May 30, 2017

Scout Labs Overview

Scout Labs is a social listening tool that can monitor what people are saying about you and your organization. By defining searches, you can browse related:

It also tries to assign sentiment to these posts so you can gauge not only where people are posting, but if the posts are positive, negative or neutral. Additionally, you can share your workspace with your team (IT, PR, management, etc.) and manage team discussions.

While the initial value is monitoring social media buzz, Scout Labs’ tools make it easy to drill down to the source of the posts and engage authors directly to help build relationships.

Unfortunately, it’s not free, but packages begin at $99/month and a 30-day free trial. If the free sites like Crowd Eye and Social Mention aren’t meeting your needs, it might be worth checking out.

Chuck Kneeland – Steel Restaurant

Chuck Kneeland - Steel Restuarant

Chuck Kneeland - Steel Restuarant

Chuck Kneeland is a veteran of the restaurant industry. His career started waiting tables in Austin, TX and has led to Managing Partner of Steel Restaurant Atlanta and Vice President of the restaurant management company, Restaurant Works. Along the way he has honed his experience growing national restaurant brands, starting several of his own restaurants, and helping to turn around struggling brands – learning several key things along the way:

  • Offer high quality food, service, beverage and environment.
  • Surround yourself with a great staff.
  • Provide structure and systems to manage uncertainty, but allow flexibility.
  • Aggressively squash issues before they spread. If you have an unhappy customer, hunt them down and delight them.
  • Finally, Adapt, Adapt, Adapt – 1) pay attention to your patrons, your neighborhood, the economy, technology, marketing trends …. and…. everything else. 2) Make adjustments as necessary.

With Steel Restaurant Atlanta, Chuck has created a beautiful, mid-town destination that embraces these ideals and attracts a mosaic of patrons. He strives to achieve Accessible Elegance, offering something for diverse palates and budgets.

I was able to sit down with Chuck and get a LOT of insights from him. That has resulted in a pretty long post, but it’s warranted considering all of the insights he provided. As always, you can read my summary below, but if you have time, listen to the entire interview (75 min, so it may take a minute or so to load) here

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audience

Steel Restaurant Atlanta Wine Room

Steel Restaurant Atlanta's Wine Room

Steel Restaurant has a diverse audience depending on the time of day and which Steel Restaurant you are talking about.

Lunch versus Dinner

Lunch is more business people that work in the area. Dinner is completely different and can include bachelorette parties, corporate events, wealthy patrons that will buy $150 bottle of wine, as well as people that are looking for a good deal, but there is also a geographic difference.

Dallas versus Atlanta

Steel Restaurant Dallas' Wine Room

Steel Restaurant Dallas' Wine Room

The audience in Dallas is largely professionals, but transitions from older patrons that live in the Turtle Creek area early in the night to a younger demographic as the night progresses. When people go out in Dallas, it is an event that people dress up for.

Steel Restaurant Atlanta’s audience is more tricky. Similar to Dallas, it includes older patrons that live in mid-town high rises that love the food and service as well as younger patrons that like the hip environment. However, Chuck has discovered that Atlanta is much more neighborhood driven and casual than the Dallas market – kind of like his experience in Austin. Patrons – especially on weekends – are more likely to show up in jeans and t-shirts than in Dallas.

Both cities, however, demand a high quality experience.

Food at Steel Restaurant

Food at Steel Restaurant

Entice

Fundamentally, Steel Restaurant focuses on great food, service, and beverage programs in an elegant and stylish environment conveniently located in mid-town Atlanta and the Turtle Creek area of Dallas. More specifically, Steel offers:

  • Delectable sushi as well as dishes where seafood, chicken, and beef take center stage.
  • An excellent wine selection for those that demand the best.
  • “Craveable menu items” that stand out in people’s minds and aren’t available anywhere else.
  • Great service and attention to details.
  • Affordable Bento boxes around $15.
  • Noodle and rice dishes for cost conscious patrons – those looking for lunch under $10 or dinner under $15.

Steel’s offering is constantly being fine-tuned is based on patron feedback and even focus groups.

To address the neighborhood and casual culture of Atlanta, Chuck sees the need to “think neighborhood.” This includes:

  • Connecting more intimately with people in surrounding condos as an involved member of the neighborhood.
  • Taking into consideration the pedestrian nature of mid-town.
  • Marketing targeted specifically to the locals.

