Regular Paradise

Manny's Steakhouse, the second of our most essential Minnesota restaurants, is prosperity incarnate

Dear Dara,

Here's one for your "Essential Minnesota" project, and while it may not fit neatly in the category, I find that much of the enjoyment I get out of dining out comes from being recognized by the staff. This really only happens by becoming a "regular" at a particular place.

Along with this recognition usually go some occasional comps, priority seating, and the like. I realize that to a true gourmet, it is more about the actual meal, but to most Minnesotans, being recognized is a close second behind the food. Of course, the food at your "regular place" needs to be consistently above average or you may as well find a new place to become a regular.

Star treatment: A group of regulars celebrates an engagement at Manny's
Jana Freiband
Star treatment: A group of regulars celebrates an engagement at Manny's

Location Info

Map

Manny's Steakhouse

825 Marquette Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > Steakhouse

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Here's what I am referring to: My wife and I and another couple were having pre-dinner drinks at our "regular" place, where we've been going since 1995 or so, once or twice a month. The other couple had been to this restaurant before, but only occasionally. This establishment keeps the bar tab separate if you are moving to the main dining room for dinner. When the time came for us to move, our bar tab came and the other couple grabbed it to pay. When they opened the tab and found all the drinks comped and a balance of zero, they were very impressed. I felt very appreciated, and our friends still talk about it to this day.

Another time at this same restaurant we were dining with a party of eight. When we were seated, there were several appetizers waiting for us, and our server just said, "Compliments of [the general manager]." This same restaurant is opening a sister branch in Miami, and my wife and I have been invited down for the opening. I feel very appreciated and would not miss it for the world.

These experiences would not happen if you only visit a place on occasion, and while they do nothing to improve the taste of my steak, they add significantly to my dining experience. We do try new places and love comparing notes with the local critics, but it is nice to have a go-to place where you know you will have a good time.

Jeff in Minneapolis

Dear Jeff,

My first thought on reading your note was, "Oh, my God, does this mean I can expense a dinner at Manny's?" Hark, I hear the herald angels sing!

Because of course, despite your discretion, your letter couldn't refer to anything but Manny's Steakhouse. Do Minnesotans spend thousands of dollars a year anywhere else, and feel lucky to do it? Hell no, they don't. And while I appreciate your discretion about the comps, please know this isn't any kind of shady practice—this is exactly how you build relationships with regular customers.

In fact, it's such a part of the Manny's operation that Parasole, its parent company, has it written down in its business plan. "Recognizing regulars is one of Parasole's 'points of difference,'" assistant general manager Bill Van Offeren explained to me. "It's something we're really proud of, all the regulars that make Manny's what it is. Another 'point of difference' is to surprise the guest with something unexpected, and that's where the comp budget comes in. We're taught to support the people who support us." As part of this recognizing-regulars plan, Manny's doesn't have hosts: Only managers answer the phone, only managers seat guests. And if, in the course of taking that reservation or seating the guest, the manager sees an opportunity to make a regular feel very, very special, he takes it. This has resulted in you, Jeff, and a lot of other folks, feeling very, very warmly about Manny's. How warmly? Parasole expects dozens, if not more, of their regulars to fly down to Florida for the new Manny's February opening. What, are there those of you reading who can't imagine buying plane tickets and hotel rooms to go to the restaurant you go to twice a month anyway?

Welcome to how your boss's boss lives.

And, for at least one night, it was how I lived, too.

My date and I hit Manny's on the early side one Tuesday night—because that's the reservation we could get. Want in there during prime time on the weekends? Call well in advance, be a regular, or be out of luck. Even early on a Tuesday, the place was jam-packed. Manny's always reminds me of that kids' finger game, here's the church, here's the steeple, because the skyway leading to Manny's is always dead quiet, but cross the threshold into the restaurant, and the place is just thrumming like a carnival. Burly waiters, elderly waiters, rotund waiters, nearly all men, are running this way and that, purposefully pushing their enormous meat carts like stevedores moving cargo on the docks.

Women casually throw their furs on the benches of their favorite booths, and slide in, while their men shout into their cell phones: "I'm at Manny's. At Manny's! Yeah, you do wish you were."

At another table a woman in an Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit sips from a martini the size of a casserole dish. Her husband looks like he just got back from returning garden hoses to Home Depot, but chances are good he has cash reserves that would allow them to buy a whole Home Depot, or four.

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