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The art of making a restaurant a destination

By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

Searcys explains how, 172 years after the brand was founded, it continues to progress and develop to maintain its brand truth of quality, service, and craft.

Searcys was established in 1847 by John Searcy, a confectioner and pastry chef working for the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. He identified a niche in the market with providing events catering for the up-and-coming middle class, and the business was founded. Today, the company is one of Britain’s longest-running hospitality businesses.

Anna Fenten, the Head of Brand, Marketing, and Communications at Searcys, explains the research undertook on global trends and Searcys’ own customer base when she joined the company in 2017. “When looking at macro-trends, it became very obvious that driving the consumer today, particularly in the dining out market, was the tension between local and global authenticity. London is the capital of global cuisine at the moment, but we as consumers also care so much about the provenance of our produce.”

She also highlights how Searcys navigates tensions between traditional attitudes around dining out with new emerging trends, such as the consumers’ want to indulge against the health and wellbeing scene coming into the mainstream. “We try to really tie those things together and weave big global trends into our own brand stories and narratives.”

Fenten continues to note the importance of value of experience for the consumer. “Value for money is a cornerstone of our purchasing decisions. If we as restaurateurs, as event providers, can understand what drives that value, what makes it unique to the customer – the quality of ingredients, of presentation, of service, all of the attributes that make a guest feel special – we can try to really strengthen the perception of value.”

“We try to create value at every single corner of our journey. We need to give something unique to talk about and remember. We’re not competing on price, but on the uniqueness of experience.”

This distinction of offering something “unique” is not just explored in the food and drink, but in an all-round dining experience. For example, in January 2019, Searcys ran a “wellbeing campaign”, where “nutritionists and yoga instructors, and artists and painters” were involved to “augment the experience in restaurants and at events”.

The reason Searcys places such a focus on this is due to the feedback they gathered when researching what made a restaurant a destination, both at Searcys and in the wider market. Fenten highlights the top five drivers.

The first was the quality of food, with 49% of participants naming this as the most important. Fenten says that culinary craft is a key competency of Searcys: “It’s intrinsic to our company: the love for ingredients, ensuring the chefs have creative space to be themselves, to show their personalities through the dishes.”

The second was the “place that makes you feel special”, and the remaining three were “the menu, the service, and the reputation”. Fenten says that with such a high percentage placing emphasis on the venue, “feeling special became a cornerstone of Searcys’ brand proposition going forward.” This is in addition to Searcys’ focus on its “Britishness, its no compromise on ingredients, the quality of service, and the delivery of food and drink.”

This research also showed Searcys that the focus of its marketing activities needed to lie in strengthening brand awareness and consistency of messaging around an established “brand truth”.

“Ultimately, we looked at what the customer was looking at: the big marker of trends of localisation, provenance, and the personalities of brands. When we overlaid those three buckets of insights with our own internal competencies, competitor gaps, and customer demands, we realised at the crossroads of these is our brand truth.”

This “brand truth” was for Searcys to be “known for its provenance, and famous for its warm, generous hospitality”. Fenten says: “Hospitality is an art, and we want our customers to feel special every day when they cross our doorsteps.”

She explains: “Any brand promise or truth needs to be internally and externally facing. The way we have articulated the brand truth is that Searcys is there to make the people we serve feel special by being consistently exceptional.” She highlights the word “serve” as particularly significant in the hospitality industry.

“I also think it’s so important to talk about the people we work with, both our colleagues internally and our suppliers who work with us in the wider world. It is so important that we treat everyone with equal attention, politeness, kindness, courteousness, and fairness.” She continues: “We wouldn’t be anywhere without our people. The big piece of work that is happening this year is in building really forward-looking, agile teams at every single site.”

In addition, Fenten states that Searcys wants to be known as “the best server of sustainable British produce”. She lists the three pillars of delivering this.

The first is following through with pledges of sustainability. “In 2018 we launched 24 pledges. These food pledges, whether it’s to source only sustainable beer and water or to buy locally, have actually been implemented. These are the pledges that have become the foundation of our procurement process, and we’ve been running with these for two years.”

The second is expertise. “We’ve had great history and legacy in champagne and hospitality, and we only need to strengthen that. That expertise comes to life in our champagne school which has opened for our colleagues and external colleagues where we share our knowledge about sparkling, which is a very exciting masterclass, and these are held throughout the year. It has also translated itself into a hospitality school and various menu recommendations. Sharing that expertise and learning is very important to us as a brand.”

The third is craft. “I think that’s such an important, lovely notion, because craft means that there is a lot of thinking, preparation, and planning, but also art in every single dish and every single event.”

Furthermore, Searcys has prioritised creating strong partnerships. This includes a small coffee house in Bristol: “All of our coffee is bought through ‘direct impact’, whereby Extract Coffee goes out to particular farms and their organic co-operatives to buy Searcys beans and blend them in Bristol before delivering them to us. This is a mutually beneficial partnership because we can give them scale and exposure, and we’re very proud to shout about Extract Coffee; they have been an incredible part of our journey.”

Searcys also partners with non-food brands. “Every year we run two summer pop ups; one is at the Gherkin, and one is at St Pancras champagne bar. The reason behind the pop ups is to create something exciting and wonderful with the British summer season. This year we have partnered with the most amazing luggage brand, Globe-Trotter. They make incredibly beautiful luggage and suitcases, so it’s only appropriate that we showcase their products at our St Pancras pop-up, which is an internationally-known railway station.” She adds that these partnerships are very important to Searcys.

Moving forward, Searcys is hoping to establish itself as a ‘must do’ destination for tourists, and to achieve this, as of 2019 it has become a premium partner of London & Partners, the mayor of London’s official promotional agency. Fenten says Searcys also wants to continue developing in the realm of customer engagement through social media and customer feedback to further strengthen its relationship with visitors.

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