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The decision to open a cookery school at the Lavender House was described by the judges as an enterprising and creative move by a husband-and-wife team who had neither marketing experience nor a large budget.
Vikki O'Neill, marketing manager at Wagamama, said: "They picked up on one ingenious addition to the business and they got a good return on investment. It's going to grow and grow."
After two years in business, Richard and Sue Hughes knew they had a successful restaurant. The
40-cover Lavender House near Norwich had built up a reputation as a celebration restaurant, which meant customers were not so price-conscious, and regularly enjoyed takings of £34 a head.
Still, they were keen to increase profitability, especially at the start of the week, but did not want to extend their opening hours to lunchtimes. The Hughes looked at the strengths of their business, which included a very spacious kitchen. While it normally housed three full-time chefs, there was enough space to accommodate 10. Since chef-proprietor Richard Hughes was a qualified adult education teacher with many radio and TV appearances under his belt, he decided to establish a cookery school as an integral part of the business.
The objectives of the cookery school were to add revenue, broaden the client base, add to the perception and profile of the Lavender House as a business known for high-quality food and craft skills, create new revenue streams, reinforce customer loyalty, and create a sellable brand.
A programme of events was set up. Tuesday evening cookery masterclass encompassed a one-hour demo followed by a three-course meal. Saturday Morning Kitchen hosted as many as eight customers and needed only two staff members at a time when the kitchen was normally unused. The most popular event was Chef for a Day, which gave customers the opportunity to work in a commercial kitchen and cook alongside the team. Corporate events were organised for team building or product knowledge. For example, Waitrose sent its fish and meat counter staff to a morning session.
In the first year of operation (2005), total cookery school sales were £27,360 (10% of total business turnover). This was against additional wage costs of £1,368. The Hughes also sold 3,000 copies of a self-published cookery book at a profit of £6.90 each.
Roz Colthart, group marketing director at Malmaison, summed up the plan as enterprising, effective and industrious. "They made the most of the resources available to them," she said. "With a little they did a lot. They identified a problem and came up with a solution."
Louise Panton of AA Publishing added: "They are obviously very passionate and creative about what they are doing." The judges were also won over by the cookbook's memorable title, Hughes Cooking?
The Lavender House, Brundall, Norfolk
City of Manchester Stadium
Cotswold House Hotel, Chipping Campden
Roz Colthart, group marketing director, Malmaison
Paul Ettinger, commercial director, Caffè Nero
Lawrence Mitchell, group marketing director, Reed Business Information
Penny Moore, chief executive, Hospitality Action
Vikki O'Neill, marketing manager, Wagamama
Louise Panton, business development & marketing manager, AA Publishing
Brandon Weston, restaurateur, Glasshouse restaurant, Worcester