Pull them in! 12 tips from the trade to fill your venue at quiet times

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

08 February 2019

As the future of the hospitality industry appears more and more challenging, Imbibe's editor Chris Losh outlines 12 ideas to help your business when times are quiet

Stay ‘on-brand’

Particularly if you have more than one site, you need to do something to let people know that you’re active and engaging. But that doesn’t mean going nuts. Throw too many mailers at people and they get confused. So if in doubt stick to what you do well.  At Vinoteca, Charlie Young says that their ‘bavette and Malbec for £16’ works particularly well, because it’s ‘on brand’.

Add value rather than cutting prices

Value added or uniqueness of offer is better than simply discounting. One restaurateur described that as a ‘slippery slope’.  They might hook people in initially, but how do you then revert customers back to paying full price? If you know the answer, the guys at DFS would love to hear from you…

Premiumise – but don’t overprice

Likewise, if you’re doing events, a small charge and a more premium offering is better than no entry fee and a lower rent experience. But don’t overprice events on quiet nights. Better to get customers in with a lower charge and hope they spend extra when they’re there.

Refine what’s worked in the past

It’s a cliché, but you REALLY need to know your customers. While it’s true that a promo or event that’s worked in the past is a good place to start, every venue has a different customer profile, so there are no guarantees. You’ll probably need to adapt previous ideas to get them off the ground in your venue. As Nick Corden, head of marketing at Fuller's, puts it, ‘if something works, repeat it, refine it, improve it. You don’t always need to reinvent the new.’

Expertise sells

People like to learn from experts, whether its about wine, rum, jamon carving, daytime art or yoga classes.

...and so do wine flights

Wine flights are a good mid-week addition. The number of angles are endless, they can be priced at everything from ‘value’ to ‘expensive’ and seasonally adjusted, too. Just remember that what you pick says a lot about what kind of venue you are – there’s a big difference between cru Burgundy and Slovenian orange wines, for instance.  And make sure your staff are properly trained up about the wines you’re using.

Marketing is essential

A good idea is only half the battle – you need to tell everyone about your idea. Marketing inside the venue and on the façade should ideally be followed up by getting out and telling local people and local businesses face to face. Digital might be easy, but don’t underestimate the personal touch. Different customers react to different channels.  Oh, and market yourself in pay week when people are feeling flush – particularly if you’re asking them to buy tickets in advance.

React to trends

It’s tempting to think that your venue is big enough and bold enough to operate independently of trends, but that’s not true. Like it or not things like Dry January and veganism are a thing now and you need to take them into account. Bleeding vegan burgers and a zero-abv drinks flight might be just the thing for the post Christmas months. Or a vegan/vegetarian takeover of your menu for a few days every month.

Crazy can work

Crazy ideas can become long-term hits. Fullers pub group runs a Shakespeare in the Garden event, with actors presenting kind of Bard Lite for the evening. It began as a one-off idea from a GM in one pub and has since rolled out across 35 of the group’s venues. The ticket sales pay for the actors, the pub makes great money on food and drink.

… and so can tastings

Hosting wine tastings of some (or all) of the wines on your list can be a good idea to pull in curious punters. It might not earn you much but it’s a great way to attract attention, and you can bet that a good few of the tasters will stay for a bite afterwards – particularly if they can accompany it with their favourite wine from the tasting.

Tickets drive commitment

Tickets are good. ‘You need a bit of commitment from the customer, otherwise at the last minute they might decide not to come,’ says Fuller's Nick Corden. ‘Sell tickets or take deposits for nights that are likely to be busy like Christmas, Valentines and New Year.’

If all else fails, at times it’s okay to accept defeat

Bums on seats are always better than the chairs being empty. But at some times of year, no matter how hard you try the business just isn't there. The first two weeks of January, for instance, can be a nightmare as people give their livers and bank accounts a rest. As one pub operator puts it, ‘you can run around being a busy fool, trying to change consumers’ behaviours when they’re entrenched.’ A good time for a refurb… or a much-needed holiday.

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