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Creating iconic hotel spaces that pull a crowd

In 1777, Samuel Johnson wrote: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The phrase has been recited so many times but, to be honest, I couldn’t think of a more relevant quote to lead on how quickly the city is changing. There’s an abundance of exciting hotel openings in the capital each year, many trying to draw in the crème de la crème of Londoners to its social spaces for champagne, cocktails and eclectic small plates. Locals and tourists are increasingly overcoming psychological barriers to enjoy visits to hotels on a regular basis thanks to strategies to move away from the reputation of being stuffy, overpriced and dull, making the choice more competitive and varied than ever. How could you possibly get tired of the innovation?

Highly-considered design is arguably the most important aspect of opening a space today. Instagammability and the customer’s journey of discovery to reach a space that’s visually appealing, where social media content can be leveraged through user-generated content to give guests an opportunity to share with friends and spread the word for you can be worth its weight in gold. Not to mention the interest it gets from the press, particularly interiors, trade and lifestyle media channels, assuming your public relations team is on its game.

Once in the venue, it’s essential the experience and outlet’s offering reflects the position you’re looking to explore in the local market. Before opening The Coral Room in 2018, The Bloomsbury hotel team visited 20 high-end bars across London. A tough job, I know, but this was a research expedition in which we looked at what staff wore, price point on a classic cocktail, opening hours and how the menu was presented. Was there anything special to note – from martini trolleys to overwhelming support from big brands? It all counts. Competitive positioning analysis can help build a picture of where you should be and reaffirm decisions already made. This can be the cornerstone for creative sessions that develop the key selling points of a venue – its uses at any time of day and what might work in attracting a new audience.

Having a unique offering in a venue can be highly beneficial – it instantly gives the space an identity or hook in the media – and can provide a foundation for future marketing activity. Whatever the offering, it’s crucial to be clearly defined across all potential guest touchpoints, from doorman to website and social to bartender – this is something that spans as far as OTA listings, trade show presence, sales teams and even recruitment, as potential employees should hopefully find it interesting.

Energy and ambience are one of the least talked about aspects of running a great space but it’s often crucial to get the most out of the environment. It often takes a floor manager to leave a venue before you realise something needs to change to drive the vibe – the right genre and music volume can turn a regular evening into a memorable night. Similarly, lighting at varying times of the day can really make a difference. Combined, the right atmosphere can drive additional sales, bring guests closer and present further opportunities to retain guests. In many venues, such as Hotel Costes, playlists can be downloaded via Spotify enabling guests to take part of their experience away with them. Alternatively, using live music or DJs can help to evolve the atmosphere of a space. DJs can be far more adaptable but less visually impressive for a weekend crowd, it depends on what you are looking to achieve and what best suits the venue.

The guest experience must always exceed expectations, starting with the moment before they step into the space. A great greeting from a doorman goes a long way followed by a friendly front-of-house team that takes the time to get to know the customer, understand their preference, anticipate their next order or recall their previous visit. This all builds a long-term rapport that will encourage return visits. Be At One always did this well. I gather its bartender’s objective was to learn the name of the guest and introduce themselves within the first five verbal exchanges. Similarly – knowing when to reward good-spending customers or be more flexible can turn a good evening into something special.

Having a dynamic content calendar keeps you relevant and front of mind for your audience. Unlike hotel marketing, in which campaigns are formed six to 12 months in advance, restaurant and bar marketing tends to be more dynamic and shorter lead – which works for a number of reasons. Availability of seasonal dishes and drinks makes life easier for the operation but also allows time for online coverage. Typically, our content is programmed three to four months in advance, which also allows the strategy to be more proactive in driving interest to key meal periods to select audiences. Of course if an activation or event is fully confirmed more than three months in advance, there’s more likelihood of achieving print coverage, if that’s an objective.

Retaining your crowd and future-proofing your audience is essential to farming a captive clientele, even guests who may appear too young to visit luxury venues may influence the decision of others who can, which will become more relevant in years to come. A pitfall we often hear about is marketers or owners forcing circles into squares and attempting activity that’s not right for the brand. For example, if you’re running a French restaurant a Thanksgiving menu doesn’t need to be on your calendar but Bastille Day or galette des rois should be a highlight. Hotels are sometimes the exception as guests staying in-house might appreciate it but ask yourself what percentage of guests dine in the restaurant each night and whether it’s worth compromising your reputation and identity in the local market for short-lived promotional gain?

Joshua Craddock is director of marketing at The Doyle Collection and was included as a Restaurant Marketer & Innovator 30 under 30 in 2019