Open since 1967, the Exeter Northcott Theatre has a rich history of developing new writing and nurturing artists at the beginning of their careers. In recent years, under the artistic direction of Paul Jepson, the theatre has steadily increased its producing arm as well as offering audiences a wide range of touring performances from new and established companies. Exeter Northcott Theatre has been using Spektrix since 2015, and like many venues we work with, pre-show dining is an important revenue stream. With healthy ticket sales expected when the new summer season launched in January, the theatre was looking to maximise expected attendance with promotions to encourage additional sales. The management saw an opportunity to improve its pre-show meal offer and make better use of digital techniques to encourage pre-booking.
There were two goals in rethinking the offer and how customers booked. The first one was coping with the busy period just before a show starts. When diners want to arrive, order and pay at the same time, providing a great meal and service is a serious operational challenge. It leaves staff with little time for cross- or up-selling. The second goal was to increase audience awareness of pre-show dining options. As an important revenue stream, flagging it up to customers at the point of sale – even if it didn’t result in an immediate booking – was a marketing opportunity that needed to be better used.
Simplifying the offer
Ordering meals online from a long list of options can be time-consuming for customers and a distraction from the primary ticket sale. To make pre-booking simpler, the theatre simplified its set menu package with two and three-course options. Using Spektrix technology to redesign the purchase path, customers were given a straightforward online prompt offering to pre-book a menu and time slot along with their tickets. The number of diners defaulted automatically to the number of tickets being purchased.
Mark Gambrill, the General Manager, said:
“Packaging the menu into two- and three-course meals transferred very easily to the online packages. We provide a sample menu on our website so prospective diners have a good idea of what the menu will be on the day.
“We sold 1,470 pre-show dining packages online in this period, which was 35% of our total pre-show dining revenue, and more importantly, we found that there was a 25% increase in ancillary sales (ice creams, coffee, confectionary and drinks) compared with the same period in 2016. Customers are spending more when they visit us.”
With over a third of customers pre-paying for their dining, the team are less busy on the night of a show. Staff are typically run off their feet 30 minutes before a performance starts, so as that crunch time approaches they have less time to spend with diners. Having paid for the meal in advance, customers have a better experience – they are less time-conscious and don’t feel the need to rush to request the bill and pay.
By pre-paying for their dining, they’re also arriving at the theatre with more disposable income. Mark Gambrill explains: “Being able to spread the cost of their visit has made a significant difference to additional sales. It’s a bit like booking a package holiday. If you paid for the full holiday on the same day as you departed, the cost of the trip would be fresh in your mind and might discourage you from splashing out on extra treats.
“The fact that people have already paid for their meal in advance makes additional purchases painless. Another big impact is that we are getting more diners in the restaurant.”
The outcomes for Exeter Northcott are as follows:
- Customers are spending more at the theatre
- There’s a greater awareness of the venue’s restaurant and additional options for entertainment
- It offers a stress-free experience for audiences
- Management is better able to predict demand and required staffing levels for restaurant and front-of-house staff.
This article was originally published in Arts Professional.