We sat down with James Mobbs, Head of Marketing for Ego Restaurants and Toggler extraordinaire, in their Dore Moor Inn restaurant for a gossip about gifting. James shared his views of gifting, how Ego make gift cards work operationally, and a whole load more useful insights.
Not familiar with Ego? Allow us to introduce them. Ego is a family of Mediterranean inspired pubs and restaurants with 16 (soon to be 17) sites across the UK. In the past five years they’ve switched up their location focus, moving away from high streets and opening in beautiful suburban pubs – think open fires, big spaces ideal for large parties, and dog-friendly areas. Business has boomed since this change and Ego now identify as a pub-focused business.
What is Ego’s history with gifting?
‘We started out with paper vouchers – we’d send a perforated book of vouchers to each site with a unique code printed on each, the staff would then hand-write the date and present it to the recipient. We had books of £10 and £25 so everything had to be in denominations of 5 and 10. The issue we were facing with this system was that it was open to fraud and almost impossible to fully track everything.
The redemption of them proved challenging – the difference between what we’d sold and what we’d redeemed was sometimes quite different. There was no tracking on them as the voucher number was never put through the till. There was no expiry either – we had one from 2009 come in to redeem which of course, we had to honour. There are still paper vouchers out there, but we account for these through the till differently now so we can differentiate between the two types.
The predominant drive of having a gift card platform for us was the ability to track it through our Comtrex tills and manage the selling and redemption process. We’re now at the stage where these mostly balance. There are of course occasionally mistakes down to human error but it doesn’t cause us problems operationally.’
Has gifting been a focus?
‘Not a focus as such, but if we didn’t have them then we’d lose out on a chunk of revenue for sure. Particularly with Mother’s Day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day etc – even if we only did them for those national days, it’d be worth us having them.’ Speaking just after a successful Mother’s Day with one 100-seat restaurant doing 500 covers, James noted the importance of utilising national days when it comes to selling gift cards: ‘We have always seen a big spike for national days such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. We tend to include gift cards in our marketing materials around these days, usually alongside the special menus in our email marketing and social media posts.’
There isn’t currently a big marketing strategy behind selling vouchers as a whole – but having them available is definitely a great way of selling more. We’re interested in getting people through the doors and getting people signed up to the Ego Club but are happy how they work quietly in the background with very little effort.’
Using gift cards to win new customers
‘We understand the importance of a personal recommendation so we will be looking to set up an automated email after someone has made a couple of bookings to encourage the sale of a gift card as a gift. We’re confident these people are promoters, so are more likely to buy a gift card for someone else.’
James also discussed the importance of encouraging visits rather than leaving the gift card to expire. The visit is much more valuable to Ego, even if that person didn’t spend a penny more than the value of their gift.
What challenges have gift cards thrown up?
‘In the past, we did struggle with accounting for gift cards when they were paper vouchers, but now they’re managed on a designated platform with extensive reporting it’s absolutely causing fewer headaches and we don’t get any complaints from our finance team.
Operationally, only managers can redeem and sell gift cards, all other members of staff can check balances. We did sometimes have problems with people complaining they hadn’t had their email confirmation through but Toggle’s solved this as it’s all instant and we can go in and check the recipient’s details.’
Ego reported that they sell a lot more in venue rather than online which is likely down to their demographic. This is particularly interesting as they admit they don’t advertise them at the till point generally, though they do talk about gift vouchers on the feedback cards given out with the bill.
What are your views on experiences?
‘The option to sell experiences is a really great feature for Toggle but perhaps not on the agenda for Ego right this moment in time. It’s one we will consider in the future. I do think that experiences are on the up – I was actually reading this morning in the Propel newsletter that a report has shown London’s high-end bars are seeing the popularity of experiences such as masterclasses and tastings surge. The challenge around experiences for us is down to operations, whether our venues have the space to facilitate a gin tasting masterclass for example, and many of our sites run set menus with varying prices. For now, we’re happy with gift cards!’
Now, tell us about us. Has Toggle solved any problems?
‘The reporting side of things has definitely helped balance our books and also given us great insight. I suppose the biggie is that it’s given us the ability to sell online with ease. For a previous Christmas period, we had to build a splash page which enabled people to pay via Stripe which then triggered an email to our head office who would then fulfil them – it was very much a convoluted way.’
James expressed he was most impressed with the speed and ease it takes to get up and running selling gift cards with Toggle. ‘Put two hours focus on it and you’ll have it set up and customised with your emails, your expiry and your webshop built and ready to go.’
So what’s next for Ego?
In terms of marketing, James discussed how they hope to place a big focus on CRM activity and continue to expand. The future is certainly looking good as they look to open another three sites by late summer.
James emphasised the importance of service between the four walls of each site. ‘There needs to be a connection between fantastic customer service and consistent marketing. When that happens, you’ll win.’ James believes that the future in marketing should be authentic, with a personable reason behind everything; ‘the fundamentals haven’t changed – the right message, to the right person, at the right time. What has changed is the ability to which we can fulfil that expectation.’
Check out their website to mull over their menus, sign up to the Ego Club and perhaps even grab a gift card: https://www.egorestaurants.co.uk/