Art exhibitions and dance classes: Using popular culture initiatives to stand out from the crowd

The Waldorf Hilton hotel has harked back to its English heritage with the launch of the Tango Supper.

With competition in the hospitality industry continuing to intensify, many businesses are turning to popular culture as a base for running themed evenings and events. BigHospitality has evaluated the effectiveness of a BAFTA art exhibition at Quaglino’s restaurant and a Tango dance class at the Waldorf Hilton hotel.

The ideas:

  • Quaglino’s restaurant in St James played host to an exclusive photography exhibition of new images commissioned by BAFTA. Running from 28 May to 18 July, the photography exhibition was the fourth in an ongoing series of collaborations with established photographers and emerging talents, being staged in the restaurant's bar area.

Customers are encouraged to have dinner before viewing the photography pieces and, with the upcoming exhibition from photographer Kirsty Mitchell, Quaglino’s has put together an exhibition drinks package, providing an exclusive, bespoke cocktail to go along with each art viewing.

  • Meanwhile, the Waldorf Hilton hotel has harked back to its English heritage with the launch of the Tango Supper. Launched on 8 July and running every month through 2012, the evening celebrates 100 years since the Argentine Tango was first performed at the hotel.

Guests can enjoy a glass of rosé, a 45-minute dance class with Tango professionals, the ’Tango Essence’ cocktail, a two-course dinner and an overnight stay at the hotel, with breakfast. A simpler dinner and Tango package is also available for customers at a cheaper price.

Why these promotions?

  • “It all started back in September last year “, said Georgia Ayres, Quaglino’s marketing manager. “Roger Mavity, the CEO to Conran Holdings, came to use with the idea of exhibiting some of the art pieces that he had been doing as a hobby.

“We took this on board and put together an exhibition and a launch party for him. From that, we got some really good press and coverage in national papers. I saw a gap where we could start communicating to new target markets and attracting new people who either hadn’t heard of us or hadn’t been here in a while.

“BAFTA then saw a piece on us about our current exhibition that was happening at time. They approached us and said they thought it was a really great idea and that they wanted to raise awareness of their photography heritage - so it was perfect timing for everyone involved.

  • Globy Ousef, food and beverage manager at Waldorf Hilton, said: “We were the first hotel in London to do tea dances in the hotel’s Palm Court (private events area). In May 2010, we started doing that again and we now do about 100 covers on one day each month for that. “The tea dance is more of the older generation and we wanted to explore a new, younger market, so we decided to run the tango supper event on the same evening of each month.

“With the likes of Strictly Come Dancing on TV, there is definitely more awareness and an added interest in dancing now. It gives our customers more of an experience, and the Waldorf is known for that; people come here for an experience and this makes that experience even greater, and much more unique.

How effective have they been

  • “We have a lot of people who have joined our database through their interest in our photography exhibitions,” said Ayres from Quaglino’s. “We get a lot of comments from people telling us how much they love the addition of the artwork and we make a certain amount of sales from the images as well - Marc Rogoff was up for around £2000 a piece.

“Quaglino’s is a massive space so it’s always quite hard to measure what we’re getting an influx on. I would say from the amount of comments and interest that we get through social media, and also from all the interest we get straight after some press coverage on an exhibition, we do get a flurry of people coming in.”

  • "The dancing events at the Waldorf Hilton have definitely led to an increase in trade,” added Ousef. “The tea dance has been running for almost two years now - the first couple of weeks attracted 40 to 60 people, but now we book it out at least two months in advance, with about 100 people each time.

"It also ties in with the afternoon tea at the hotel and we get more hits on the website, so more advertising and greater brand exposure. The Tango supper has only been running for two months but has already doubled in numbers already."

Added benefits

  • “At Quaglino’s, we always encourage people to come and have dinner first before viewing the pieces, or to have some drinks at the bar,” said Ayres. “With our next exhibition that’s coming up, we’re putting together an exhibition drinks package where people will come along, pay £15, view the exhibition and have two exclusive bespoke cocktails, designed in the theme of the photographer.

“I do think it adds a point of difference to us. Quaglino’s has been around for years and it’s always been known as a place that people talk about, a fun vibrant venue.

  • “The people can also stay in the hotel after the Tango Supper,” said Ousef. About half of the guests stay on at the hotel after the event.

“It really gives us a point of difference as well. “The Waldorf has been blessed with being unique and by doing this we’re really stepping up our game with the increasing competition – we have the Savoy just around the corner which has just had the refurb and the Melia Hotel which has recently opened right in front of us.

“So it puts us in a world of our own and it sends a strong message to our competitors.”

The experts’ view:

Caroline Cooper, founder of Zeal Coaching, which helps to give hospitality clients a ‘competetive edge’ said: “I love the idea of themed promotions as they are a great way to get extra exposure, and have a bit of fun into the bargain.

“All the examples given here are quite ‘high end’, but any smaller restaurant or hotel could stage a smaller scale culture-themed event.

“The Tango Supper idea lends itself to a whole host of variations on a theme; the BAFTA event conjures up ideas of film or TV themed evenings or film screenings, or if space permits even a drive in movie theme.”

Top tips: Making the most of it...

  • Determine your objectives - are you aiming it at your existing customers to offer value and increase loyalty, or are you targeting new business? Either way, make sure that the theme is of real interest to them, so you really need to know your market. 
  • Do your planning and sums carefully - know your break-even point and have a strategy for upselling or repeat business.
  • Involve your team - these can be a lot of extra work and you’ll want their buy in from the start. They can make or break your event.
  • In order for your customers to really immerse themselves into the experience, stick to one specific theme so you don’t spread the idea too thinly; then pay attention to the details so that everything is in sync with your theme.  

Is this right for your business?

  • Ayres from Quaglino’s said: “I think at the moment, there’s so many offers out there, so many different ways of getting discounts, so people are looking for something different.

“Artwork and other forms of popular culture are very creative and you can make them into whatever you want, so it’s an opportunity for people to come and escape for a bit.” 

  • Ousef from the Waldorf Hilton added: “Hilton has a value of forming partnerships with businesses which are reputable in the markets they’re in. With these partnerships, you can grow business because you can combine strengths. And, with the recession hitting hard, this sort of thing is really the way forward.”

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