Creating hospitality experiences that draw in a crowd is a challenge that many business owners face. Serving up delicious food and drinks is often not enough to get bums consistently on seats – so we were thrilled to throw an event that brought together top minds to share insights on making hospitality brands thrive.
Here are the key takeaways from Table Talk Manchester.
Meet the panellists
Fiona King - Head of Marketing at The Spirit of Manchester Distillery, Fiona shared her experience with creating stories and experiences that keep consumers coming back.
Euan Stubbs - As Head of Digital at Big Fang Collective, Euan shared his experience in building brands, the importance of innovation and how to harness storytelling and marketing to keep customers coming back.
Tara Heppell - With more than 20 years of experience across Manchester hospitality, Tara shared consumer insights and strategies for making the most of opportunities in the year ahead.
The Spirit of Manchester Distillery started life in a dining room and is now offering drinkers experiences. Fiona shared her opinion on why this is a key driver for consumers in an increasingly competitive market.
“We offer tours, tastings, gin makings and that doesn’t seem to have suffered as much as we would’ve expected. People are still going out - if anyone was out in town on Saturday, there was queues outside everywhere in the Northern quarter. I tried to go somewhere and couldn’t get a table for two,” Fiona said.
“I think you can see there is still an appetite to go out, but it’s just a case of prioritising the experience that you’re giving people. Rather than just offering a burger and beer, you need to offer more. From the experience side of things, we’ve seen that if you can offer that extra level, then people will still come.”
“I do think people are going out less, but they’re going to prioritise something that gives them a memory, the connection with other people and a lot of other luxuries can’t do what we can do in hospitality in that, we can create that. I think we’ve got a really good chance to reinforce what hospitality is - focus on bringing people together, and making memories, even if it does sound dead cheesy. We need to remember to not just stack a venue full of people but rather fill a venue with people who will come again next time or go and tell their friends about it,” she said.
Getting the message across
Tara works with hospitality businesses every day, so has a good handle on the strategies that work. Here’s what she said about communicating brand experiences and increasing bookings.
“The thing I say before you do any kind of outreach is ‘know your venue’. Know your venue inside out, know what you offer and know what works and then work it,” Tara said.
“After that, everything has gotten much more digital. Now we don’t need that ‘finger in the air’, and instead, we’ve got all this data; we know how many times they’ve booked, what drinks they like to buy and all this data, which I do think venues are harnessing.”
“Euan mentioned to me 90% of their bookings are online so I feel we are moving towards a more digital age, people are booking online. It’s about being ahead of the trail and thinking ‘yes okay, there are these marketing dates like Valentines etc.’ but what experiences can you offer? People are looking for experiences now, not everyone wants to be drinking, so they’re looking to play golf, throw axes and do other experience-based things,” she said.
Combining digital and human experiences
Euan is head of digital at Big Fang Collective, so has plenty of experience with tech platforms. He shared his experience in innovating and how digital mediums play into that.
“We talk about innovation but we’re living in a world of digital so digital is no longer innovation, it’s a must-do. There’s a balance between digitalisation of hospitality and delivering a great experience, so I think for us it’s about looking at your booking system and analytics. What data are you collecting before they even get into venue so you can deliver a great experience while they’re in venue?” he said.
“I don’t think you need to over-digitise what hospitality is good at, but you do still need those cues - you need to know what people’s preferences are, you need to know all those kinds of things. I think in terms of the venue, it’s about frictionless experience with digital. There are too many venues that have gateways between utilising the experiences and the digital technology in venues. “
“Luckily we live in a world where booking systems are getting better and better, and you can collect all that data, but when people come to your venue, they still want that interaction, that human element and that is why hospitality is a resilient and creative industry. Tech can help that, but you’ve got to be careful to find that balance,” Euan said.
Telling a story through your menu
Fiona spoke about how staff sell a brand story every time they talk about a venue’s menu and why training is essential.
“What we’ve really prioritised and always have, but perhaps now more than ever, is to ensure that the training is there where the staff knows every product on the menu and their passion for the spirits and the ways the cocktails on the menu are made,” she said.
There are a lot of processes that go on behind the bar, we’ve got a whole two days of prep behind some of the niche ingredients, and I think being able to communicate that with your customer really enhances their experience. It’s not something that was just made two minutes ago at the bar, it’s something that was made two weeks ago in fermentations and syrups and sous vide and also the months that came before while developing that menu.”
Shifting with the market
Tara shared some insights on adjusting business models and hours to suit changing consumer needs. In particular, looking at a trend in daytime activities and pubs.
“When I think about how much Manchester has changed over the years - when I first was doing Saturdays at Stonegate, Saturday lunchtimes weren’t that busy, and we struggled to get it going, but the other day I was out at 2pm and by 7pm it felt like 3am!”
“So the daytimes are definitely getting busier, and they are very experience based. So people might be doing shuffleboard, darts at flight etc. Doing experiences early opens doors up to dinner time and then it’s quite boozy afterwards. Daytime drinking and experiences are happening earlier in the day,” she said.
Guests are planning ahead more
Euan shared his experience catering to consumers who are planning ahead more and using digital platforms to lean into the trend.
“I think there’s a demand to plan more, I don’t think the ad hoc hanging out days are as free-flowing as they once were. People are having experiences and planning meals more and invariably when you’re in times of economic downturn, people are more careful and want to curate their night out a bit more.”
“People are going to use tech, but I do think it’s important that the trends are frictionless in terms of in-venue. So when it makes sense, great, and people will use it… I think the trend is about knowing your customer and knowing what’s right for your business. It’s about curating your own experience, and I think a lot of people will plan that online,” Euan said.
If you’re interested in attending Table Talk or future Mr Yum events, be sure to follow our LinkedIn – it’s the number one spot for Mr Yum news and events.
Discover insights from:
Table Talk Gold Coast.
Table Talk Brisbane.
Table Talk Melbourne.
Table Talk Sydney.
Table Talk Adelaide.