Service-related businesses are finding new customers and new marketing opportunities online. This includes restaurants, which have increasingly embraced the web to promote menu offerings and dinner specials, and to facilitate reservations, provide directions and much more. A restaurant that has used its website to do all of this in an innovative way is manna, with a vegan-focused menu and located in the heart of London. Its owner is Roger Swallow and he spoke with us about it.
Practical eCommerce: Why does your restaurant need a website?
Roger Swallow: “How does a restaurant, or any business, exist without a website? We have been around for 43 years in the same location, and for people who don’t know us, it’s a perfect opportunity to find out who we are, what we stand for, why we came into being, and where we are.”
PeC: What does your restaurant serve and what is your niche?
Swallow: “We’re a high-end vegan restaurant. That is our niche.”
PeC: What percentage of your reservations come from your website versus phone-in reservations?
Swallow: “Until two or three months ago, it was about 50 percent online reservations and 50 percent telephone reservations. (The online reservations had grown to that number from zero in the last three or four years.) Now, it’s significantly higher because we engaged an Internet reservation module service called Livebookings. It’s a well-known interface, with worldwide operations. It’s a totally online interface and we didn’t need extra hardware. Since we introduced Livebookings to the website, reservations are probably now 80 percent online, and 20 percent phones.”
PeC: Your site has both an email sign-up list and an SMS (text message) sign-up list. What is the strategy behind keeping two lists?
Swallow: “It’s a function of switching over from our old system (where we were totally in control of our mail servers and our own email list) to Livebookings, which manages our list for us and offers the ability to do online promotions by using their templates and doing email straight out of that database. The SMS is just sort of an add-on to the Livebookings email database that is provided with the service.
“It is less than ideal having to work with two databases, but it’s much more comfortable working with two as we graduate to 100 percent Livebookings and are trying to sort of force that.”
PeC: How often do you send out email promotions from either source?
Swallow: “We try not to do it more than once a month. Anything over that and people start to think they’re getting spammed.”
PeC: Give us an example of what would be in a typical email promotion.
Swallow: “We’re very seasonal in our products and so at least four times a year we send out a new menu. Then there are holidays, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving (even in London, even though it’s an American holiday), Easter, and the usual ones. So, you can see how quickly you can get to once a month.”
PeC: Your site advertises pastries and cakes, but why is there no ecommerce function on your site?
Swallow: “Up until recently, we’d just been wholesaling cakes and other products, so we haven’t really needed any Internet sales. But, as we speak, we’re setting up a shopping basket.”
PeC: How do you market the website?
Swallow: “We monitor all of the review sites, travel sites, restaurant sites and food sites to make sure that we have a significant presence, and we could do with some visibility at certain optimal websites.
“We urge [satisfied] customers to go online and write reviews for us. That’s a very good way for restaurants to get higher up in the engines. We don’t buy our way into any search engines. We do a lot of meta tagging on the site.
“Also, I’ve been very active the last six months or so with social networking with Twitter and Facebook, and I have been running Facebook ads–all kinds of ads for different events. But, I have to say that I haven’t found Facebook to be that successful.
“Word of mouth, there’s no better way.”