark chocolate brownie served with a rare Portuguese port wine in a crystal atomizer that the customer can take home. The dessert is part of a romantic Valentine’s Day package.
At Arnaud’s, co-proprietor Katy Casbarian said the restaurant sells Strawberries Arnaud garnished with a round 4.7 carat pink diamond worth $1.4 million.
“This was just an exciting and different thing to offer,” she said. “It was featured in a lot of news stories and got a lot of word of mouth. If [the promotion] is crafted well, you can garner interest from regular patrons as well as customers from around the country. We were surprised at how word spread.”
The item, with diamond attached, was introduced in 2008 but has not yet sold.