Promotions

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Part of being able to execute on great promotions is having something great to promote. Steel Restaurant adds special events to their core offering (see the Upcoming Event section) to take advantage of this fertile ground. Some of the promotional tools Chuck has used include:

Traditional and Off-Line Promotions

  • PR – Chuck works closely with Jamie Annarino from Red Clay to help orchestrate an ongoing PR strategy.
  • Editorial – Chuck is a big fan of publicity through critic reviews, etc. … free promotion that comes if you are really good and can connect to the writers.
  • Steel’s website – Steel Restaurants’ websites have been great at not only providing people information about the restaurants, but also setting the tone for what they are all about. The look and feel is a reflection of the actual environment. Steel Restaurant also puts a lot of effort in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to improve their organic search result ranking.
  • Open Table – allows the collection of names through reservations which Steel follows up on by sending emails to visitors – especially those that take the time to write a review.
  • Radio – Steel doesn’t pay for any radio advertising, but does encourage radio personalities to come in and get a first hand experience of the restaurant, which frequently leads to on air mentions. Jamie has been able to help connect to these personalities.
  • Print Promotions – Steel doesn’t pay for promotions in print publications either, but has been able to work out a gift certificate trade program with some – notably Sunday Paper. He provides them with gift certificates in exchange for print promotions and they use the gift certificates in giveaways and resell them at a discount. This allows effectiveness to be measured by tracking the certificates that are redeemed. Overall, however, Chuck “doesn’t believe in print anymore,” it’s just too expensive for a single restaurant.
  • Direct Mail – the only mailing that Steel has participated in is with Welcome Mat Services that delivers special offers to people moving into certain zip codes. Steel offered a $20 off voucher with a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” message, which tied in well with Atlanta’s neighborhood mentality. An added benefit is that Steel gets the demographic and address information for the people that redeem the coupon.
  • Special Offer Book – Chuck is also providing a 2 for 1 special offer, included in a promotions book sold to corporations. Extending these offers is unusual for higher end restaurants, but he believes that there are more people using coupons now than ever before and it gives him a conduit to get new people in the door, stun them with Steel’s offering and turn them into patrons. These deals require no money up front, however, he carefully monitors the other restaurants that are included to make sure he is less susceptible to brand dilution.
  • Hotel concierges – Concierges are trusted by hotel guests and Steel Restaurant builds relationships with them by hosting special events, sending them gift bags and occasionally comp’ing their meal when they visit. Referrals can be tracked in Open Table to determine who is driving business to Steel and they treat referred guests as VIP’s through little touches such as providing a complementary glass of Champagne “from the concierge.”
  • Taxi Appreciation Day – At one point, Chuck distributed free lunches to the taxi drivers of Atlanta in an effort to increase word of mouth. In hind site, this doesn’t seem like it was very effective, but when friends of his asked a cab driver if he knew about Steel, the cabbie told them about the promotion (“Steel really cares about us”). It didn’t have a huge return, but the point is to be creative.
  • Membership discounts – Steel offers a variety of discount programs to different groups. For example, Mid Town Alliance members receive a 10% discount and residents of Plaza Midtown receive a 20% discount.
  • Cause Marketing - Steel is a proponent of helping local charities, not only because of the exposure that it provides them, but also because of the opportunity to give back to the community. They have helped raise money for non-profits through work with organizations such as  Camp Twin Lakes, Backpacks in the Park (sponsored by For the Kid), Toys for Tots, AID Atlanta, Jerusalem House, Breast Cancer Walks, Lymphoma Society, Community in Schools (Dine out for Kids), and Zoo Atlanta. This has included contributing to silent auctions as well as hosting events where Steel donates the food/venue and a percentage of the bar to the charity.

Viral and Social Network Marketing

The bar at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

The bar at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Viral and social network marketing is, in general, very valuable, but takes time. Chuck believes you have to schedule for these activities or these efforts are likely to fall between the cracks. Also, the staff must be part of the game plan, so he encourages activities like the collection of  customer feedback cards to build a patron database – creating ongoing relationships with patrons needs to be part of the culture.

