Melony Spencer and Martin Swinden at Spencer Swinden Design, a leading hospitality design consultant firm, offer their advice on ways in which hospitality venues can find and retain customers. As they explain, first impressions are everything ...

Create clear branding
Having a clear brand will ensure that customers know what to expect from your venue. Clients can be put off by a venue with no identity, as it’s too much of a risk to enter – especially if it’s for an important occasion or a business meeting. Having a distinct brand that’s simple but noticeable tells your customers who you are and what you’re all about.

Smarten up your frontage
For passing trade, the exterior of your premises can be the difference between a potential returning customer and a passer by. First impressions count, so it’s vital that you make your venue as attractive as possible.

If you can’t afford a complete revamp, some small changes will make a difference. Clear signage goes without saying, but other details can make a big difference too – such as colourful plants and shrubs, clean pathways and tidy smoking areas. Small things like leaving the front door of your bar, restaurant or hotel open will also make you seem more approachable.

Think about your offering
Are you entirely happy with the products or services you offer? If you’re unsure, think about making a visit to a competitor to see what they’re doing – it’s fine to take some inspiration from competing businesses operating in your area.

You should also make sure that any displays, special offers and marketing promotions are kept within the season. Take seasonal and festive items down as soon as they’re no longer relevant. A Christmas display in February indicates that something is seriously wrong!

Address your interior
Some venues tolerate an interior layout that doesn’t suit their requirements, but that’s not how it should be. Simple changes to the positioning of your furniture or access to your bar can breathe new life into your venue and increase the longevity of a visit, which ultimately puts more money in the cash drawer.

Take it to the streets
One of the key mistakes that venues make is presuming their brand is limited to the four walls of the building. In reality, there isn’t anything stopping you heading out onto the street in search of customers.

Try offering samples or examples to passers by. Meeting customers on the street can be a great way of enticing them to your venue, and creating a rapport with individual customers will help build relationships and generate vocal ambassadors who will sell your venue for you.

Embrace the virtual world
Despite the increased use of social media over the past few years, venues are often still hesitant to branch out into the virtual world. Social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, allow your venue to get involved in a revolution that allows businesses to build personal relationships with their customers.

It’s also a great way to seek valuable customer feedback, which ultimately helps you to improve your offering. But once you start a relationship with your customers via social media, it’s vital to be consistent. It is better to stay off of social media than start a campaign that’s out of date and out of touch with your audience.

Build customer loyalty
Most customers are too busy to search for offers or discounts related to your venue, so instead of waiting for them to come to you, go to them. Collect email addresses by offering an incentive and use their contact information to expand your mailing list. A monthly newsletter of upcoming events and offers will keep your customers involved in your business and help spread the word.

Returning customers are the foundation of any successful business, so think of ways to encourage and maintain customer loyalty. Venues that cater for passing trade often use loyalty cards with a free product incentive after repeat visits. These encouragements channel regular custom to your venue.

Broaden your horizons
Explore other avenues that could help to bring people through your doors. You may be able to diversify your services by reinventing a space that’s always empty – perhaps you could use it as a meeting space or a function room? If it’s food or drink you offer, invest in a take-away or delivery service for busy workers in nearby offices. These avenues could develop into new services altogether, therefore increasing your reputation and commitment to customers’ needs.

Invest in your staff
As far as the customer is concerned, your staff are the face of your company. Everything they say or do contributes to the overall image your customer has of your business.

Staff training or re-training is imperative. They should be aware of your company’s brand and direction, know how to deal with complaints and understand the importance of the customer-is-always-right philosophy. Make sure that image extends into the social media sphere too – bad behaviour online could taint your reputation.

Re-evaluate your demographics
Re-evaluating your business demographic will ensure that you capitalise on the ever-changing structure of the local population. The people that you once appealed to may not be as profitable as a new market, so make sure you’re keeping on top of the changes happening around you and always keep your eye on potential gaps in the market.

Spencer Swinden Design is a Birmingham-based consultancy with over 15 years of experience in the UK and European leisure and hospitality sectors.