The VIP Experience: Young Adult vs. Wasabi

I’ve been thinking a lot about VIP treatment lately. Mostly as a way to get people to RSVP quickly, I told my Festivus guests this year that the first 20 to reply to the Evite would have access to the VIP room, which includes “exclusive access to the VIP lounge, bottle service, a commemorative Festivus 2011 playlist CD, and a puppy.”

I fully intended to fulfill those promises to the 20 people (who replied within 24 hours of getting the Evite)–I even found the way to make the puppy happen (one puppy, not 20 puppies).

But it also made me think: What makes a VIP experience? How do people feel special? How do they walk away from an event feeling awesome?

Within a week or two of sending the Evite, I’ve had two VIP experiences that have made me redefine the concept. One bad, one good. Let’s start with the bad.

The first was a invite to a very early screening of a movie called Young Adult. It’s written by Diablo Cody, acclaimed writer of Juno, and directed by Jason Reitman, of Up in the Air fame. I trust both of them to create a great film.

Now, Gofobo isn’t a true VIP experience, because anyone can sign up for the site. But it makes you feel like a VIP. You get to see movies way earlier than everyone else, and for free. So I felt very special that I was included.

However, what I learned is that VIP experiences can backfire if the experience itself isn’t good. In this case, if Young Adult had been a great movie–even just a good movie–I would have been blabbing about it to everyone I know. Instead, I’m here to tell you that it’s a pretty terrible movie. As in, I really just wanted it to go away. It features a clever juxtaposition: Charlise Theron, an exceedingly beautiful woman, playing a despicable person. It’s a clever concept, making the protagonist so damn unlikable. But it doesn’t work because she literally becomes unwatchable about 45 minutes into the movie. That’s all you can take before you want her to go away. But she doesn’t go away.

So I walked away from my Young Adult VIP experience wanting to tell people not to see the movie. VIP fail.

But tonight I was reminded of what a great VIP experience can do. I was invited to attend the launch party of the seventh iteration of Wasabi Sushi Bar here in the greater St. Louis area. For quite a while now, the Clayton location of Wasabi has been my go-to sushi restaurant when I get my monthly sushi craving. Their rolls are amazing.

So I got on the guest list, and I was allowed to invite three friends, including food bloggers Laura and Kris (the ability to include friends appears to be key for the VIP experience. You gain the power of inclusion).

Two things stood out from the evening: One, the food was varied and excellent. In a single pass through the buffet line (Wasabi isn’t a buffet restaurant, but that was how they operated for the launch party), I samples about 15-20 dishes, whereas when I normally eat sushi, I have 3 dishes at most. Thus they gave me the chance to expand my Wasabi palate at no cost to me.

Two, the place was packed. Absolutely packed. So even though we had the feeling of exclusivity of getting on the guest list, we were among many people who chose to come out to show their support for the new restaurant. In a way, popularity exceeded the effectiveness of exclusivity. It was cool to be in the most crowded restaurant in St. Louis tonight. And it was really cool to see how many people believe in the restaurant owners.

Wasabi, you have my heart. Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, you’ve lost my trust.

What types of VIP experiences have you had?

5 Responses to “The VIP Experience: Young Adult vs. Wasabi”

  1. T-Mac says:

    As the third guest invited by Jamey to attend (unidentified due to my lack of adding any sort of value to the world of food other than singlehandedly supporting a cheap pizza buffet in South City until my $3/month could no longer pump lifeblood into its listless veins), I would add a few thoughts to what made the night at the new Wasabi in Fairview Heights a gratifying VIP experience.

    1) Because it was an invitation-only event, I felt like the other attendees were important people. I was delighted when one of them would talk to me, and there was just the right observable mix of people knowing one another yet only knowing 2 or 3 other people that made it feel like everyone had someone to talk to and knew something about the restaurant lauch (e.g., I overheard the general contractor meeting someone from marketing), yet everyone seemed to be casually networking as well. At one point I intended to signal the bartender that I’d like 3 glasses of water, but I’m pretty sure I invested in land in central Illinois with some guy across the bar instead.
    2) The owner felt like a celebrity, and it felt like an honor to meet him. He was calm despite the busy atmosphere, and he took time to speak with nearly everyone whose path he crossed, including mine.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Well said, Trev. I’m sure you’ll turn that parcel of land in Illinois into an amazing $3 pizza buffet. I hope I can attend the launch!

  2. […] Illinois, and I was lucky enough to be among those in attendance for their soft opening (BIG THANKS Jamey Stegmaier). Wasabi has been delighting St. Louis residents since the opening of their downtown location in […]

  3. Neha says:

    My takeaway from this entry is that you trekked all the way out to dark and gloomy Illinois. I recall a day when you stated traveling to the Metro-east was like taking a road trip 🙂

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