Better Business – Firebird, Glasgow

14 September 2011
Better Business – Firebird, Glasgow

Need to know
After studying hospitality at university, Louise Adam began her career in hotels and restaurants. Having had a spell at a marketing agency Adam went back into hospitality - managing restaurants in Glasgow, and then working for an event marketing agency that promoted drink brands at music festivals. Adam realised that she wanted to run her own bar and restaurant after meeting her partner, chef Chris Olivarius, who was previously head chef at the Theatre Royal and Saint Judes hotel and restaurant, both in Glasgow.

Adam approached a friend of a friend, Derrick Sutherland, the owner of Firebird, who agreed for Adam and Olivarius to take over day-to-day responsibility for the bar and restaurant, which is about 13 years old.

The couple took over management of Firebird about a year ago, and Olivarius is head chef. The main change they've made is to make Firebird more of a bar and restaurant hybrid.

"Firebird was very much a restaurant but [over the past year] it has become more of a bar with food," Adam says.

"The food-drink split for revenue is about 50-50, although on a big weekend we might sell more liquor."

Target audience Although Firebird is in quite a studenty area, its target market is older customers aged 25-50. It also attracts lots of young families, with a children's menu for £2.50. Firebird used to be the only restaurant in the area, but there are now lots of arty and independent restaurants nearby.

It gets plenty of trade from the nearby Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - one of Scotland's most popular tourist attractions. Firebird tries to stand out from other mid-range independent bars and restaurants in the area by running a weekly pub quiz with £6 pizzas, and quirky one-off events such as a winter market selling handmade jewellery inside the bar and restaurant.

The economic climate remains tough, of course, amid fears of a second recession. However, Adam says she has seen an improvement in trading in the past quarter. "This year is getting better; the average spend is definitely picking up," Adam says.

Business advice
Keeping standards consistently high is the priority. "Businesses suffer when they aren't consistent," Adam says. "People have been coming in here for 13 years because as far as they are concerned, they have been having the best wood-fired pizzas. We would argue that that's the lure of our business."

It's also important to be aware of trends in business and lifestyle, Adam says, citing Firebird's gluten-free food and drink as an example. "We noticed that lots of people were asking for gluten-free pizza so we now do wheat-free pasta and pizza and also wheat-free beer.

"Quite a few of our customers use our gluten-free menus. We marketed the gluten-free menus through Facebook and hooked up with Coeliac UK [a charity for people with coeliac disease, who need to avoid eating or drinking gluten] who promoted us on their website."

Firebird doesn't have a budget for marketing, but Adam says this hasn't been a problem. The most important thing is to talk to customers, she says. "Over the past year I've learned that it's always a good idea to have a reason to talk to customers, such as new flyers, winter markets, or a ‘bar boot sale' when people could sell their own stuff in Firebird."

Managing the finances of the business requires routine and discipline, Adam adds. "It has been quite a steep learning curve. We are very tight on every cost. Every week we look at gross profit for food and drink. If we have a quiet week we can react more quickly. You've got to take the time to do the paperwork or all too quickly you can be in a bad situation."

The future
Adam plans to change the design of the bar and update the drinks list.

"It's important to update the drinks menu because Derrick prided himself on offering unique brands. Our beer range from local breweries is one of our most popular brands, for example, but now a lot of independents [bars and restaurants] are offering the same things as us. We have to keep changing to attract customers."

The menu is changed quarterly. A rebranding is underway.

Favourite suppliers Firebird uses Strathsprey Mushrooms for seasonal vegetables, such as baby fennel and yellow broad beans.

"The produce from Strathsprey is great quality," Olivarius says. "We have six to seven food specials every day and the quality and freshness of our food is vital."

One of Firebird's drinks suppliers is Liberty Wines. "We like them because they're very heavy on Italian and European wines," says Adam. "Firebird has always been Mediterranean. Liberty Wines has lots of Sicilian wines, which go well with our pizzas and help us to stand out."

Favourite hotel
Kilberry Inn, Argyll
Favourite restaurant Bar Peptito, London
Favourite bar José (José Pizarro's sherry and tapas bar, near London Bridge)
Inspirational book MoVida Rustica, Spanish Traditions and Recipes, by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish
If not a restaurant and bar owner, what would you have been? I would probably be doing event catering. I couldn't imagine working outside the hospitality industry
Describe your business in five words Bright, friendly, tasty, competitive, consistent

"Most important to Firebird is our commitment to sourcing top quality produce, right down to the flour we use," explains Adam. "Our pizzas are made with Doves Farm organic fairtrade flour and they are made with Firebird's 13-year-old sourdough. The dough has been kept alive since the day the doors first opened in 1998."

The menu contains uncomplicated and classic dishes, ingredients that are seasonally specific and from quality local suppliers. "It really makes the difference to the taste and the quality of the end product - people know when they come to Firebird it will be tasty and it will be fresh," Adam adds.

General manager
Louise Adam
Chef Chris Olivarius
Staff 12
Capacity 120
Average spend per head £12-£15

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