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The heat is on

Summer has arrived, and for Claude and Tammy Mariaux the pressure is on to lure customers away from their home barbecues and down to Spaggo’s.

“This hot weather is dreadful for business,” moans Tammy. “Lunchtime is particularly bad. Where is everyone?”

Some clever forward planning is, however, helping to fill the gap. A 60,000-colour-coded leaflet campaign begun a couple of months ago is paying dividends.

The campaign, called Bring this leaflet and get a free garlic focaccia (a free what?), has achieved a 2% return and drawn in custom at what can be a quiet time of year.

A leaflet drop with a local newspaper, radio coverage and advertising through sister operations – Tummies Bistro and sandwich shop Yummies – have all promoted the offer with different coloured leaflets, allowing Tammy and Claude to monitor the most effective method of reaching their target market.

The results are heartening. June was the first break-even month since the restaurant opened in February, with turnover up 8.3% on the May figure.

Even better, during the first week of July Spaggo’s did 800 covers, the most ever in one week and 100 more than the well-established Tummies during the same week.

After so many teething problems Claude and Tammy are delighted with the results of their hard work. In the past few weeks they’ve even had the rare treat of spending two whole Sundays together.

A day’s head-to-head has resulted in possible solutions to their ongoing staffing problems.

“We’ve now sat down and looked at all the rostas,” explains Tammy excitedly. “We’ve hit on a different idea. We’re going to have three duty managers at both Spaggo’s and Tummies. They will all be on the same level but will take it in turns to be in charge in case there is a problem.

“They will work on a three-week cycle with two weeks of split followed by one week of straight shifts. Once we can get this set up I can act as operations manager and oversee the running of the whole company.”

If their plan works, the Mariaux intend to apply the same principle to back of house. Both kitchens will be manned by three duty chefs backed by two commis. Claude plans to become executive chef overseeing both operations.

“The problem is that although the product is good it’s not really challenging enough for a head chef. By advertising for more junior positions we hope to get candidates we can train to our way of thinking,” says Claude.

Underpinning the new system is the aim of standardising procedures at Spaggo’s, Tummies and Yummies. “Although the product is different, the businesses should all function along the same lines. So if there is a crisis at Tummies the duty manager from Spaggo’s should be able to come and run a shift here and vice versa,” Claude continues.

Claude’s problem is how to phrase the advertisement for the duty chefs. “We can’t say we want second chefs because there appear to be even fewer of them around than head chefs.

“I expect we’ll end up saying chef de partie, although that’s not quite right either.”

While the Mariaux ponder how to phrase their advertisement they are celebrating a new arrival: a Rex Royal S500 cappuccino and espresso machine from Matthew Algie. Both Spaggo’s and Tummies now have one and Claude can’t stop drinking café crème.

“It’s a great piece of equipment,” he enthuses, “and so foolproof. Everything is done at the touch of a button. At £175 a month for the rental of each machine it’s not cheap. And we have to take our coffee from them. But you get great service. You call the company and within two hours they’re there.”

Over the coming weeks, the Mariaux plan to build on their already successful marketing campaigns. Advertisements in local papers will encourage children to come and make pizzas with Spags the clown on Saturday and Sunday lunchtime as well as offer people the opportunity of lunch for a fiver, seven days a week. A newsletter dubbed The FT, (Friends of Tummies) keeps regular customers up to date with new promotions.

A trip to Switzerland to see Claude’s parents is still planned for August, but typical of the Mariaux’ uncertain lifestyle, nothing has been arranged yet.

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