03/08/2011 - 10:36

Down by the riverside

03/08/2011 - 10:36

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150 East Riverside may offer premium views and premium wines, but there’s no premium price tag on the relaxed, bistro-style cuisine. Carolyn Herbert reports.

Down by the riverside
FINE DINER: Sally Kelly is working hard to ensure 150 East Riverside is thought of as a restaurant in its own right, and not simply as a hotel eatery. Photo: Grant Currall

IF premium wines, relaxed bistro-style cuisine and an uninterrupted view of the Swan River take your fancy, then 150 East Riverside is sure to hit the spot.

Situated on leafy parklands at the rear of the Assured Ascot Keys apartment hotel at 150 Great Eastern Highway, the restaurant provides a comfortable and casual environment with upper and riverside decks to provide an even better view. 

Property manager Assured Hospitality launched Ascot Quays and 150 East Riverside in 2003. 

Assured Hospitality co-founder and managing director Sally Kelly was determined that 150 East Riverside be thought of as a restaurant in its own right, and not simply as a hotel eatery.

 “We have to do things that other restaurants don’t do, like provide room service, and we’ve always wanted the restaurant to be considered as a stand-alone; that has sometimes been difficult, but on the whole I think we’ve achieved that,” Ms Kelly says.

Setting up and marketing 150 East Riverside didn’t come without its challenges for Ms Kelly, who previously worked in real estate and property development.

With the site not visible from the Great Eastern Highway, Ms Kelly applied ‘real-estate methods’ such as cold calling and visiting local businesses to promote the restaurant.

“We did a lot of cold calling in the early days, particularly to build the business lunch trade, and we did a lot of door knocking of local businesses,” she says.

“We found that just turning up in the reception with a little eski of goodies made in the kitchen worked very well.” 

To attract more than just a business crowd, Ms Kelly decided to include local residents in the marketing strategy by putting on ‘neighbours events’ where locals could sample new menu concepts.

Three TV advertising campaigns proved to be a less successful form of advertising for the business. 

“The first television advertising campaign worked quite well, but now I think TV advertising is still very expensive and maybe a little less worthwhile,” Ms Kelly told Gusto.

“Ultimately, we’ve learned that it’s important to build on word-of-mouth, and that’s all about the customers you do get going away having had a great experience.”

Ms Kelly says offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, room service and take-away, seven days a week has meant that recruitment and retention of quality staff has remained a priority.

“There was a time when we suffered with a revolving door ... where people were leaving to go and work on the mines, and we decided we had to put a stop to that,” she says.

Along with a bonus structure around key performance indicators, Ms Kelly came up with a quarterly cash retention bonus to reward staff who continued working at the restaurant. 

“I never thought I’d see myself doing that, because I’m all about reward for performance,” she says.

“But it has given us what we want and it has enabled the staff in the kitchen to maintain that quality and continuity, and therefore they are able to perform and achieve their other bonuses as well.” 

Ms Kelly says the experience of candidates is not the be all and end all, when it comes to providing good customer service. 

“While experience is important, we tend to favour the right attitude, motivation and the desire to succeed, because you can train the skills but you can’t train the attitude.”

New restaurant manager Slav Maleki brings a wealth of experience to the business, having most recently been restaurant manager and sommelier at Italian fine-dining restaurant Divido. 

“Slav has already brought some great experience; he is a sommelier so he knows a lot about wines ... and he’s also very energetic and our staff can see that he is a dedicated professional they can really learn something from,” Ms Kelly says.

Mr Maleki’s knowledge of wine complements Club 150, a wine and food discount club introduced by the restaurant in 2009.

Along with a set percentage discount, Club members are invited to wine tastings and degustation evenings, which Ms Kelly says have been very well received. 

In addition, the restaurant has undergone a design revamp during the past three months, which will be finished towards the end of this year.

“When we first opened the fit-out was fairly minimalist and since then it has had a couple of makeovers, but now we have a palate of reds and chocolates ... and we are now looking to find a way to separate the restaurant and the bar to better cater to the after-work drinks crowd,” Ms Kelly says. 

Updating the restaurant’s web presence is also high on the agenda to promote and grow the business.

“The restaurant has had its own page on the hotel website for a while, but it has never had its own website and we want to take it completely away so it doesn’t have to have anything about it that looks like a hotel,” Ms Kelly says.

“You also need your website to be easily visible on iPhones and iPads and right now ours is not, so that is another aspect that we are working on.”

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