  • Email Campaigns - email addresses are collected through Open Table and customer comment cards and followed with periodic emails. Chuck’s rule is no more than 2 messages a month and Steel Restaurant is working on developing more involved newsletters that provide comprehensive information about the restaurants and what they have going on to keep patrons plugged-in.
  • Local Search (i.e. Citysearch and Yelp) – Steel has been active on both Citysearch and Yelp (paying about $300/month), but tracking the performance of these sites has led Chuck to believe there is not a lot of value beyond the features that are offered for free. The most notable advantage has been the ability to monitor user posts, especially negative ones, so that Steel can resolve issues and ideally connect to individuals directly. He’s gone as far as, after receiving a negative review, calling every person with an Open Table reservation from the previous night to find the reviewer and offer to make things right.
  • Facebook – both Steel Dallas and Atlanta have Facebook pages – tapping into social networks – that have provided decent activity related to user posts and promotions. They don’t have a lot of fans, but “the ones that are on there are the most loyal.”
  • Twitter – with over 1,200 followers on Twitter, even if a fraction of Steel’s posts are seen, it provides a way to stay on patrons’ minds.

NOTE: Steel’s willingness to provide special offers is worth highlighting. Many higher end restaurants resist this idea because of concerns about how it reflects on their brand, but Chuck makes the point that things are different now – “who pays full price nowadays?” When you live in a world where Macy’s is having 50% off sales, he believes you need to change to meet the market’s demands.

Leverage

Wasabi Booth at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Wasabi Booth at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Chuck believes that word of mouth is “the most important thing of all.”  Good word of mouth leads to returning customers, event bookings, and referrals. Making it easier for patrons to spread the word is the responsibility of the organization.

  • Social networks like Facebook allow for news and upcoming events to be rapidly shared with the click of a button
  • Twitter allows information to be “re-tweeted” easily
  • Email thank you’s keep Steel Restaurant on people’s minds and makes it easy for them to respond, forward the email to friends, or click to make another reservation
  • Email newsletters can also be easily forwarded

Some of the tools that help build the email database are:

  • Open Table – Open Table serves as a valuable funnel of email information on patrons reserving through the site.
  • Mailing cards – Steel also encourages patrons to fill in survey cards with their information that can be entered into their contact list for email or physical mail follow ups.

Connect

The most obvious connection points to patrons is their time in the restaurant, but in this competitive market, taking the extra steps required to maintain a dialog is a huge advantage. Chuck’s dialog focuses on:

  • Being Appreciative. Call, email, or send a card to guests after their visit using information from Open Table, your POS system, or customer comment cards. Show them that you value their business.
  • Being Informative. Keep them informed about the organization using email campaigns, but DO NOT ABUSE THIS. No more than 2 a month.
  • Feeding those with passion. Provide a way to connect with your most passionate patrons; being active on Facebook and Twitter allows people to choose how they want to interact with you. Think about it this way, if you try this and no one signs up, then you didn’t annoy anyone. However, if you have patrons that want to actively be informed about what your organization is up to real time, whether you understand it or not, why not feed their zeal?

Steel Restaurant Dallas' bar

Steel Restaurant Dallas' bar

Simplify

Throughout this interview, it became obvious how many things Chuck focuses on to make Steel successful. Obviously, anything that can simplify this helps a lot and here are some of his tricks.

Non-technology

  • Add process and structure – having procedures in place so that employees know what to expect helps to streamline operations. This includes managing work schedules, taking monthly physical inventory, systematizing ordering and delivery processes, etc. People like structure and knowing what to expect.
  • Be flexible. While structure is important, don’t be so rigid that it stifles the patron experience, let the staff do their job.
  • Partner with people that make life easier. Find partners that understand their success is intertwined with yours and that are willing to go the extra mile. For example:
    • Cat Chang performs every Friday night at Steel Restaurant Atlanta and promotes herself in addition to Steel’s efforts.
    • National Distributing is a vendor that works with Steel to build a wine strategy, comes in to dine and refers others to visit – Chuck does business with people that do business with him.

Technology

  • POS – Steel uses Aloha POS, which provides information on not only what food items are popular, but the activity of various discount programs and analysis of Net sells derived from those programs.
  • Open Table – Open Table provides information on guests, including phone number, email address, birth dates, etc. This makes it easier to build your patron database, which in turn enables you to Connect and Leverage word of mouth.

