Information technology may be on some customers' minds for the wrong reasons when they visit the Stephan Langton pub in Abinger Common, near Dorking, Surrey. There is no mobile phone signal, the lane doesn't appear on satellite navigation maps and even the hand-held credit card settlement machine's Bluetooth connection doesn't work in the dining room. But appearances can be deceptive and with co-owner Chris Robinson's previous career as regional director of IT at Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, IT is as well catered for as the pub's guests.
The Robinsons' willingness to embrace modern technology clearly paid off last year when the website www.stephan-langton.co.uk scooped the runner-up place for best pub website at Caterer's Web Awards in 2008. Chris says the website has proved to be an invaluable tool for promoting the business.
"We get a lot of good feedback from customers about our website and it makes people want to come here," he says. "We also have a blog which we update on a regular basis. It is time-consuming, but once you've started it's hard to stop."
Google AdWords and Google Analytics are other useful tools which the Robinsons use to forecast sales and understand sources of visits to the website. They also keep a sharp eye on internet directories such as the Earl of Bradford's restaurant-guide.com. "We have found that it is crucial to manage these directories for the praises and the not-so-favourable comments which you need to act on," he says.
Essentially the Robinsons use IT to their advantage while maintaining their image as an old-style traditional pub. "We don't think you need to go mad in a country pub so we use IT to suit us and our customers," says Chris.
"For a small business like the Stephan Langton to be combining non-IT promotions such as leaflet drops with using IT to do things like tracking their website hits is very impressive," says mentor James Horler. "Chris's IT background gives the Robinsons a head start to use back-end good-quality information systems and the fact that they already have their Christmas menu on the website is great."
Horler also agrees with the Robinsons that IT should be used to enhance an operation, not swamp it. "You need systems that are easy to use and which don't over-analyse. Sometimes you can get too much information and this can end up being a waste of time," he says.
Friday Street, Abinger Common, Surrey RH5 6JR
The Stephan Langton was fully booked for the first two weeks in August from Tuesday evening through to Saturday evening thanks to an increase in business diners and people coming at leisure to eat lunch as opposed to "walkers" and families.
"We think that our reputation is consolidating with there being a lot of repeat business," says Chris Robinson.
Sales in August were up on the same month last year by nearly 24% bringing the year to date against last year up by 12.7%. Chris believes the early summer leaflet drops and The Telegraph/Michelin promotion have helped to establish the pub as a "good food" destination. Website traffic has also jumped by 97% from June to August and Chris says Google Analytics has revealed that the site has had many hits from timesonline.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk. The Robinsons have already started to promote their Christmas menu on the website.