Thomas Keller has launched a brand new strategy in hopes of recovering from less than stellar Per Se reviews — inviting millennials in for a discounted meal. The ultra-luxe French-Californian restaurant at the Time Warner Center has started a new program called “30-for-30 Dining Experience,” a one-night special where 30 tables are reserved for people under the age of 30. Potential fine-dining devotees can try a seven-course meal at the restaurant for $175 — a discount from the average price of $325 for a nine-course dinner.
According to an invite posted by Bloomberg critic Richard Vines, the program aims to “continue to usher in a new generation of fine diners!”, exclamation point included. Keller says in an email statement that he got the idea from Michelin three-star restaurant Auberge de l'Ill in France, where chef Marc Haeberlin used the tactic to introduce younger diners to fine dining.
Keller plans to run it only a few times a year so that it will “remain a special occasion,” he says. More than 100 people attended the first one in December, which was announced on social media and through an email newsletter. “The restaurant even opened up tables in the Salon to help accommodate all those who were interested in dining,” the chef says.
It’s not the first time in that Keller has attempted to cultivate a younger audience since bad reviews came out. In the fall, he hosted a lunch where children could eat for free, as long as their accompanying adults paid $250 for the same seven-course meal. (It was similar to a move that chef Daniel Boulud made after the Times demoted Daniel from four to three stars.) A report of Per Se’s kids day found that it involved a lot of forced fun.
It’s also not unprecedented for expensive cultural institutions to give people under a certain age a discount — particularly if they’re hand-wringing about an aging audience. Many theaters in New York offer lower cost tickets to people who can prove they’re under 30. For example, the Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn offers $20 tickets for full-time students and people under 30, whereas older patrons of the arts must pay at least $174 for play packages.
The effort at Per Se might actually be working, at least for some people. Joan Kelly, who Eater reached after finding her post about the dinner on social media, went to a lunch at Per Se with her father before the Times demotion and then again for the first 30-for-30 night in December. She enjoyed the food the first time, but service was more “country club,” she says. “You kind of felt like you were infringing on someone’s space,” she says. “[As in], ‘How did you get in here?’”
But at the millennials dinner, Kelly says she was blown away by the service and as a result, was able to appreciate the food more, too. “We felt so pampered,” Kelly says. She wouldn’t have recommended people go to the restaurant after her first visit unless they had “unlimited money,” and that changed after her second meal. “I guess I am a pre- and post-case study,” she says. “Whatever he told his staff to do, [maybe] to stop being such snobs, it was this feeling of being special.”
Will this be what Per Se needs for a second look? The next 30-for-30 dining night is on March 30. People under the age of 30 who want to secure a spot can email Alanna Parisi at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 212-823-9352. And if you’ve been to Per Se at all recently, remember that our tip line is always open.