Success

Using metrics to find out what promotional tools are successful and the aspects of your organization that are working – and those that aren’t – is critical. Steel has a robust framework in place for this, with a focus on efforts that show quantitative results.

  • User comment cards. This is low-tech, but can provide great feedback for detailing people’s in-house experience.
  • Special Offer redemption. Steel tracks who is redeeming special offers and where those offers are coming from. This closes the loop for their efforts and let’s them know where to focus more resources.
  • Web Activity. Steel actively monitors how active their Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Citysearch profiles are and tracks how people are finding their website (through Google Analytics). Instead of paying a online reputation management company approximately $2,000 a month to do this, they have enlisted the help of a Georgia Tech student that provides them with monthly reports.
  • POS – Aloha provides metrics for what menu items are popular and which are not, helping to refine Steel’s offering to meet the demands of patrons. It also allows them to track the special offers previously mentioned.
  • Open Table – this has provided a wealth of information about patrons and the frequency of their visits.

Words of Advice

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Dallas

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Dallas

Chuck believes that you first must be passionate about what you do. Beyond that, he advises:

  • Don’t just say you are customer driven, be customer driven to obtain repeat business.
  • Stay committed to quality, no matter what.
  • Your people are your best asset and mediocre people equal a mediocre business.  Take great care of your staff and spend the time to choose them wisely.
  • Organization and structure is critical – watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

Connect with Steel and Chuck Kneeland

Steel Atlanta

Located in Plaza Midtown at the corner of 9th and West Peachtree
950 West Peachtree St
Suite 255
Atlanta GA 30309
(view map)

Steel Dallas

Located in The Centrum Building at intersection of Welborn and Hall
3102 Oak Lawn Avenue
Suite 100
Dallas, TX 75219
(view map)

Steel Restaurant Atlanta: www.steelatlanta.com
Steel Restaurant Dallas: www.steeldallas.com
Chuck Kneeland on LinkedIn
Twitter: twitter.com/steelrestaurant
Steel Atlanta on Facebook
Steel Dallas on Facebook

Upcoming Events

Dallas

  • Monday – Thursday, 5:30-7:00 PM – Sunsets at Steel. 3-course dinner for $30.
  • Wednesday nights, 5:30-7:00 PM – Sushi Night. Complementary Sushi and happy hour specials on Steel specialty cocktails, beer and hot Sake.
  • Thursday nights, 5:30 PM – close – Kampai Thursdays. 50% off Sake by the bottle.
  • August 14-30Restaurant Week 2009. Prixe Fixe, 3 course meal for $35 that benefits North Texas Food Bank.

Atlanta

  • Monday – Saturday, 5:00-6:30 PM. Pre-Theater Menu. 2-course menu for $19.95 or 3-course menu for $24.95.
  • Wednesday 5:00-7:00 PM. Steel Happy Hour. Complementary Sushi and signature cocktails.
  • Friday 10PM until. Fantasy Fridays with Cat Chang. Live on piano and mic… check her out at http://catchang.com/.
  • August 5, 2009. Participating in Taste of Asia’s Public Tasting at Macy’s.
  • August 29 – September 6, 2009. Participating in Midtown Restaurant Week.
  • August 20, 2009 . Participating in  Dine out For Kids. Helps to raise money for Communities in Schools.
  • TBA. 2 year anniversary party
  • Lots more !

Background

Chuck Kneeland started his career as a waiter paying his way through the University of Texas, which led to bar tending and night club management. After graduation, he spent a brief time at 3M before returning to the restaurant industry:

  • He began by working for Sfuzzi in Dallas in the late 80′s. This grew from one restaurant to about 19 across the U.S. and Chuck moved up in the organization.
  • He then moved on to Lettuce Entertain You out of Chicago which was bought by Brinker International, leading to a role with the Maggiano’s division. He worked there for 7 years in Chicago, D.C., and ultimately ended up opening the Maggiano’s in Atlanta.
  • In 2001, Chuck opened an Italian restaurant in the West Village (Dallas) called Ferre’ with his current business partner, Patrick Colombo (founder of Sfuzzi). This was followed by a wine bar next door called Cru.
  • Steel Restaurant in Dallas was owned by one of the investors from Ferre’ and Cru – Mike Chen – and was struggling, so Chuck helped turn the restaurant around, creating a successful sushi restaurant in a market with very strong existing players.
  • After turning Steel Dallas around, Chuck decided to expand the concept to Atlanta, which he was familiar with from his Maggiano’s days. He felt that there was a hole in the Atlanta market that Steel could fill and they opened in November 2007.

