It would, perhaps, be nothing new in London, but to those guests at the Hylands Hotel open day who hailed from Coventry, the 153 Restaurant & Bar, which opened in May, is innovative. Seen against the popular local formula of pubs and restaurants with carveries, some attendees went as far as to describe it as brave.
But all were fascinated. Antony Ford, for instance, had come to the American Express-sponsored open day from Shaftesbury, Dorset, where he is food services manager at the Royal Chase Hotel, to carry out some preliminary research into revamping "tired" restaurants. His 34-bed employer has a restaurant that, he said, is reminiscent of the Hylands' dated carvery before its rebirth as 153.
Regardless of why they came, no one was disappointed. Hylands general manager Lynne Kennedy and sales and marketing manager Barbara Swan delighted the audience with a frank recitation of the trials and tribulations of introducing a London concept to the Coventry market.
"We are still not reaching the original budget for our weekly catering and liquor revenue," said Kennedy bluntly. "However, September has been a great month and on average we are £2,000 a week off target, with a revenue of £9,000. Eventually, we hope to achieve a joint revenue for food and liquor of £14,000 per week."
Along with Anthony Barnes, of designer Anthony Barnes Associates, they took guests through the thought processes that resulted in the trio rejecting ideas for a Japanese water feature and led them to the end result - a sunny, modern destination restaurant with a Mediterranean feel, serving trendy, cosmopolitan food. "We could have gone down the route of serving burgers," said Kennedy, "but we wouldn't sell that to people in the hotel's rooms - we had to balance the restaurant and the hotel's achieved room rate."
In retrospect, Swan said that, besides advertising through local press and radio, one of the most effective devices in her marketing "blitz" for 153 was head chef Colin Layfield's Ready, Steady, Cook-style shows in three local schools. "We gave out information packs with recipe instructions, nutritional value and promotional flyers," said Swan, pointing out that, by grabbing the children's attention, they had also flagged 153 to teachers and parents.
Swan added that winning two AA rosettes so early will make her job easier. This is just as well, as future marketing will consist mainly of advertising in the local press once a week. This partly reflects the fact that the marketing budget of £30,000 for 153 this year was a one-off.
Picking up on the necessity for niched marketing, Sue Duncome, of American Express, reminded the audience of some of the key points in driving a successful marketing strategy:
Duncome said that the Hylands was an example of a hotel where marketing had had a significant impact on business, particularly from the corporate sector. She noted the success of Swan's bid to target corporate business by holding lunches for sampling the new menu, and of the "business express scheme" which enables office workers to fax their orders for lunch in advance.
While 153 is making its own statement in Coventry, Dr John Heeley, chief executive of the recently formed Coventry & Warwickshire Promotions, which has 106 members ranging from guesthouses to Coventry Cathedral, painted a broader picture of the difficulties faced by local businesses. "Coventry gets a bad write-up from the press and also from locals," he said. "Attitudes and perceptions are fundamental to the problem we have to address."
Heeley said that the organisation, which has a budget of £1m funded by Coventry City Council with grants from the chamber of commerce and training and enterprise council, has a long way to go before it puts Coventry on the tourist map, but he concluded by saying: "153 is a highly positive part of that process of selling Coventry."