Business Essentials: 'Can we turn the tables and fill our restaurant?'

A hotel located up a remote road in the Welsh hills has no trouble getting people to stay in its rooms. But catching the eye of diners is far harder
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The Independent Online

For the Ty Croeso hotel and restaurant near Crickhowell in Powys, a remote location is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, being set high on the hillside surrounded by spectacular scenery means that people who go there fall in love with it. The problem lies in getting them there in the first place, particularly to the restaurant.

"Our wonderful location is a bit of a curse," says owner Linda Jarrett. "There are many well-established restaurants in the town half a mile away that take good trade from the local community and surrounding areas. Because we're out of the way, we share a very small part of this custom. We also miss out on passing trade."

Ms Jarrett has a small budget but a big need to drive customers up Ty Croeso's remote road. Not helping her quest is that until she took over the establishment last year, it had no track record in filling its tables. "The previous owners said they only had 10 to 15 people in some weekends. So when we arrived, a major focus was developing the business."

Her first job was to change the menu.

"They had a long à la carte menu, so we cut back to a very focused one, which is changed each month to keep it seasonal. We also have a steak menu, on account of Welsh black beef being a local speciality, and a vegetarian one. We use as many local suppliers as possible and are becoming more and more organic, as well as taking the fair-trade route," she explains.

"You could say that the new philosophy of the restaurant is to be environmentally sound and sustainable, in keeping with our surroundings, and for this we've already won a Green Dragon award, as well as AA and Les Routiers accreditation."

What is so frustrating for Ms Jarrett is that visitors to the restaurant really enjoy it. "We get great feedback from people who have come here, but we still don't get enough newcomers," she says. "While we do get some people coming by word of mouth, it's not enough."

She has tried advertising in local papers. "But unless you can afford to do it every week, you feel it's not much good," she explains. "In any case, even running monthly competitions in the local press doesn't seem to have worked. Our latest venture is to take on a PR company."

The hotel doesn't have such a problem attracting guests, she adds. "There's a historic interest because it used to be the infirmary to a 19th-century workhouse and it's quite a prominent building. Also, the area itself attracts a lot of people who like outdoor life. But I do struggle with the restaurant."

It's not as if there aren't road signs for Ty Croeso. "But it feels like unless I go out on the street with a banner, I can't get people to come here."

www.ty-croeso.co.uk

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

John Davis, Marketing Director, Barclays Local Business

"Ms Jarrett should focus on promotion and product. Pick one key strength and then work at making the business well known for that. The local speciality food could be the differentiator here, along with promotional activities.

"She should also run some themed nights/seasonal offers to tempt guests who may not have tried the restaurant. Advertise in the local press or on the radio; posters and flyers in shops and bars can also be effective.

"She should get listed - on tourism, hotel and restaurant websites. Some offer this for free, while others charge membership fees of as little as £40 a year.

"In addition, nurture local links. Invite the owners of B&Bs to the restaurant and ask if they will provide recommendations. If so, give them flyers and posters.

"Finally, establish relationships. Start a customer loyalty scheme for regulars, which will make them feel they are an important part of your business."

Paul Gostick, Chairman, The Chartered Institute of Marketing

"While Ty Croeso is operating in a different market from high-street restaurants, the fundamental rules of business still apply, and perhaps Ms Jarrett needs a rethink. Its remote location has hindered the development of the restaurant, but it is an advantage for the hotel.

"Rather than trying to develop the restaurant trade separately - a market in which customers have a number of options - Ty Croeso should consider concentrating on the hotel side, where it is an obvious first choice. It could create accommodation and dining packages to derive restaurant business from the hotel customers."

James Garner, Managing Editor, 'Caterer and Hotelkeeper' Magazine

"I think Ms Jarrett has changed the menu for the better and her new 'philosophy', focusing on local and sustainable food, is a nice message. What she needs to do is get that message to a wider audience, including the local community, which will probably form the mainstay of her trade.

"I know she has a tight budget, but unless she gets more customers through the door, she might as well close the door now, so it's time to go on a public relations offensive.

"She has already hired a PR firm - a step in the right direction - but now she should work with it to drum up business. Perhaps she could invite local businesses and associations for lunch to showcase the restaurant. This should help raise awareness and should bring some repeat bookings. Also, she should use her suppliers to promote the restaurant and try liaising with local tourist attractions to offer a deal for an evening meal."

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