Chuck is also the Vice President of Restaurant Works – a restaurant management/ownership company founded by Patrick Colombo that, is involved with Steel Atlanta, Steel Dallas, Victory Tavern in Dallas, Ferre’ in Fort Worth and Cru’s multiple locations.

Chuck continues to focus on the growth of Steel Restaurant Atlanta, but is also considering how to expand the concept in addition to growing the other properties associated with Restaurant Works.

Shout Outs

Steel Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon You can also see this interview from Urbanspoon.

Janice Provost – owner of Parigi in Dallas, TX

Janice Provost at Parigi

Janice Provost at Parigi

Janice Provost committed to continuing the legacy of Parigi – a Dallas, TX icon for 25 years – in 2001 and has succeeded in keeping the restaurant at the fore front of the city’s fine dining. This is no easy task given the diverse population of the Oak Lawn / Turtle Creek neighborhood that is home for some very discriminating palates, but Janice has been able to merge the founding philosophy of Parigi – fun, delicious food with an environment that makes everyone feel at home – with a drive to constantly update not only the menu, but the physical space to continually surprise and please her patrons.

In our interview, Janice shares some of her insights on how to run a long lasting organization and build the relationships that lead to success. Listen to the entire interview here (may take a few seconds to load)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audience

Parigi serving beautiful food

Parigi serving beautiful food

Parigi’s location on Oak Lawn between Cedar Springs and Lemmon guarantees a diverse clientele. This includes people that have been coming to the restaurant for 25 years and consider it a part of their family life. Also included are empty nesters, business professionals, the gay community, employees from places like The Design Center, and visitors staying at various, upscale hotels in the area. However, Parigi is also a destination restaurant that draws patrons from more distant areas of Dallas.

The one thing they all have in common is an interest in high quality and exciting food in an environment that feels like a extended family.

Promotions

Promotions is always a challenge, especially when combined with all of the other demands of restaurant ownership. Here is a quick checklist of Janice’s experience:

Parigi's menu board

Parigi's menu board

  • Print advertising – Parigi has experimented with print advertising, but doesn’t do it anymore, mostly because there is no way to determine how effective it is.
  • PR – when Parigi does appear in printed publications, it’s when an article is written about them. Helping fuel this – in addition to just having a great business – is Cause Marketing, such as participating in non-profit events and ongoing support for organizations like the Dallas Youth Village, which helps troubled youths learn social responsibility.
  • Parigi’s website – this provides a place on the web for comprehensive restaurant information and menus submitted to the web developer are generally updated within 24 hours to keep things current.
  • Local Search – (Zagat, CitySearch, Yelp, etc) Janice does Google Parigi to get an idea of what these sites say about the restaurant, but doesn’t actively manage a profile on any of these sites. She believes in the power of these sites and is interested in them, but it’s been a challenge to find the time that this management requires.
  • Email Campaigns. Parigi does use email, but is very sensitive to over saturation. Once a week is too much, they target a monthly newsletter that combines various information at once.
  • Blog – The Parigi blog gives an opportunity to express a more personal side, but time is something everyone has a shortage of. Janice is a big fan, but it does take a lot of effort.

Parigi's pation on Oak Lawn

Parigi's pation on Oak Lawn

Leverage

Word of mouth is “huge” when it comes to being successful and there are some ways Janice recommends fostering the process:

  • Be Awesome. Give a great experience and people will tell friends, but keep in mind – people will tell a friend about a great experience and 10 friends about a bad one.
  • Hotel concierges – Janice has some experience with this and thinks it can be very effective. While Parigi has a great relationship with some of the local hotels, such as The Melrose and The Mansion, there are steps that can be taken to improve these relationships:
    • Host special events for local concierges so they are more familiar with what you offer
    • Make sure they have menus and other promotional material
    • Thank them for sending patrons your way with a note or even a gift certificate
  • Social Networking. Parigi maintains a profile on Facebook that allows them to share information with “fans.” In fact, Janice believes that  telling friends and fans on Facebook that Parigi was nominated by WFAA for “Best New American Restaurant” helped them win the honor, showing how passionate patrons can be mobilized.
  • Twitter – she’s looked into using Twitter, but hasn’t decided on how to incorporate it into the promotional strategy.

