Sheila Kilpatrick came up with the idea for a specialty advertising business last September while having lunch with her 14-year-old daughter at ABC Pizza in Tarpon Springs.
Her daughter, Kassie, noticed a business card wedged between a wooden table and its glass top.
"Kassie said, "Mom, look, some man tried to stick his card under the glass,' " Kilpatrick said. "And I said, "Oh my God, what a great idea.' "
Five months later, Kilpatrick, who has sold advertising for 15 years, opened the Table Times.
The company sells advertising space on restaurant table tops by displaying business cards on a vinyl cloth under glass.
"The business card is the most effective, yet least exploited, marketing tool," Kilpatrick said, quoting Ken Erdman, a 70-year-old marketer who founded the Business Card Museum in Erdenheim, Pa.
Clients pay $150 for three months of display space and receive discounts for buying advertising in two or more restaurants.
Advertisers feature a diverse mix of businesses, including real estate agents, framing shops, florists, orthodontists, tattoo parlors, jewelry stores, pawnbrokers, pest control services, automobile dealers, clothing stores and hair salons.
Joanne Couch, owner of From Me to You florist shop in Tarpon Springs, has been a client of the Table Times since it began.
"We've had people call from their cellular phones in the restaurant to order a dozen roses," Couch said. "It's good advertising. It works."
Kilpatrick sells 70 to 80 advertising spaces for each restaurant. Restaurants benefit by receiving tablecloths and glass tops free and earning a percentage of advertising sales.
Aunt Chilada's Cantina in Palm Harbor, Ballyhoo Grill in Tarpon Springs, Daddy's Bar and Grill in Oldsmar and Carmine's Seventh Avenue in Ybor City are among the Tampa Bay area restaurants renting advertising space on their tabletops.
Mike Rodriguez, the general manager of Aunt Chilada's, said the business cards give customers something to read while they wait for meals.
"It's a conversation piece, if nothing else," he said. "It's wonderful. The best part of it for us is, the people who have their cards on the table are going to be customers."
The business cards are numbered, and duplicates are kept in the restaurant.
"Customers can ask their server for card No. 80, and the server gets it for them," Rodriguez said.
Kilpatrick, 44, has table tops in six restaurants, enough to keep her, two daughters and two employees working full time. Her 23-year-old daughter, Kelley, is her partner in the business.
"This is a family business," Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick has set up a room in her Tarpon Springs home to assemble the tablecloths. From the time a new restaurant signs on with the Table Times, selling the advertising space and assembling the tablecloths take four to six weeks.
"I think it's going very well," Kilpatrick said, "considering it has only been around for a few months."