Judging a book by its cover - Ashdale Business Consulting

Judging a book by its cover


Not that long ago I had the pleasure of attending a meeting held by the microbrewers that operate in the Midlands region.  The meeting was held in the Brunswick Pub, a mere 5 minute walk away from Derby railway station and definitely worth a visit if you ever get the opportunity.

After the meeting we then had the opportunity to explore a number of pubs in and around Derby city centre.

As we approached a certain pub I couldn’t help feeling somewhat underwhelmed.  On entering the pub I couldn’t have been more surprised.  Highlights included a bar with an open fire as well as partitioned rooms leading off the bar including a wooden-settled snug with old-fashioned range.  Two other things leapt out.  The pub was full, we had to stand, something we hadn’t had to do anywhere else to that point and there was also a steady stream of food being delivered from the kitchen to customers of all ages – no stereo typical consumers here.

A few quick questions soon revealed that this outlet was run by Secret Dining Co., who take pride in serving real ales and cutting edge British cuisine.  They aim to provide “the charm of a rural pub in the urban sprawl of the City Centre”.

Whilst in this instance the low key nature of the outside signage etc. is probably deliberate it did get me thinking as to how many operators risk putting off customers by not giving enough attention to the outside of their venues?


Not everyone likes surprises…

When it comes to choosing a place to eat or drink many customers still make snap judgments, often based on how your venue looks from the outside.  They may also decide on whether to come in or not depending on what menu you have and what prices you charge.  That’s why so many restaurants have a copy of their menus near their entrances, as well as on their websites.  People in the UK don’t like the idea of going in somewhere and then having to leave because it didn’t offer what they though it did!

Interestingly this practice of ‘advertising’ what you offer is less common the more casual the dining experience and almost non-existent when it comes to pubs and wet-led outlets.  Although these types of outlets are more likely to promote the fact that they have ‘live TV sport’ even to the point of identifying individual matches or events.

Other things worth considering, which are sometimes missed include opening times, your policy towards children and subject to your location whether dogs are welcome.

If you aren’t using the outside of your venue to showcase some of the key things you offer (or even don’t offer) then maybe you are missing an opportunity.


What sign are you…

When it comes to signs there are some basic guidelines you need to follow.  The most obvious ones are make sure your signs are clean, painted if weather-worn and definitely not damaged.  If you are using digital signage ensuring all the lights work on a regular basis is a must.  Depending on your location your signs need to be clear and visible from as many angles as possible.  In some instances your signage may benefit from some extra lighting and don’t forget to keep on top of the surrounding trees or shrubbery.

One watch-out when it comes to signage is to be fully up to speed with any rules or restrictions.  Many towns and even districts have strict ordinances for the types of signs that can be used.

The more professional your outdoor signage looks, the more professional customers will assume you are when it comes to what you deliver inside.


Treat the outside like you treat the inside…

You wouldn’t dream of not keeping the inside of your outlet clean and tidy, and yet the same can’t always be said when it comes to how people look after their outlets frontage or surrounding area.  For example, windows need to be clean both indoors and outdoors.  The same goes for all your doors.

After the buildings themselves two other areas which shouldn’t be neglected are the lead up to your entrance and if you have one, your car park.  Depending on where you are you need to keep gardens or shrubbery well maintained and not overgrown, unless that is the look you are going for!  In more urban locations keeping the pavement in front of your outlet clear and clean is also important.  Even if it’s not your outlets rubbish people won’t know the difference and it will reflect badly on how they perceive you.

The parking area is a critical area where many restaurants can fall short.  Keeping it free of litter, broken glass and rowdy groups of people can prevent customers from getting a bad impression.  Car park lighting is also important – people want to feel safe.

With smoking no longer allow indoors, where you let smokers go and what they do with their cigarette butts needs to be thought through.  It always surprises me that some operators seem happy to let people smoke right next to their entrance, ignoring the fact that it is quite likely that this will put other customers off from coming in.  And when you do provide somewhere for customers to dispose of their finished cigarettes, and if you don’t you need to, it is important to empty these bins etc. regularly.


Taking ownership…

Although some venues will employ outdoor companies to look after their gardens etc. these companies don’t ‘own’ the outdoor space you do.  One way you may consider when it comes to keeping on top of things is to assign individual members of your team different responsibilities when it comes to the outside, in the same way that you do inside.  This doesn’t mean that those team members have to necessarily do the work themselves but rather they are on point and will be held accountable if things aren’t kept to the right standards.

This approach can also help your teams appreciate all the different aspects of the operation which need to work well in order for you all to be successful.