Connect

Parigi’s current philosophy is that connecting to patrons happens when they are in the restaurant, so that experience needs to be amazing. This includes providing a great and comfortable environment, amazing food and stellar service. Janice would like to enhance this by connecting in ways that extend beyond the in-restaurant period, but when juggling all of the other facets of the business, time is limited.

Entice

Sample Parigi dishes

Sample Parigi dishes

Parigi entices clientele with:

  • The Food – the food obviously must be tremendous and Janice lives up to this demand. High quality food, a menu that changes weekly and willingness to explore different ideas (such as blending Italian, French, Indian and Asian influences in creative ways) keeps things new, exciting and delicious.
  • Ties to the Community. Janice believes in supporting the local community that supports her. This includes sourcing many ingredients locally, displaying the works of local artists and supporting various non-profit activities.
  • Longevity and quality of staff. The staff – referred to as Team Parigi – mostly consists of people that have been at the restaurant for over a year. This focus on employee relationships helps to insure smooth operations and is supported by treating the staff like family.
  • Personalized relationships. Part of the staff’s responsibility is to build relationships with their patrons. This includes knowing their faces, names, what they like to drink or even how they like their fish cooked. It’s all about creating “comfort in feeling like they’re home.”
  • Keep things Fresh. Every year, from July 3-10, Parigi closes and gets a make over to keep the environment “fresh.”

Inside Parigi

Inside Parigi

Simplify

There are a few things that help Parigi simplify operations:

  • POS System - Parigi uses Triangle POS which helps to identify what menu items are being successful, but is no replacement for listening to customers. The system itself is pretty good, although there have been some problems with customer service.
  • Reservation Management – Janice thinks that reservation systems like Open Table are great, but isn’t convinced that it’s flexible enough to handle the dynamics of Parigi where tables are constantly rearranged to accommodate patrons. Plus, the added hardware would make for a tight fit in the intimate space. She is sticking to the pencil and paper tables chart, although she would like to be able to capture patron information like birthdays and anniversaries – right now this is done through customer survey cards.
  • Great Accountant. A great accountant is indispensable and keeps things organized.
  • Great vendors. Parigi is lucky enough to have vendors that are responsive and have the same discerning taste as the owners. Vendors that you can trust save time by paying attention to your best interests for you.

Success

The ultimate measure of success is a packed house with happy patrons. Beyond that, Parigi doesn’t measure many metrics, although the call to action on Facebook for the WFAA competition does provide feedback on effort versus results. Janice also thinks that measuring things like web traffic can be valuable, but it is a question of having the time to focus on that information.

Words of Advice

Janice recommends running a small restaurant so you can focus on the patrons. Beyond that, be passionate, hire the right people, serve food you are proud of, and keep your patrons and employees happy.

Connect with Parigi’s and Janice Provost

Location (view map)
3311 Oak Lawn Ave # 102
Dallas, TX 75219-4200
(214) 521-0295

Website: http://www.parigirestaurant.com/
Blog: http://parigidallas.blogspot.com/
Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dallas-TX/Parigi-Restaurant/47213581430?ref=search
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/janice-provost/10/a36/434

Upcoming Events

September 25, 2009 @ 12:30 PM – Janice Provost will appear at Texas State Fair Celebrity Chef Demo

October 18, 2009 @ 12:30 – Chad Houser will appear at the Texas State Fair Celebrity Chef Demo

October 24, 2009 – Parigi offers extended sidewalk seating for the Oak Lawn Halloween Block Party. This is the restaurant’s biggest event of the year for what is described as the biggest Halloween party in the country, where patrons get to have table service and see some of the most outrageous costumes around. If you want a seat, be fore warned that people make reservations a year in advance.

