Our MD Anthony Tattum shares his marketing and PR tips for hospitality businesses looking to launch in Birmingham.
I promoted my first bar back in 1993. It was the height of the dance music craze. I had just left university where I’d been organising parties and built up a crowd of loyal customers. The location was terrible, service horrible and the less said about the interior design the better. But conversely the weekends were jumping.
Over the past two decades I have provided marketing services for more than 50 bar, restaurant, pub and cafe brands. In the process I have owned three and let me tell you, the risk of failure is very motivating.
I have launched a wide variety of concepts, ethnic genres, colours and stripes. I have seen success and failure; the decline of Birmingham city centre and its rebirth; the explosion of gastro pubs and Michelin stars; the decline of all-you-can-eat buffets; the rise, fall and rise of cocktail bars.
Perhaps it is my club promoter roots but Big Cat has always been able to draw a crowd. From attracting 15,000 to The Voyage, Birmingham’s free cultural Olympiad event, to 50,000 people to Bodies Revealed, the “dead bodies” exhibition in Digbeth; getting large numbers of people to a location is in our blood. My team and I turned a spit-and-sawdust pub you’d never, ever visit in Kings Heath, The Hare & Hounds into one of the best known live music venues in the city. We’ve also worked with some of the UK’s best loved pub and restaurant brands including O’Neill’s’, San Carlo and Turtle Bay.
Now is a really exciting time to be in Birmingham. Grand Central and New Street Station relaunched last year, the legendary Grand Hotel is opening soon with an exciting mix of food and fashion tenants and more than 30 new bars and restaurants are opening in 2016. But who will be successful and who won’t? Below are my six tips to successfully launch a pub, bar, cafe or restaurant in Birmingham (or any city or suburb for that matter).
Be unique, and be interesting. Birmingham is attracting some great operators from outside the city. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t space for a home-grown bar or restaurant. Opening a new place is very risky but playing safe is a recipe for disaster. You can’t just open a coffee shop or a bar. You must have an angle. Remember there are no new ideas in this world just new combinations of old ideas. Whatever your angle make sure it permeates through everything from the bar top to the black board.
Location isn’t important. Weird, wonderful and wacky but essentially brilliant hospitality businesses are opening up in every corner of the city from the depths of Digbeth (Rico Libre) to deserted city centre arcades (Tilt) and Jewellery Quarter basements (Upstairs Downstairs on Water Street). The proliferation of social media, food bloggers, dining clubs and a large group of people passionate about high quality food and drink establishments means that we can sniff out a new place and tell all of our friends. The old saying ‘build it and they will come’ has never been truer.
Be crafty. Craft beers, artisan bread, speciality coffee, lobster, dirty burgers or pinball machines. What you sell needs be as enthralling as your decor; as memorable and appealing as your signage. If you are opening off the beaten track please don’t be bland. Craft everything from the light bulbs to the lavatories. You don’t have to use marble and chrome. DIY and pop-up style is hot right now. Sometimes less is more. Offer less but do it better than anyone else.
Price doesn’t matter. As odd as it sounds it is true. When we restyled and relaunched the Hare and Hounds back in 2006 the first thing we did was double the prices, and still they came. That is not to say that you should overprice or profiteer. However stocking premium products and selling for fair price is a virtuous circle. It supports artisan producers and attracts loyal customers. Rather than offering discounts (I’m not saying happy hour deals and prix fixe menus are a bad thing) organise entertainment, dining clubs, a pinball league, seasonal (or more frequent) menu variations, producer partnerships or a bohemian knitting club. If people think it’s worth paying for they will, you’ll soon learn if they don’t!
Launch big. Brummies’ love new, shiny things. But you need to tell them about it. There’s a lot going on and people are busy. My advice is launch big. Make a splash. Hold a big party (or several). It is true that you never a get a second chance at creating a first impression. A ‘soft launch’ is such a missed opportunity. See my recent blog on marketing tactics for restaurants where I talk about the optimal mix of brand building and sales promotions activities.
This is where an experienced marketing communications agency like Big Cat comes in (sorry for the shameless plug). An agency partner that knows the media, the city’s movers and shakers, the optimal mix of marketing services and the skills to match your proposition to the right audiences.
Train well. However if you’re going to launch big you need to make damn sure that your team is prepared to handle it. I really don’t like surly bar tenders or irascible waiters who are too cool to say hello and couldn’t care less about whether you’re glass is empty or your food is cold. This is all down to training. I don’t mean learning which buttons to press. I mean having a joy of food and a real passion for serving customers and ensuring they have a great experience.
If you are launching in the city of Birmingham this year and we haven’t already spoken I would love to meet and share recipes, stories and contacts.
When it comes to marketing, spend as much as you can afford and when you run out of budget, go out yourself. Actually, before it run outs… go and meet people. Walk the streets and visit offices to spread the word. Talking to people worked back in 1993 and it still works today.
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