Owners Carol Wright and Colin Clydesdale have built an enthusiastic team of staff and a loyal customer base at their award-winning Glasgow bar-restaurant - a combination that has helped see them through the worst of the recession. Neil Gerrard reports
Need to know
Colin Clydesdale and Carol Wright founded Stravaigin - the only restaurant in Scotland to hold a Michelin Bib Gourmand - in Glasgow almost 20 years ago. They opened the business having gained most of their experience at the Ubiquitous Chip, owned by Clydesdale's father, Ronnie. Colin worked as a chef while Carol dealt with front of house. The two sites now have another sister business in the shape of Stravaigin 2, also in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, Stravaigin's manager Jess Nikola is a relative newcomer, having started as a waitress in Stravaigin 2 before moving to Stravaigin around three-and-a-half years ago to help with the renovations there.
Nikola thinks that the target market for Stravaigin is hard to define - varying from foodies to locals who just want a burger and a pint. What they all have in common is that they are looking for friendly service in an informal setting, she says. In fact, the profile of the customers varies throughout the day, thanks to the fact that the restaurant now opens from 9am, Monday to Friday. "We could have professionals that are passing by, young families, that sort of thing. But I think probably 90% of our business is people who have been here before. It warms our hearts, because we must be getting it right," says Nikola. "We could almost ditch the whole marketing campaign and just make sure that everyone loves it."
Despite that, Stravaigin has not ditched the marketing campaign. While word-of-mouth and repeat business may make up a big chunk of its revenue, in-house advertising is also an important marketing tool. Not only does that mean posters on the walls and fliers on the tables at Stravaigin, but also cross-promotion with the Ubiquitous Chip and Stravaigin 2.
Another important area for Nikola is well-trained, enthusiastic staff who can help spread the message about special events that the pub/restaurant is running. "We are doing Thai street food this month (April) and the first night sold out, mostly because most of the staff wanted to go themselves - they couldn't stop talking about it," she explains.
One of the biggest ways of marketing the business is undoubtedly Facebook. While Stravaigin doesn't use the social networking site to push offers through, what it does do is to highlight specials and drinks to drive trade.
Driving trade at quieter times
In addition to offering two- or three-course set menus (£11.95 and £13.95 respectively) to help bring in customers at quieter times of the week, Stravaigin works with the local comedy club, the Stand, and offers a three-course pre-theatre menu with a glass of wine for £15. At the moment, Nikola is also dabbling with the idea of a platter of oysters and a glass of cava on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for £7.
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Nikola claims that Stravaigin has largely managed to avoid the worst effects of the recession despite a drop in consumer confidence over the past few years, which she attributes to its loyal customer base. For her, the key to keeping customers loyal is listening to them, watching the trends, and making sure you have a team passionate about what they do. "That is what Carol and Colin have been doing for 18 years and it has paid off," she says.
"For example, they used to have a different Á la carte menu downstairs in the restaurant and then they had more pub food upstairs, and a couple of customers said: ‘What if I want to have a burger downstairs in your restaurant?' So we unified the menu."
One thing you couldn't do without
Once again, the most important thing for Nikola is the regular customers. "They make the staff happy because they keep coming in," she explains. "They form personal relationships with the staff. We might not see them outside of Stravaigin, but it is really nice when you are running a really busy Saturday night shift to have so many people around you with big smiles. We draw a lot of inspiration from them, and we can thank them that the recession wasn't too much of a hit for us."
Spotlight on design
In 2010 Stravaigin underwent a renovation, with a new bar area opening up in a site previously occupied by a hairdresser next door to the existing pub/restaurant. "Before that we were doing 200 people for Sunday brunch with the tiniest little bar underneath the stairs. It was awkward for people to get to and wasn't the sort of place where people could sit at the bar and have a drink and a snack," Nikola explains.
Colin Clydesdale took a major interest in the new design, helped by interior design firm Surface ID, in a bid to create the same well-worn, recycled look as the rest of the venue. "He really wanted to make sure that the new site looked like it had always been there - that we sort of opened a hole in the wall and found a bar that was already there," she says.
That meant reusing old parquet flooring, old timber panelling on the walls and light fittings made from cut-off drinks bottles. The project, which took five weeks to complete, helped Stravaigin win Best Pub Design at the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards last year.
Facts and stats
Owners Colin Clydesdale & Carol Wright
Manager Jess Nikola
Capacity 105 (Café bar 60, restaurant 45)
Average spend £23 (food only)
Average daily covers 186