Keep ahead of the game

Related tags Goldman sachs Types of restaurants Lunch

How I got here I have been in and out of the catering trade since the late 1980s and have worked for Groupe Chez Gerard, Chutney Mary and Raymond...

How I got here

I have been in and out of the catering trade since the late 1980s and have worked for Groupe Chez Gerard, Chutney Mary and Raymond Blanc at Le Petit Blanc. I spent two years setting up a café in town, but it didn't work out. We were heaving during the day, but what do you do in the evening? We thought we may as well sell the café and buy a pub, but use the café concept during the day.

The pub was taking around £4,000 a week, but had suffered because the journalists had moved out of Fleet Street and the pub was not attracting the accountants, lawyers and bankers that had moved into the area. We don't open at weekends, but have increased takings to an average of £10,500 a week. However, it is very seasonal. In winter we could do £13,000.

My lunch buffet

The customers we attract now, from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Deloitte Touche, can't drink at lunchtimes, so the only way to make money is through food. At lunchtime we might serve 80 soft drinks and 70 coffees and we have 18 dishes on the buffet.

The buffet is very efficient on resources, as three people in a tiny kitchen can prepare food

for around 200. I have learnt that you can't control the customer, so unless you are Nobu or Gordon Ramsay, people will turn up when they want to eat. They all want to come in, eat and leave within 45 minutes and everyone tends to come at the same time. Around 50% of our customers have the buffet. We have a menu as well because some people want to be waited on.

My takeaway option

We offer two kinds of takeaway: you can come in and help yourself to the buffet - we do about 40 of those a day - or we can deliver to the office. The burgers on our main menu are so good that Goldman Sachs phoned recently and asked us to put 15 of them and four paninis in a cab to Canary Wharf. If people know they will be in the office until 11pm, they can call us, order food and we will deliver.

My outside catering business

We have just started providing outside catering. We have signed a contract to provide all the food for the conference facility around the corner. Last year it spent £30,000 with someone else - that would pay for our kitchen for a year. The challenge about doing something like that is getting the team focused. Too

often chefs think: "I come in at nine, do the ordering, prepare the food and cook these three dishes." You have to get them mentally out of the tunnel to view the whole business.

So at each stage of the talks, we involved the chefs. It uses their time efficiently, too; we can prep orders that are for the next day the evening before, when we don't get many food orders, and finish them the following day before lunch. That is £200 or so before we have started lunch.

My best promotion

Offering regulars a 10% discount on everything in return for their email address. We have built up a database of 3,500 names.

If any emails bounce back, we delete them.

We send an email every week telling people what is on the buffet that week and include other messages about parties or Christmas.

We survive because 90% of our customers are repeat business and this is a great way of communicating with them. It is not hard to set up; all you need is an Excel spreadsheet, and email is free.

My marketing strategy

I believe the trick with marketing and promotions is to keep it simple. By far the best thing we have done is to build the database and communicate with our customers every week. You have to keep ahead of the game and here are ways we have tried to increase trade:

1 Advertising table - we have no frontage so it is very easy for people to walk past. However, we set up a mini version of our buffet on a table in the entrance. People stopped and thought: "What the hell is going on here?"

Unfortunately, environmental health gave us a lot of hassle, even though the food was only being used for display. But we still have the table there and put all our awards on it to grab people's attention.

2 Sales visits - we visited all the local offices and explained what we were doing. We

asked if they could email the whole company telling staff that the first time they visited they would get a 25% discount, followed by 10% thereafter. We also told them about our take-away service.

3 Events - once a year we invite everyone on our membership list for a drinks evening as a thankyou. We take money from them and give half to charity. The other half covers the cost of food. Also, twice a year we invite events organisers from companies for drinks. One takes place in February, which we say is our birthday, and the other is in September to promote our Christmas parties.

My parties

Originally I had the mentality that this is a

pub and open for everyone, so why should people want to reserve tables? But people usually come in for drinks only between 6pm and 8.30pm, so the trick is to stretch that period out. Parties help to generate more business as they create an atmosphere and so people stay longer. We reserve an area and put up banners, flowers and helium balloons and provide popcorn and bombay mix. It does not cost much, but makes people feel special.

About once a month we get a booking to hire the whole pub. We set a minimum spend level, depending on the day of the week, so for a Monday it would be at least £1,000 and for a Friday, £3,500. Hiring out the entire pub used to worry me, but I realised the customers would be back. One company booked the pub on a Friday evening, brought 280 people and they spent £5,000. I would normally take £3,500, so it's just good business sense.

My Pub

Lease: Punch Taverns, six years remaining

Turnover in 2003: £4,000 a week

Turnover in 2006: £10,500 average

Rent: £55,000 per annum

Wet:dry split: 65:35

Average spend per head: £10 lunch

Food GP: 65%

Beer GP: 42%

Number of staff: eight full-time

Wages as percentage of turnover: 29%

Training budget: £1,000 a year

Price of a pint: £3.40 San Miguel,

£3.10 Timothy Taylor Landlord

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