Bleu Restaurant & Lounge is inside the Westin Hotel in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, but is not a part of it.
And making that point to consumers has been a huge part of the marketing for this 11-month old restaurant.
“We didn’t want it to be a hotel restaurant; we wanted it to be standalone,” says Glenn Malone, COO of Senate Hospitality Group, a Nashville-based hotel development and consulting firm, which operates The Westin.
“Generally, hotel restaurants don’t have a reputation as a place where people want to go and dine,” he explains.
So Senate Hospitality was very deliberate in not mentioning the hotel in marketing the restaurant.
Bleu’s website also stands alone, separate from the Westin. But the Westin does send out emails to patrons who have expressed an interest in the restaurant, to let them know about it.
Working on keeping the two as separate entities has paid off, Malone says.
Typically hotel restaurants have their strongest capture rate for breakfast, followed by dinner, he says, but that’s not been the case for Bleu.
“Lunch has been very busy because we’re attracting people in the downtown community—people looking to eat on their lunch break. We’ve also had great success in attracting locals for dinner.”
Average covers per day since launching Bleu are as follows: Breakfast—62, lunch—93, dinner—124. “So, as you can see,” Malone points out, “we are bucking the trend of hotel restaurants, which typically see their highest covers at breakfast.”
And there’s been another surprise too.
“An ancillary benefit of working to position this restaurant as standalone is that it’s been embraced by the hotel guests more so than if it was a hotel restaurant,” Malone points out.
“People nowadays want to experience a local restaurant, not a chain or a hotel restaurant. They want something they wouldn’t get in their own home town.”
Another reason Bleu’s been popular is because the community has felt involved with it, partly because they were invited to select the name of the restaurant.
“I think it was a great move on our part because it allowed the community to feel included and engaged, getting in on the ground level of this development,” Malone says.
“When people feel that they are stakeholders in a business, they are more likely to become loyal customers. Additionally, it organically creates good word-of-mouth buzz.”
But it wasn’t just marketing that made a success of the restaurant. Senate Hospitality ran focus groups before Bleu opened to ensure the restaurant and its food were what Memphis residents wanted.
And the company also had some work to do in overcoming negative perceptions of the space since the two previous restaurants only survived for around two years each.
“There was a perception in the market that restaurants in this space didn’t have longevity. So when we started creating buzz around Bleu, we felt like we had to find a way to push past that,” Malone says.
“We had to assure the folks … that this restaurant was here for the long haul. They also needed to be reassured that we were working diligently to correct diners’ issues with service and consistency of the food.”
Part of that meant hyping up the new chef, Robert Cirillo. “We shared his story and his diverse background so that people could get to know the personality behind the restaurant. He is a very relatable character and was a significant factor in the direction we took in rebranding the restaurant space.”
And when Bleu finally opened, it celebrated with a two-day launch. This allowed Senate Hospitality to welcome food critics and bloggers first, and allow them to enjoy a sit-down meal.
“We knew that this approach would lead to more a favorable outcome and more thorough reviews,” Malone explains. “The chef, GM, and the partners were able to interact with everyone who attended, personally answer questions and make personal introductions.”
The second day was more of a festive occasion, welcoming around 300 people and including live music to bring the restaurant to the community with some fanfare.
And the fanfare continues. Expectations were cautiously optimistic about the new restaurant and Senate Hospitality budgeted for revenue to be up by 19 percent by halfway through the year. But it was better than the company had hoped: By July revenue was up by 32 percent.
Figures like that those are nothing to feel bleu about.