Mentor Rupert Clevely is single-minded as to the approach pubs and restaurants need to take towards the recession. "Making sure the customer has fun is going to be paramount in this climate," he says. "That is your job - and my job - right now."
Half the battle is marketing: letting people know about the fun to be had at your restaurant or bar. But for all the successes Dominic Wood has seen in setting up his first business on Bristol's university and hospital-straddling Colston Street, he admits that marketing has not been his forte. Aside from infiltrating the hospital e-newsletter and an A-board out front, he has had little time to get the WildWood name out there. "I don't have any firm ideas on marketing," he says. "I'm relying a lot on word of mouth, but I need to take it on."
Luckily, Clevely is an old hand at publicity. Communication, he says, is the key in a recession. "In a normal climate, you can just open the door and wait for punters to come in. In this climate, though, you can end up sitting around like you're waiting for the phone to ring."
The first thing Wood needs is a neat explanation of what WildWood is. "It needs a name," Clevely says. "Something that says what it does on the tin. The word gastro means nothing these days. We describe Geronimo Inns as pubs that serve great food. You should describe yourself as something as pithy as a ‘foodie bar'."
The next thing is to assemble a wide offering, Clevely says. And, importantly, to start offering customers something for nothing, something that is imperative in this climate. Ideas include free tapas dishes between four and six o'clock ("I'm sure your chef has plenty left over at the end of service that can't be used for dinner but can be made into little snacks," explains Clevely) a music night, lunch and evening deals, and even a quiz night. "Don't knock the quiz night," Clevely says. "I was so against the idea when we started Geronimo, but I was proved wrong: they make good money."
After putting a good initial offering in place comes the all-important communication. "The first thing is to build up a solid database of customers," Clevely says. Wood currently asks customers to fill out feedback forms leaving their e-mail address for further communication, although he's yet to use them. Another way of building a customer database is the "put a business card in a vase to win a meal for two" technique. Then monthly e-newsletters detailing offers and so on can be sent out.
Staying in the online world, Wood already has a firm following on Facebook and Myspace, but hasn't yet taken the opportunity to build up a base on Twitter, which Clevely suggests as a must. However, the old-fashioned ways of communicating are often still the best: chalkboards in the windows, a daily-changing A-board out front and shameless self-promotion. WildWood has already been reviewed in two of the city's free newspapers, but e-mailing Time Out and other guides can do no harm at all.
Finding the time to do all of this is the hardest part, Wood says, as he is on site all the time helping the day-to-day operation. But, Clevely says, this is a common downfall of many new operators. "It's very difficult when you are running your own business to see beyond the end of your nose. Anyone can be a busy fool. Which is why it's good to have someone helping you at this point."
90 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB, 07949 744119
FIRST CHOICE COFFEE WILDWOOD
"WildWood is open from nine in the morning to midnight, so a speciality coffee offer is a great way to drive revenue by attracting a stream of customers throughout the day, rather than just in the traditional ‘busy' periods," says Aimee Hughes, key account executive, First Choice Coffee. Given the light, contemporary and premium feel of the WildWood, a premium offer is perfectly suited to the environment and the type of customer Dominic is looking to attract.
"There are two other coffee shops close by, but I don't want to serve take-away coffee in Styrofoam cups, as that doesn't fit with my vision. I want to attract business types who are looking for a meeting place where they can enjoy a decent cup of coffee," says Wood.
Hughes has installed a Victoria Arduino Leva espresso machine: "The chrome machine is hand-crafted in Italy and is not only a statement piece, but offers the barista-style theatre that will appeal to a more premium audience," she says.
The machine is located front of house on the end of the bar and can be seen clearly through the window. Hughes has co-ordinated a full barista training programme for Wood's staff and is also working with him to promote the offer through a full range of bespoke point-of-sale material that will consist of a coffee menu, tent cards and an A-board to attract passers-by.
"Dominic should look at creating a bespoke coffee event or offer to attract his target audience and encourage them to try his coffee. By identifying local businesses in the area, he can take a targeted approach: a coffee tasting, a coffee and cake offer or a ‘Buy one cup and get a free refill' promotion could all work well.
"If their expectations of quality are met, they will come back for more and start to use WildWood as a meeting venue," Hughes says.
Mentor Rupert Clevely, founder of Geronimo Inns, visited WildWood for the first time earlier this month and was impressed with what he saw. "The feel, the style, the food - it has everything," he says. "It's exactly where the market is today." The only concern he cited was the restaurant and bar's location, which is slightly off the beaten track, up Colston Street.
The only other recent occurrence of note at WildWood is the effect of the sunny weather. Lacking an outdoor space, the bar and restaurant has seen custom dip. While this may affect short-term business, owner Dominic Wood (left) has identified an unused outside terrace at the back of the restaurant that he intends to make enquiries about.