The way Jay Reed figures it, the $120 he spent on getting a tattoo of a grilled cheese sandwich on his arm has more than paid for itself with the lifetime 25% discount he gets at a Cleveland-area sandwich shop. Reed was first person to get the restaurant's tattoo when the deal was announced in September 2009, and he estimates he's already saved $300.
While it may not take an economics degree, which Reed has, to figure out that taking 25% off a bar and food bill each week at Melt Bar & Grilled leads to a lot of savings by eating there once or twice a week, Reed said his simple tattoo paid for itself in less than two months.
"This is Cleveland. Just about everyone has a tattoo," the 37-year-old steel worker said.
Matt Fish, the owner of Melt, said about 20% of the 105 customers who have turned their body into a walking billboard for his restaurant use the discount once a week. The discount can be used at any time.
"A lot of them are doing it just because they love the restaurant. It's creating a subculture," Fish said in a telephone interview with WalletPop.
Comfort food is basically what Melt sells. At the top of the menu are gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches costing from $5.50 for "The Kindergarten," a basic grilled cheese sandwich made with fresh baked bread, to $12 for the "Tokyo Tuna Melt" with yellowfin tuna steak and ginger wasabi dressing.
It's "amazing" grub and booze that sends Annemarie Henderson, 28, back two to three times a week for the 25% discount for her tattoo.
"Who doesn't love grilled cheese? It's like a staple," Henderson said. "If I'm on Death Row, give me a grilled cheese sandwich."
Two-hour lunch waits for a table are common, Henderson and other customers said.
Fish, who opened the restaurant in September 2006, said he got the idea from a San Diego band he followed, Rocket From The Crypt. The band allowed fans who had a tattoo of its logo to get into its concerts for free. The band broke up in 2005, a fate Fish doesn't expect to happen to Melt, which has a second restaurant opening in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on May 21.
The walking billboards are good conversation starters that more than pay for themselves when it comes to bringing in business, said Fish. Since only the owner of the tattoo receives the discount, he estimates that the average bill is discounted by just $2.
"The promotion that we've got out of it is way more money than I'm losing out of it," he said.
Tattoo members get to put their own personal touch on the sandwich tattoos. They include such diverse characters as Popeye holding a grilled cheese sandwich instead of spinach, R2-D2, a panda, and Hello Kitty, which Anna Roth, 28, proudly wears as her lifetime discount.
"I'm already fully tattooed," Roth said, "and it's one of my favorite restaurants, so I'm super, super into it."
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