Alimentum owner John Hudgell is keenly aware of the importance of marketing his restaurant and makes use of radio, local press and direct mail to get the message across to his local target market, as Emma White reports.
Opening a restaurant without devising a marketing strategy is like organising a wedding and forgetting to invite the guests. Restaurant owners need to communicate with their customers, and as Alimentum's John Hudgell demonstrates, there are plenty of ways to do it.
"Marketing is absolutely critical for restaurants, especially newly opened ones," he says. "I think if you're in a central location, you don't have to work so hard, but our restaurant is on the fringe of Cambridge in an area being redeveloped where there's very little footfall coming past the door, so we've had to market hard to get the word out."
While people working or living in the area are naturally inclined to visit a new restaurant, Hudgell says this is rarely enough to sustain a business and recommends marketing to an audience within a 15- to 20-mile radius of the restaurant and deciding on a budget.
"I set aside 3-4% of the turnover of the restaurant for marketing, and I think a lot of restaurants work in this way," he says. "This must be constant over the 12-month period, with a breakdown for each month, too."
Hudgell promotes Alimentum across a range of different media in order to reach a wide cross section of the population. Over the past 2-3 months he has advertised on a local radio station sent out targeted mailings to homes and businesses detailing a promotion installed a restaurant diary system arranged articles in several local publications and is steadily building a customer database for future marketing opportunities.
Cambridge radio station Q103 is broadcast across a 25-mile radius to a listenership of 102,000, 52% of whom come from the ABC1 socio-economic group - Hudgell's target market. Alimentum sponsors the traffic and travel section, which is broadcast every 15 minutes, and Hudgell says it has proved extremely positive for increasing awareness of the restaurant in and outside Cambridge.
"I've been able to change the message read out for specific events, like Mother's Day, and I always include the restaurant address," he says, adding: "In May we will return with further advertising to keep up the momentum."
Contacting local businesses and homes through targeted mailers has been another successful strategy for Hudgell. He sent personalised letters to 1,250 key individuals at local businesses and organised an A5 postcard drop to 40,000 homes about a two-for-one meal promotion at the restaurant.
Recipients were asked to bring their letter or postcard to the restaurant, which Hudgell attached to their bill in order to monitor the success of the promotion. Visitors were also automatically entered into a prize draw to win a trip for two to Paris on the Eurostar. The promotions ran from Monday to Thursday to attract business on the quieter days of the week, and Hudgell calculated that they generated an extra £21,000 in revenue for the months of January and February.
Hudgell also runs a Happy Mondays promotion offering guests two courses for £14.50 and three courses for £17.50, which was originally on offer from 6pm to 7pm but has been extended to the whole evening.
"It's important for me to fill the restaurant at times when it is not full," he explains. "There would be no point in running promotions on Friday or Saturday, when I know the restaurant will be busy."
Hudgell also offers a 10% discount to the 7,000 staff at the local Addenbrooke's Hospital and a 5% discount to personnel from Cambridge University, again from Monday to Thursday. The discounts are promoted on staff intranets free of charge, and Hudgell is keen to set up similar discounts with other companies. "If you offer something that is perceived to be an added benefit for employees, then companies will go for it," he says.
A PA event and charity dinner are further marketing strategies in the pipeline, where Hudgell can build brand awareness while fulfilling his corporate social responsibility. "We plan to invite the PAs of managing directors to the restaurant for drinks and nibbles, so that I can discuss corporate offers and offer an incentive where PAs who book five table reservations receive a reward, such as a bottle of Champagne," he explains.
Good publicity goes a long way to building brand awareness, and Hudgell has secured articles in local publications Explorer, Style and Agenda as well as the Cambridge Evening News and the Cambridge Arts Theatre programme - not to mention Caterer.
Much of the publicity surrounds the appointment of Alimentum's new head chef, David Williams, former head chef at Greywalls hotel near Edinburgh and Chapter One restaurant in Kent. Hudgell has booked a six-month campaign with Explorer magazine, which guarantees half a page of editorial or advertising every month. He has also secured the "chef page" column in the Cambridge Evening News, where Williams will be offering seasonal recipes while simultaneously promoting Alimentum.
The restaurant will be advertised on the back cover of the Cambridge Arts Theatre programme for 12 months, giving Hudgell the opportunity to tailor messages to his target customers. "We can offer pre- and post-theatre meal deals and, hopefully, draw in people from further afield," he says.
As well as increasing awareness, Hudgell is keen to use each marketing strategy to boost his central customer database, which he hopes to increase from 1,000 to 5,000 over the next six months.
"The central database is the most cost-effective and targeted marketing medium," he explains. "I don't think that I can rely on it entirely, and I will always need to use other mediums, but this is how I envisage the future for marketing Alimentum."
Hudgell has also installed an online reservations tool called Restaurantdiary to increase efficiency and further boost the database. "It's a fantastic piece of kit," he enthuses. "Its primary function is to maximise covers by ensuring that booking tables is a foolproof process."
Restaurantdiary has multiple uses, including suggesting alternative time slots if tables are booked and sending a text message to customers reminding them of their reservation, which Hudgell says has been very useful for reducing no-shows.
In addition, the system can track crucial information such as customer spend, preferences and visit history, which Hudgell says will help greatly when sending targeted e-newsletters to inform customers about upcoming events.
He also plans to use Restaurantdiary to contact customers ahead of birthdays and anniversaries with special offers of complimentary drinks. But he stresses that a subtle approach is paramount.
"I like to think I've taken a proactive approach to marketing without overdoing it. What people don't want is an eâ'mail once a week. I think once a month is about right."
152-154 Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 8PB
Tel 01223 413000
Owner John Hudgell
Total investment £700,000
Capacity 62 in dining room, 26 in cocktail bar
Target covers 500 per week
Projected annual turnover £950,000 to November 2008
Open Monday to Saturday, 12â'2.30pm and 6-10.30pm
Interior designer Linda Turner
The story so far
Alimentum opened last July to rave reviews from the critics. The Independent's Tracey MacLeod said: "If you live anywhere near the place, please go there as soon as possible." Named after the Latin word for food, Alimentum serves modern French food with Spanish and Italian influences using ethically sourced ingredients.
Protecting the environment and animal welfare are key priorities for owner John Hudgell, and this is reflected in the restaurant's design and the effort made to visit suppliers to ensure animals are not cruelly treated.
Customers can buy wine in carafes, an idea Hudgell took from Soho's Arbutus, which he says has proved extremely popular.
He is also one of the few restaurateurs to feature a blog on his website.