Background

Janice and Chad - owners of Parigi

Janice and Chad - owners of Parigi

After receiving her Marketing and Merchandising degree from Stephen F. Austin State University, Janice Provost worked in sales for 12 years. Her love of cooking and entertaining led her to cooking classes at El Centro College in Dallas, which helped Janice get her foot in the door by working for free at a local restaurant. Eventually, she was noticed by Parigi’s Executive Chef – Melody Wolfertz - who gave Janice a once a week paying job doing prep work. From that point, she worked her way up the kitchen hierarchy until, after 9/11 when she bought the restaurant and partnered with Abraham Salum as the Executive Chef.

After 3 years, Abraham moved on to pursue other opportunities and Janice added Executive Chef to her role as owner. Last year, she added Chad Houser as a partner to help continue the growing restaurant and catering business – both sharing the same vision and passion for food.

Shout Out’s

Parigi on Urbanspoon You can also see this interview on UrbanSpoon.

Clint Bradley – running a vacation rental property

Tres Vistas pool and front door

Tres Vistas pool and front door

Owning a vacation rental property seems like a tempting investment and, at first glance, might seem pretty straightforward:

  • Buy a place where you love to vacation
  • Rent it out when you aren’t there

However, it’s not that simple – as Clint Bradley from Dallas, TX discusses in this interview. He is one of the owners of Tres Vistas in Puerto Vallarta, MX – a luxury, 5 bedroom, 3 story house that overlooks the city and has great ocean views. He spends from 5 to 10 hours per week on work related to the house – from booking reservations to managing employees to accounting – and trips to PV are now only partial vacations that also involve a lot of house maintenance activities. Like all organizations, he constantly struggles with getting butts in seats, or in this case, bodies in beds. Here are some of the highlights from the interview, but you can also listen to it in its entirety

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Promotion

The fundamental challenge of getting butts in seats obviously applies to vacation rental owners. Some of Clint’s successes have come from:

  • Reservation sitesvrbo.com (Vacation Rental By Owner) is perhaps the most well known and Clint estimates it is responsible for a majority of their reservations, with listings typically costing $300-$500/year. Hotels.com also offer these services, although other players like Travelocity and Expedia don’t. Yelp and CitySearch offer solutions for multi-unit “guest houses” and even bed and breakfasts, but not much for individual vacation rentals and no listings in most countries outside of the U.S..
  • Tres Vistas own website – Tres Vistas also has its own website that provides comprehensive information about the property, but keeping this site up to date with new pictures and information can be time consuming due to the coordination that needs to happen with the web developer.
  • Rental agencies – local rental agencies result in approximately 10% of bookings and take about 20% of the reservation total as a fee.
  • Word of mouth – it’s estimated that this delivers about 10-15% of their yearly bookings

Clint has largely avoided social network sites like Facebook because he is not convinced that the time commitment to maintain information on yet another site would be worth the effort.

Leverage

Tres Vistas' living room

Tres Vistas' living room

When people consider vacationing in a different country, there can be some insecurity about finding a reliable place to stay. Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to address this and there are some ways Tres Vistas facilitates the buzz:

  • Make friends and acquaintances aware of the vacation property. This doesn’t have to be a hard sell, but actually knowing the property owner does reduce some of the perceived risk.
  • Have business cards that indicate where more information can be seen online about the property as well as reservation contact info.
  • Show people the property. Clint has used Tres Vistas to host several parties for friends and family. This gives him a chance to let people see for themselves what the property has to offer.
  • Encourage guests to comment on their stay at Tres Vistas on sites like VRBO.com.

Tres Vistas' 3-storied balconies

Tres Vistas' 3-storied balconies

Audience

Tres Vistas is a free standing house that can very comfortably sleep 12. While the house would still feel comfortable for a couple, it is intended for larger groups – possibly family gatherings, a group of friends on an adventure weekend or even as a private party venue.

The amenities (see the list below) are geared to make this a luxury home away from home. Tres Vistas wants every living need to be met – from WiFi to an available staff that can do grocery shopping or translation for you – so that guests can focus on their vacation. The full laundry room, walk in pantry and Wii with a high definition TV are all examples of attention to the target audience’s needs.

Connect

Tres Vistas relies on the Promotional tools already mentioned to connect to their patrons and, by delivering a great experience, helps to insure that guests will come back again and tell their friends.

