You don't need a time machine to dine at Lawry's The Prime Rib in 1938, the year it was founded. The dining experience today is pretty much the same and of little difference compared to those days.
Female servers still wear the same tailored brown gowns, and are trained three months before they are to face any customers. The restaurant's customary practices involve their lauded showmanship.
This usually starts with tossed salads, prepared tableside by servers spinning a large metal bowl of leafy greens atop a bed of ice. The ladies would then need to stand on their tiptoes to achieve the perfect, lengthy and dramatic pour of dressing.
Another time-honoured aspect of Lawry's is the use of its patented silver carts - now worth over US$30,000 per piece. Designed by co-founder Lawrence L. Frank 75 years ago, the gleaming eco-friendly serving carts weigh over 400kg when fully loaded with roast prime ribs of beef with au jus.
The only probable stark difference between then and now is seen through your final bill. When the first restaurant in Beverly Hills opened its doors, the price for the ribs, served with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes, was only US$1.25. These days, at their Singapore outpost, the price is anywhere between S$63 to S$123.
Lawry's first entered the Asian market close to 20 years ago but it was a relatively unknown brand. That is why Juan R. Jimenez, executive director and franchisee of Lawry's The Prime Rib Singapore, was adamant on setting up the restaurant in a prime location at Paragon Orchard at a time when fine dining restaurants at shopping malls were unheard of.
It gave the brand a boost in publicity. Still, the great location meant great costs, so after several years, the restaurant moved to level four of nearby Mandarin Gallery, its current sweet spot since 2010 and a mall nonetheless.
Panama-born Jimenez says: "I've learnt the hard way that if a restaurant wants to be in it for the long-run in Singapore, it shouldn't be on the ground floor or the first floor of a mall due to cost. From a business standpoint, it isn't good."
What's good though is how the restaurant managed to bounce back and even reached its highest sale in history last month, says Jimenez.
Asked how the space continues to attract customers through the years, he answers: "Lawry's has been in business for a long time. It's gone through three generations in fact - the current chairman is the grandson of the founder. The secret is that you need to keep and preserve the gist that makes the brand successful. At the end of the day, it is the product. This cannot change. But how you do it, that needs to be improved - continuously."
At the backend, Jimenez has invested heavily in technology to bring efficiency and precision to the service line. For the customers' benefit, there's even a loyalty app in the pipeline. However, there's caution to move forward in terms of opening a new store in Singapore.
Jimenez says: "There's no two Lawry's in any city except in Tokyo, which will be the test-tube for such a concept this year. Lawry's is an expensive restaurant to create and operate. We'll need a certain kind of market to open more outlets.
"Though I would love to make Singapore a place with two Lawry's. Another one in the Marina Bay area would be ideal."
This article was first published in BLLNR.