Frank Matthews runs the Hayloft Dinner Theater in Manassas, and he aims to have a 100 percent subscription audience within three years. Some of his current subscribers, he said, have been loyal for years, so he decided last fall to memorize the name of every single subscriber. There were 3,000 of them.

During the initial part of this project, when a patron came to the first show of the season, he or she would be asked to pose for a photograph. During the day Matthews spent anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours going over the pictures and memorizing names.

"I called several places that give memory training courses, but they didn't go beyond 200 items," he said. "If you say 17,000, they don't want to know you."

He found that on his first try, he would get about 50 percent of the names right; on the second, 75 percent. One Wednesday in January he had 250 of his 356 seats filled, and greeted 85 percent of the customers by name. "Motivation is the key to success," he said. "After all, these people are plunking down a lot of money, and it's my way of showing I care."

Meanwhile, a subscription drive produced another 2,000 subscribers. Matthews will continue his daily drills "indefinitely . . ."