Entice

The main terrace of Tres Vistas

The main terrace of Tres Vistas

This is simple. Tres Vistas entices its audience by offering a home-like situation… if you have a luxury home complete with staff. Otherwise, they offer the home you wish you had except that it is in the heart of a great Puerto Vallarta neighborhood with amazing views – a taste of the good life.

In addition, guests receive unique concierge benefits that go beyond well beyond good service. One example is that visitors are met at the airport by a bi-lingual taxi driver that knows exactly where the house is and will even have a drink run out to the cab on the way there. The house man greets them once they arrive, gives them a tour of the house, and coordinates with them to determine what groceries they may need and what time they would like to have breakfast served (should they want that).

Simplify

Tools like vrbo.com help to track reservations and keep potential guests informed about availability, although this information has to be kept up to date when reservations come in from other sources. Also, Paypal offers an easy to set up and manage merchant service account which allows Clint to process credit cards with little effort.

Success

Success is measured, obviously, by the number of reservations that are booked. Clint keeps track of how guests discover Tres Vistas and eliminates promotional tools that don’t perform.  He’s constantly trying new ways to attract guests (including sites like craigslist) and fine tunes to get the best results. Also, as more guests visit Tres Vistas, there is a growing fan base that makes organic reservations more common.

Final Words of Advice

Throughout my conversations with Clint, several key pieces of advice emerged for anyone considering operating a vacation rental.

  • It is a business like any other and requires attention and work. You have to promote, stay focused on providing guests with a great experience, manage the upkeep of the property, manage staff and workers, and deal with management of reservations. It’s nice to have a place you can getaway to a few times a year, but be aware that these will be working vacations.
  • Make sure you choose a property somewhere that you love to be.
  • Look at the market and try to find gaps. If there is a glut of 1 and 2 bedroom rentals, look for a larger property and vice versa.
  • Constantly try new ways to connect to likely patrons. You never know what might work.
  • Especially if you are considering a property in a foreign country, make sure you have staff or other resources that can help guests get plugged into the local community and act as a translator if needed. Make it easy for them to get the most out of their vacation.

Connect to Clint and Tres Vistas

Features

Tres Vistas pool at night

Tres Vistas pool at night

Tres Vistas is in a more traditional part of Puerto Vallarta – Zona Romantica. Different from the tourist areas that consist of homogenous shops, condos, etc, their location is surrounded by traditional family dwellings as well as multi-million dollar villas. In addition to the location advantage, the house itself offers stunning features.

Click above for more pics…
Amenities

  • 3 stories with balconies
  • A/C: 7 units
  • 800 thread count linens
  • Washer/Dryer
  • Gas/Electric grill
  • Pool/hot tub/ fireplace
  • WiFi
  • Free calls to U.S.

Beds

  • 3 King beds
  • 1 Queen bed
  • 2 Double beds

Entertainment

  • Dish Network Cable throughout
  • TV/DVD’s in all bedrooms
  • 2 public area TV’s
  • Wii Game station
  • CD players in all bedrooms
  • Living room/pool area stereo system
Kitchen

  • SS Fridge/Freezer
  • Ice Maker (filtered)
  • 6 burner gas stove
  • Oven
  • Double sink
  • 4-slice toaster
  • Coffee maker
  • Blender
  • Microwave
  • Cooking utensils, dishes, etc.
  • Water Cooler

Staff

  • Daily housekeeping
  • Prepared breakfast
  • House man/concierge

View

  • Ocean
  • Mountain
  • City
Local Activities

  • Golf
  • Beach
  • Zip Line/Canopy tours
  • Restaurants
  • Swimming
  • Windsurfing
  • Live Theater
  • Shopping
  • Gyms
  • Boating
  • Snorkeling/Diving
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Health/Beauty Spa
  • Horseback Riding
  • Sightseeing
  • Parasailing
  • Surfing
  • Fishing
  • Cinemas/Movie Theaters

Shout Outs

Stephanie Huebinger LudlowHuebinger Photography Studios, Round Rock, TX (Austin). When you rely on photos to convince people that your vacation rental is the best choice, having a great photographer is critical. Stephanie has been a great friend and huge help in promoting Tres Vistas.

The people of Puerto Vallarta – Clint credits the people of Puerto Vallarta for being so friendly and helpful to visitors. While the weather and house are great, the people of the city make the experience that much more enjoyable.