Evening trade is booming, breakfast is fairly busy yet lunchtimes are still too quiet. Managing director Stuart Campbell has decided it's time for some one-to-one marketing at Savannah. There's been no difficulty pulling in the rich and famous, however, as David Jones discovered.
Wagamama boss Ian Neill is tucking into a fillet steak with peppercorn sauce. It's not the first time the staff have seen him at Savannah, and they can't help wondering if he's here to check out the competition before opening one of his own restaurants in Oxford. Or perhaps he's just a man in need of lunch.
Either way, Neill has already had a small influence on Savannah, a restaurant that from the outset was conceived as the first of a chain. "I've known Ian Neill for a while," says Stuart Campbell, Savannah's managing director. "Like me, he lives in Guildford. I went to meet him when I wanted some advice on setting up Savannah and he was very helpful."
And Neill isn't the only famous face to have dined at the restaurant recently. When former Olympic sprint champion Linford Christie came to speak at the Oxford Union, the students chose to take him to dinner at Savannah. Regular diners might also have spotted jockey Richard Dunwoody, film director Mike Leigh and actor Leslie Phillips at the restaurant.
Campbell is pleased to be attracting a celebrity clientele, but is concentrating his marketing efforts on building up a loyal customer base. Savannah was packed out with regulars for Valentine's Day, after advertising its special menu for the evening by giving customers leaflets with their bill during the run-up to 14 February. "The same technique worked well for New Year's Eve," Campbell says. "Valentine's night is such a one-off that we wanted people to come that evening who are coming to the restaurant anyway.
"They all wanted to eat at 8pm of course, but we did manage to turn a few tables and did 160 covers in all."
The next special event is Mother's Day (10 March) and for this occasion Campbell has decided on some proactive advertising. "We're going to do our first marketing-driven mail-out. We started building up our mailing list before we opened the restaurant. Mostly we approached local businesses, but we made sure we had details of specific people in those businesses. We would go and see them, talk about plans for opening Savannah, and invite them back for a drink. And now, if people have reserved with us before - on the phone, face-to-face, or on the Web - we can keep track of them using our QuadraNet customer relations management package."
At present, very few of Savannah's bookings are made online, but Campbell is hoping that the number will begin to increase in March, when he will use the Web site to tell customers about Savannah's first menu changes. "Once they're online, they'll find it's very easy to book," he says.
The new menu itself will feature several new starters and a couple of extra desserts. Savannah is also introducing two premium main-course cuts - sirloin on the bone and rib steak - reflecting the popularity of the beef-centred menu (about 65% of main courses ordered are beef). One of the vegetarian options, barley and root vegetable stew, is to be replaced. Head chef Charles Noorland is still working on the new dish.
Though still heavily reliant upon evening business, Savannah is beginning to see good trade at breakfast, when it regularly serves 30-40 customers. Most of these (about 80%) are guests at the adjoining Royal Oxford hotel.
And Campbell is determined to tackle the problem of slow lunchtime trade. He's confident that the lunch menu is particularly good value: for the price of, say, a 10oz sirloin steak in the evening, you can enjoy lunch of an 8oz sirloin with vegetables and sauce included. "The challenge is to alert people to the fact that we are open at lunchtimes," Campbell says. He knows you can't beat face-to-face marketing, and will be leading his staff down to the nearby railway station over the next couple of weeks to hand out leaflets. If you commute to Oxford by train, but don't know where Savannah is, don't worry. You soon will. n
Next visit to Savannah: 11 April
Savannah is a new restaurant concept, with a simple menu centred on free-range beef and an open-plan kitchen arrangement. Customers are encouraged to discuss their order with the chefs and watch it being cooked. They can also taste a range of wines before choosing a glass (or a bottle).
The first restaurant opened in Oxford at the end of October 2001, and the company is hoping to build up a chain of about 15 over the next few years.
17 Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HU
Tel: 01865 793793
Web site: www.savannah.uk.com
Managing director: Stuart Campbell
Average weekly sales (January): £14,000
Average weekly covers (January): Breakfast: 65, lunch: 122; evenings: 488