I infrequently dine out with a good friend of mine, A, when Hubby has presented himself as babysitter with his collection of 'blokey' skills. (These include remaining annoyingly calm at all times and ensuring the kids have much more fun than they would with me). Our trips out usually take us to one of Cardiff's restaurants, either in the city centre or 'down the Bay'.
Last night we visited our local La Tasca, (a well known chain of tapas bars in case you've been living on Mars), for some vino and a much needed carbohydrate and counselling intake. We chose La Tasca because it offers a consistently reliable quality of food and is very reasonably priced. The chain have recently launched a loyalty card scheme offering 20% off food on any day of the week. Numerous dishes from the new menu were consumed, very passable house wine drunk and a particularly gooey chocolate fondant shared and enjoyed. The service was excellent, the state of the toilets (my barometer as you know), less so, however, the evening was very pleasant.
What was shocking, though, was how empty the city centre was. Friday night in Cardiff used to be an event. At 5 pm office workers would pour out of the surrounding businesses and it would be knee deep at the bar by about 5:15 pm. Notorious clubs like Kiwis and The Rioja Bar had queues. Le Brasserie, Champers and Le Monde were solidly booked. Even the hotel bars of the Marriott and Hilton would be thronging with those in search of Chardonnay. 'Chippy Alley' was equally busy.
Last night around 11 pm, St Mary Street looked like a deserted town in the Wild West with, depressingly, two ambulances parked up waiting for the inevitable casualties of booze. Leaving aside this sad waste of vital NHS resources, where on earth has everyone gone? Have increased train, bus and taxi fares put paid to weekend revellers? Does everyone save themselves for Saturday night?
It is pretty obvious that, for all the bluff and bluster, for all the warm feelings generated by the Jubilee, the Olympics and the Paralympics, the recession is still cutting deep. Now must be a particularly risky time to launch a business, particularly one in the restaurant trade. Practically everyone offers discount vouchers, loyalty cards or offers via Wowcher or Groupon. I'm not sure anyone knows the true price of anything, let alone the cost. It is mid month and I am sure many people wait till payday before they go out. But I think for lots of businesses in this sector this festive season will be absolutely critical to their survival.
The traditional touting for office party business began in August but I'm sure lots of the smaller businesses will be offering a drink and a mince pie in reception rather than an all expenses paid shindig. A shame - because in many businesses the office party is one of the few tangible office perks staff get - even if they have to sit through the dreaded and unhilarious 'staff award' ceremonies.
Usually when you look at a company's marketing output, as soon as revenue dips, marketing spend is cut - and often in completely the wrong places. Advertising spend is slashed, PR contracts cut, promotional discounts removed when these things should be protected, reviewed and improved as necessary. Such cuts are often completely the wrong this to do. The other tendency of lots of businesses is to hunker down and look after the existing client base because of the cost of generating new business. You're damned if you spend and damned if you don't. But any entrepreneur worth their salt will be looking for that time critical gap in the market and galloping in to take advantage of it so you have to react to any dip in revenue as soon as possible.
I would recommend that businesses of all sizes but especially the Small to Medium Enterprises which comprise the bulk of Welsh business develop a Social Media strategy to take advantage of the sales and marketing potential of Twitter and Facebook to bolster their existing marketing communications. It's cheap and, if used correctly, very effective.
As far as our economy goes, it seems we are not out of the recessional woods yet.