After dinner service
5pm founders Ronnie Somerville and Charles ShawIt is not a novelty anymore. In fact, it has become almost a household name (if not a household one, certainly an office name). These days, when a restaurant launches in Scotland, it is, more often than not, a case of when, not if it will sign up.
Since its launch five years ago, 5pm.co.uk has become a service that many now take for granted. But over the years 5pm has had to remain relevant and keep its initial buzz going. However, the introduction of a number of new initiatives, including last month’s launch of a new events arm, 5pm has managed to stay at the forefront of the action.
For those who haven’t looked online to book a restaurant table in the last five years, 5pm.co.uk is, simply, a website that allows you to confirm availability, book a table and even obtain a discount at restaurants across the UK. In turn, 5pm also helps restaurateurs fill tables and reach a whole new sector of customers.
The idea for the site was borne out of frustration. Ronnie Somerville, who then ran a small chain of restaurants in Glasgow with his business partner, was irked by the problem of how to anticipate the number of diners coming into his restaurants from night to night, especially the problematic early evening and start of the week slots.
It made sense to Somerville to offer customers a discount at these times to fill the gaps, but the problem was letting customers know about the deals – traditional advertising in newspapers and magazines just wasn't fast enough to get his message over.
Somerville, a self-confessed IT enthusiast (even back in 2000) was in the throws of reviewing his internet marketing strategy and it wasn’t long before he came up with the idea for 5pm.co.uk.
The company set about attracting funding from venture capitalists to launch the service, initially targeting the Glasgow area. The early pilot was a runaway success with 40 per cent of hits converted to bookings, and just two years after its tentative launch 5pm.co.uk had been rolled out to cities throughout the UK with the site receiving more than 50,000 unique users a month.
Amanda Masson has been with 5pm since its launch in September 2000. At that time 5pm boasted just six restaurants (four owned by Somerville and his partner), all in Glasgow. Today the reservation service now offers customers a choice of almost 1,000 restaurants throughout the UK.
Masson, sales and communications director at 5pm, works closely with Somerville and his partners, Charles Shaw (chairman) and David Maguire. As a team they have created one of Scotland’s most talked about dot.com companies in a time when business to consumer online ventures were supposed to be dead.
Masson is now overseeing the launch of 5pm’s new events arm. And, sitting in Strata – one of 5pm’s original customers and her occasional base away from the office (which is just across the street) – she reveals that this new part to the business has been in development for some time.
“We’ve been looking to add an events arm to the site for a while. Our core business is still very much online reservations and this won’t deviate us from our main business, but it is a natural progression. Businesses, hotels and restaurants had been approaching us about one-off evenings and we’ve been ‘selling’ these nights for them with a great deal of success. The events focus has just grown from there.”
Already 5pm has already trialled a handful of events, sticking to the company’s early ethos of testing the market in Glasgow before rolling the service out across the central belt and then the rest of the UK.
“We have worked with LancÃ´me, who gave complementary vouchers for beauty treatments at Fraser’s when customers dined at particular restaurants through 5pm. In this case products were sampled and we gave demonstrations. That was very successful and we’ve run such events on four occasions already.
“The main thing about 5pm events is interactivity. Whatever the product is, it has to be sampled – from fashion to cosmetics and from drinks to sweets.
“We will also be arranging various tie-ins with drinks brands, bars and restaurants, where we will enable a brand to sponsor an evening or event and provide a real hands-on experience for those that attend. We even recently had a sweets range interested in launching its product at an event in Glasgow.”
Glasgow already plays host to DADA, a growing firm that specialises in online-driven events. DADA, a youthful organisation, may well have stolen a march on 5pm with its highly targeted database of customers that are invited personally, via e-mail, to events.
However, although Masson is quick to praise the merits and success of DADA, she insists that 5pm has one USP that will really stand it out from the competition.
“There is nothing to touch our database. It’s phenomenal.
“We have approximately 140,000 users – although it’s hard to judge as we get, on average, around 100 new registrations every day. In Glasgow alone there are 58,000 registered users.
“We know who our target market is, and we know that they are interested in looking for offers. We are able to break our data down into lifestyle and social categories. For instance, 67 per cent are in the 22- to 40-year-old age group – practically everybody’s target age group. 5pm is a bit of an institution now, especially in Glasgow and Edinburgh.”
Despite the bullish talk, Masson is also quick to add that she, and 5pm, is not planning on going head-to-head with DADA in Scotland.
“We are nothing like DADA. It is quite an unobtrusive tactic that we employ. Rather than sending out invites to subscribers, members are allowed to sign themselves up to events and offers via the 5pm website and our regular newsletters.
“We are not the same as DADA in that we don’t send out invites for specific nights to specific individuals. Our newsletters go out to regionalised pools of subscribers, for example Glasgow, London or city specific.
“However, if you have a drinks brand, or a restaurant that only wants to target certain categories, we can do that too. We have had a drinks brand that has approached us to organise an all-ladies evening. Sexist? Maybe, but easily done.
“Ultimately, the events arm will work in tandem with the core reservations offering, bolstering the service. It is what our subscribers have been looking for. The feedback that we have had back so far has been acted on. The customers can now have a full night out with 5pm, not just a dinner.
“One of the great things about 5pm is that it has changed and evolved over the years to meet the demands and needs of the current climate. The strategy is simply to just keep on improving and to keep offering our restaurants and users whatever it is that they need.”