Benihana Shifts Again, This Time to C-K

Benihana has chosen independent agency Cramer-Krasselt in New York for creative and media chores following a review.

This marks the third agency in as many years for the Japanese steakhouse chain. In 2009, it picked Wieden + Kennedy in New York, and a year earlier had selected Cronin & Co. of Glastonbury, Conn.

Though still a recognizable name from its 1970s/80s heyday, the client of late has failed to generate fresh momentum. Wieden’s efforts included an oddball animated spot with a tiki-mug daredevil on a salad cycle leaping over a spread of shrimp.

Benihana’s sales were basically flat last year at $276 million compared to ’08, per research firm Technomic, a better performance than many restaurant chains managed during the height of the recession. In ’07, sales were $310 million.

“Benihana is ‘culinary theater,'” said Anne Bologna, evp, gm at C-K in New York, a nod to the chain’s chefs, who prepare meals with a flourish at guests’ tables. “Our goal is to leverage the brand’s widespread awareness and unique multi-sensory appeal.”

Benihana has been a moderate spender, tallying about $2 million annually in measured media in recent years, per Nielsen.

The chain operates more than 60 U.S. locations.

The restaurant category has been especially hot all year, with numerous agency changes and big campaigns from players large and small. Just last week, Sonic threw its $185 million account into play, parting with longtime shop Barkley. Also, Darden recently launched a $300 million media review and Arby’s, which spends $130 million on ads, is in the late stages of a creative competition.