A Seat at the Table: Q&A with Stephen Maly of IGC Hospitality

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5 min read

Jun 20, 2023

A Seat at the Table: Q&A with Stephen Maly of IGC Hospitality

SevenRooms recently sat down with Stephen Maly, Director of Hospitality & Guest Relations at In Good Company (IGC) Hospitality. Working with the group for the last 16.5 years, Stephen has held a variety of roles at the company, whose venues include Park Avenue Tavern, Refinery Rooftop, Bungalow, Winnie’s Jazz Bar, Parker & Quinn, The Wilson, Trademark Bar + Kitchen, The Rockaway Hotel + Spa, Margie’s, Catria, Royalton Rooftop and O’Toole’s Way Restaurant & Bar.

Read on to learn more about how IGC Hospitality stands out in a crowded market with strategies to foster guest loyalty and retention.

New York is one of the most competitive cities in the world. How do you keep your customer loyalty high in such a competitive market?

The number one priority for us is caring. We care about our customers, their experiences, our staff, and about keeping the restaurant industry alive in the wake of some tough years. We do this through consistency and exceptional service. Providing consistently exceptional service is paramount to winning our customer loyalty. Training is a huge part of this and we are relentless in making sure our staff understands the importance of personalizing the dining experience, anticipating customer needs, and resolving any issues promptly and professionally.  

We also understand the need for exceptional food quality and a unique dining experience along with personal engagement. We get to know our customers on a personal level and show genuine interest in their wants and needs. This could range from a particular ambiance to a habit in menu preferences. We utilize the SevenRooms platform to capture this information and use it to surprise and delight our guests during their visits. We understand how important our guest loyalty is to our success, and we try to reward them for that.  

In addition, we believe in a strong social media and online presence, providing visually appealing content and behind-the-scenes glimpses of what we do. Reading and responding to online reviews is a huge part of our growth and success and is one we take great pride in. This allows us to continually improve and make adjustments in real-time to fit our customer needs.  

Finally, we feel that community engagement is essential. We actively support local charities, participate in events, and collaborate with nearby businesses. Being a good neighbor and giving back to the community is important to us as a company.

IGC Hospitality has more than 10+ venues in the NYC area. How do you cross-promote your venues? What strategies do you use to keep clientele coming back to one particular venue or to explore one of the other great venues IGC has to offer?

Cross-promotion is essential in order to keep the flow of business between stores. We achieve this in many ways.

Phone – We utilize a complex phone system that is AI-focused. The experience starts with an automated voice that can answer almost any questions asked related to the restaurant. The greeting message is a great way to promote another venue in the area.
Email – Through SevenRooms automated emails, we can promote “insider tips” and give our guests some other options for future visits. For example one of our SevenRooms automation is “First Timer Complete” in which an auto-email is sent to anyone that has completed their first dining experience with us. In this email, we thank the guest for coming and use this as an opportunity to promote some of our other restaurants, rooftops, or hotels in the area. We can also adjust this to promote special events as well. We did this for the Kentucky Derby and were quite successful.
Social Media – Our marketing team works tirelessly to promote all of our venues via content, video, photos, and influencers.
Word of Mouth – Power of suggestion when on the phone with our customers. If a guest is making a reservation for dinner at Parker & Quinn, it’s a perfect opportunity to suggest an after-dinner drink or two at the Refinery Rooftop with a direct view of the Empire State Building.

What is the most important thing to keep in mind for operators with one venue looking to open up more locations?

This is a loaded question as there are so many factors in place. First making sure the operations and staffing are secure in the primary location that is already in operation. Making sure you have enough staffing to expand is hugely important across both the front of house and back of the house. Having enough funding to withstand the economic turmoil we have all been experiencing. And finally, finding the right location that is brand-friendly.

How has upselling during the reservation booking process helped you drive additional revenue? Can you give an example of how IGC’s venues do this today?

This has been a great strategy for us and we have gotten better at it over the years. The key is to make sure whatever upgrade you are promoting can coincide with your operations and work as an enhancer and not as a disrupter. 

We currently offer a “add a box of cookies to your reservation” upgrade at Trademark Bar & Kitchen and The Wilson. When making a reservation, a guest is prompted with the upgrade option and can add this to their booking (we have had good success with this). 

Another example that we get an incredible amount of participation with is when we offer upgrades on special events. For Valentine’s Day at the Refinery Rooftop, we offered upgrades for a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, and a special champagne offer. We collaborated with a local florist in order to execute this.

When looking at a venue like Park Avenue Tavern compared to The Wilson, how do you approach marketing two different styles of venues under one family?

This can be tricky at times. When marketing two different styles of restaurant venues under one parent company, it’s important to develop a cohesive yet distinct marketing strategy that effectively highlights the unique features and appeal of each venue. We try to accomplish this by clearly defining each venue while simultaneously developing separate branding that fits the character of the space. 

At the end of the day, our core values are the same but each venue can be different. Think of it like a family of two parents and three children. Each child grew up with the same set of values but adopted different personalities and career aspirations.

How important is it for a restaurant to have a CRM and what are some of the major ways it has helped IGC create better guest experiences?

Having a CRM is massively important to us in order to build and maintain strong relationships with our customers, which has been shown to increase customer loyalty and repeat business. By collecting and analyzing customer data, including dining preferences, allergies, special occasions, and feedback, we have been able to personalize the dining experience and exceed our customer’s expectations. For example, SevenRooms has enabled our staff to greet guests by name, remember their favorite dishes, and provide tailored recommendations. 

It also helps us effectively target their marketing efforts. By understanding customer demographics, dining habits, and preferences, we can segment our customer base and deliver targeted marketing campaigns. Whether it’s sending personalized emails or offering exclusive promotions and experiences, our message can be tailored to specific customer groups, increasing the chances of attracting and retaining customers. 

A very important function of having a CRM (i.e. SevenRooms) that plays a crucial role in understanding our guests is customer feedback. By capturing and analyzing feedback through surveys, online reviews, and direct communication, we have been able to identify areas for improvement, address concerns promptly, and enhance the overall dining experience. If ten people are making the same suggestion for improvement, then we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we did not pay attention to it.

We still believe in humans, but with the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI), I do not think we are going to recognize our industry in five years. Everything is going to change and will enhance the guest experience on a level that is unimaginable now.

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