Over the past year we have slowly changed our company policy on advertising and marketing.
Previously, we budgeted to spend 1% of turnover on advertising, which represented a substantial chunk of money and was difficult to monitor.
We would run adverts with all the local newspapers, in cinemas and via other media. These adverts often carried cut-out vouchers, but response would always be negligible.
Towards the end of last year, we decided to change our approach and more or less give up advertising altogether. As our restaurants are largely frequented by locals, we decided instead to work closely with the local community.
It was a risky decision, as we were unsure exactly how it would work and what would be involved, so we phased out the advertising gradually.
We started by working closely with the Slough Jets, the local premier league ice-hockey team. We offered members of their supporters' club a 10% discount card to use at Spaggo's.
This was a great success, as members came before and after matches, which had proved to be quieter times for us in the restaurant.
Our relationship grew and at the end of September we hosted a "waiters on ice" evening for the NSPCC, with the Jets as waiters. We raised over £2,000 and generated a lot of local interest.
With this idea up and running, we decided to approach the two major local hotels and run a similar scheme with their staff. The idea was that if the staff regularly dined at Spaggo's, the first place that would enter their minds when asked for a recommendation by the hotel guests would be our establishment. It worked!
Spags and Cannelloni, our in-house clowns, play a major part in our involvement with the local community, especially as we are a family restaurant. We go to special events at shopping centres, march in summer carnivals, and face-paint for free at local events.
While the children are having their faces painted we tell them about Spaggo's - make-your-own-pizza, pasta sticking and so on - and they all leave with a tickler for a free kid's pizza when they visit Spaggo's with mum and dad.
We try to get involved with all local schools, by offering work placements, cookery demonstrations and help with fundraising, and we always send a free voucher for a family meal for the yearly fête.
This gets us on the raffle tickets, in the programme and announced over the Tannoy during the fête. Moreover, it introduces us to families who have never been before.
This month has seen us appear in every local paper, not once a week but sometimes twice. We've been on local radio and in the monthly business gazette. We have also been invited to write regular local columns in two new newspapers - and all for free.
At what cost to the business? A small percentage of food and beverage cost - we are still achieving budgeted target - but nothing compared with the cost of advertising. It is time-consuming, but it works and it's great fun.