The group, which runs three sites across Wales and Cornwall, saw year-on-year turnover in the final quarter of last year increase by 17.3%, with room occupancy at the Felin Fach Griffin pub at 96.6%.
“We looked at this question of seasonality six or seven years ago and thought it needed to be approached from a different angle. The traditional view had been that in seasonal parts of the world, such as Cornwall and the Brecon Beacons, where we operate, you make your jam in May to September and then rationalize the business through the autumn and winter, focusing only on managing the slow leak of cash while lamenting the absence of guests.
“We changed our thought patterns to start making decisions on a more positive basis, aiming to capitalise on a gradual change in the market’s habits. It meant three things: building the loyalty of guests to what we do, concentrating on keeping our people for the long term and continually investing in our properties.”
The pub operator found that half-board packages were the most effective way to build occupancy and focused on building a strong customer database.
“We tried to build our offers into mini-brands so that our guests bought into the concept of good value and trusted us on quality. It meant they made their decision based on the existence of the package, which they remembered (eg Winter Escape, Sunday Sleepover) rather than the actual price, something that has been helpful to our pricing power. “
Inkin also stressed the importance of the little things pub operators can do to make guests feel welcome.
“Decisions like allowing half-board guests to choose from anywhere on our menus (and not simply giving them an allowance) might seem like a small thing, but it was so important in communicating that ethos to team and to guests alike.
“We take a risk by being so welcoming to dogs, but accepting them is a terribly important decision driver for a big part of the market who can take a night or two away in the so-called off season - even if it can drive our wonderful housekeepers mad. “
Top tips from EATDRINKSLEEP:
- Never to say ‘it’s dead’. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, but you can create a market if you and your team make the effort. Never complain about it being quiet or about your local community not spending money. Give them reasons to come to you.
- Aim to give people employment right through the year and you’ll benefit from having them in your team for a long time: they are the ones who understand what you’re trying to do and without them giving great service, your strategy is meaningless.
- Keep using all the channels for communicating your key messages to guests and to your team. Direct emails certainly work. We’ve seen it this week with our Lunch-for-a-Fiver offer which is our only discounted eating offer in the whole year and to which the response has been amazing. Use the walls for blackboards, use the pieces of paper you give out with the bills. Give your guests a narrative: they want to know your own story - it’s your point of difference with the chains. Anonymity is not the hallmark of an independent restaurant, hotel or pub.