Monday, September 5, 2011



Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of reading a new report, entitled "the Leisure Wallet”, which examines the state of the leisure industry in the UK during 2010-11 including how and why people frequent pubs, bars and restaurants.

Given the current economic climate, it made for fascinating reading, For example, whilst there is a general acceptance that consumer spending will be lower, there remains, not surprisingly, resilience amongst 18-24 year olds who see going out as a critical part of their lives.

The over 55s are also continuing to eat and drink out of the home regularly and are committing higher levels of their leisure spend to UK and overseas holidays and leisure breaks.

In terms of sectors, the study shows that eating out at a restaurant remains the most popular leisure activity in the UK and, despite gloomy news on the economic front, the proportion of the population eating out in the past six months has risen from 65% to 67%.

More relevantly, the report showed that the fast growing world of the social media is changing the patters of behaviour for many consumers.

For example, a third of us will consider a review of the restaurant on the internet as being important in choosing where we go and eat. Whilst it is mainly younger consumers who are driving this trend, it is expected that older professional workers will quickly catch up in using websites such as, or the fast expanding

Given this, I was fascinated to have the opportunity to meet the owners of a new restaurant in Cardiff Bay that is not only setting the pace in terms of its location and quality of food, but has been pioneering in its approach to marketing the business through various social media.

Pier 64, based in Penarth Marina, is a joint collaboration between Francis Dupuy of Le Gallois fame, local developer Paul Smith, and Joanne Nuwar. Marketing itself as a good quality restaurant in a fabulous location, it has become the place to go out in within the immediate environs of the capital city.

A great deal of its success is of course due to Francis’s reputation in the restaurant trade and his skill at blending the best of French cooking with Welsh hospitality. The location overlooking Penarth Marina is also hard to beat. However, it has also taken full advantage, from day one, of the opportunities for the latest trends in social marketing for the restaurant industry.

In fact, unlike most restaurants in Wales, Pier64 is taking a completely new and creative approach to promoting itself that is paying dividends in a crowded marketplace.

Twitter, the social networking and microblogging service, has been critical in creating a buzz for the new restaurant, gathering nearly 500 followers in its first two weeks. Pier64 also monitors social media for people talking in advance about coming in for a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary and then arranging for a free glass of bubbly on arrival. This approach all adds up to a great customer experience that can make the difference between people telling their friends and becoming a repeat customer.

A lot of direct customer interaction, including news and developments, will also be done via their new blog, although the use of such technology in the leisure sector is still considered unusual in the UK. In contrast, restaurants in the USA regularly uses the blogosphere, and the industry has a standard and accepted approach to social media that is proactive and valued by customers.

Of course, social networking is not without its dangers and opening up the whole area of social networking can be a risky business for a restaurant, especially one that is newly opened.

All of a sudden, rather than waiting for one food critic to visit the restaurant every six months, every customer with a mobile phone is potentially a reviewer sitting in the bar or the eating area and who can share it with tens of thousands in their own personal networks. Whilst worrying for some establishments, this approach can only help to raise the bar in terms of standards, thus benefiting the better restaurants which provide quality food and service at all times.

Another development that has benefited Pier 64 is the explosion in the applications (or apps) market. For example, it is one of only three Cardiff restaurants to feature in Jamie Oliver’s new “Foodie Guide to the UK”, a new iPhone app that is due out soon. This will enable the business to take full advantage of the growing army of smartphone users who access information on where to eat through their devices. Indeed, given that Jamie Oliver's last app became highest grossing paid for app on iTunes, its importance cannot be underestimated.

The opening a new restaurant like Pier 64 with excellent food in a great location is to be welcomed. However, the real winner here will be the rest of the industry in Wales which can learn vital lessons from this business, and others, on how social media benefit their sector in the long run.

Certainly, after a slow start, it is vital that Welsh businesses, in whatever industry they operate, to make the most of the opportunities presented by new technologies that are transforming the consumer experience for the better.