Jack Baum wanted to lure locals into his restaurants, so he offered them something hard to resist -- a pat on the back. Two years ago the owner of $21-million Dallas-based Canyon Cafes started sending congratulatory letters to recently promoted area workers. "Come pop a cork with us," read the personalized greetings, which offer free champagne or wine at two of Baum's six restaurants.

The letters bring in lots of new business with little effort or expense. For 45 minutes a day, an administrator combs through local newspapers for promotion announcements, finds employers' addresses, and mails about 30 letters. Baum estimates the program cost $1,625 last year and generated a 29% response rate and $106,177 in revenues.

He figures that each new customer returns three times, and by coding the letters he can track the companies whose employees respond most often. The program was so popular with Southwest Airlines employees that Baum called the company and traded $2,000 worth of dinner passes for $2,000 worth of round-trip tickets to New Orleans and Phoenix. He then held contests for free trips among his employees and customers. Customers, however, were offered a chance for a trip only to Phoenix, where Canyon Cafes has a restaurant. "I wasn't about to send them to a place where we didn't have one," says Baum.

-- Robina A. Gangemi

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