By Hayley Roy DIPMAN
Managing Director of Harp Commercial Interiors Limited
"The Third Place" is something I talk about a lot to people who own businesses in the leisure industry. If you want to create a successful business and a space that people want to go back to again and again then I encourage you to read on...
The "Third Place" or "Third Space" is a term used in the concept of building communities. The first place is the home, the second place is the office and the third place is the place that people go to spend their free time. It can be anything from a Hairdressers to a Pub to a Hotel, Restaurant or Bar. Some people have a few different third places, one restaurant for breakfast one for a drink after work on a Friday, one for a quick bite before you go to the cinema.
The Third Place must be easily accessible, it is somewhere free to go for a relatively inexpensive eat and/or drink, somewhere people can build friendships. It helps build communities and form lifelong bonds between people. In his influential book, The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) states that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. The theory is now used throughout the world when planning new suburban areas.
In the UK Traditional Pubs have always been very popular third places. Over the last few years it has been sad to see so many Pubs close, it takes a lot of hard work to create the third place and we need to work hard to keep third places open. Research shows that communities become very concerned when pubs close, much more than local shops or post offices because they have a connection with the place local to them, the place where friends are made.
The world is changing, the internet has changed the way we live, creating on-line forums like facebook that have become people's new age "Third Place." The future of our local communities depends on developing third places for people to meet and socialise. The old style "Third Place" is changing and business owners have to evolve with it to create a place that people will visit and spend their time, meeting people, forming lifetime friendships and being happy.
The Third Place is something that Starbucks talk about in their book 'The Starbucks Experience'. Starbucks have had their ups and downs as a business but the one thing that they have right is creating a comfortable space that people want to return to time and time again.
The space you want to create in your business is somewhere that people will feel at home, but that is a home away from home.
How many times have you been in a leisure environment that makes you feel uncomfortable, where the staff are unhelpful and unwelcoming. Your local Pubs or Restaurants that are closing down are doing so because they haven't created a third space. Make sure this is not your business and read on...........
Your mission if you have one of these local businesses and want to make it a success is to make your business the third space, you can do this by working on your "Moments of Truth". How many times have you walked into a pub or restaurant and just known that this business has new owners, you can't quite put your finger on it but you just know that something is different. This is a subconcious reaction to the little things that have changed in that business. These subconcious thoughts are called "Moments of Truth"
Places That get it Right
Brand is all about sending one message to the customer throughout their experience in your business. This is something Nando's do very well. I have often had conversations with people about how expensive Nando's food is considering you get limited table service. BUT I still go back twice a month because I love the food, I know what to expect with the service and it suits me; I can have a quick meal before heading off to the cinema, The Brand at Nando's is fantastic, their menu's, staff uniform, blackboards, signage and furniture all match the brand and style. The furniture is not that comfortable overall, but it tells the customer that the food is served quickly and doesn't encourage them to sit all night. Although their staff are not taking your order they are all very well trained. Pizza Express go with the same theory of hard seats, as long as the food is served relatively fast your customer will be happy with not so comfortable furniture and they will leave quickly enabling you to increase the number of customers coming through the door.
"Location Location Location"
I agree with the theory of "Location Location Location," If you have a hospitality business in a good location you have to do an exceptionally bad job for that business not to work. You can get away with average food and service whereas if you have average food and service in a not so good location you will almost certainly not survive in business. If you are one of these 'out of the way' businesses you will know that you have to work twice as hard to get the same business as someone in a good location. You have to give people a really good reason to visit you.
An example of someone who has got this right is Franco. Franco is one of my customers and has been for many years. He has always had businesses in Colchester and is one of the best Chef's I know. Every business he has worked in has been very successful. He recently moved to Clacton-on-Sea, where he started up a new restaurant inside a hotel called Franco's. His following is so good that many of his Colchester customers are prepared to drive 30 minutes or more to visit his quite expensive restaurant. His food and service are so good that after many years in business he still commands a following. His customers will pay a premium and travel to get the quality and service he offers. It takes years to get this kind of reputation, and not very long to destroy it.
Town Centre pubs rarely close down if they have a central location because they attract the denser populated areas of the world. Town Centre Pubs serve multiple purposes; they provide somewhere you can go for the night, pre dinner drinks, dinner then an after dinner drink or pre cinema drinks or If you are a teenager, a drink in 10 different bars consecutively!
In the UK, our towns have been a little taken over by drinkers making the out of town American style complexes more popular for the diners / cinema goers who are not interested in being sick at the end of the night.
Venues out of town with parking are becoming more and more popular for families. One thing that is increasing in popularity are child's play areas. I recently refurbished Jungle Adventure in Colchester, they initially had a seating capacity of 120, he then asked me to increase this to 200 as they had people queing for tables on rainy days.
Independently run Pubs have a brand all of their own and each pub can be completely different, they often have quirky bric 'a' brac relating to the personality of the owner, the local area or the people who go into the pub. My Grandfather was in the Guinness Book of Records in 1980 for having the longest moustache in the world! His old pub landlord still has a picture of him up in the bar and many of the locals still remember him - I always make a point of going in that pub when I'm passing.
The local area theme is something many pubs do, designers these days are taking this a step further with the invention of printed wallpaper enabling a pub to have a large image or map of their local area plastered all over the wall! Fab!
My Third Places
I believe that people have third places for different parts of their lives, for this reason I have a few third places.
My first "Third Place" is my local pub. They do average pub food, have good décor, the ambiance is good, the service is friendly but sometimes a bit slow when it's busy, but in that pub I can meet local people, drink wine and enjoy the view of the river. When the service is slow, I understand because I know the staff and they look more stressed than usual, this pub also gets away with more than most in the sense of bad service and average food because it is situated right next to the river, they have Location on their side.
My second "Third Place" is Starbucks. I used to travel around the world a lot on business trips and on one particular trip in Malaysia I broke my wrist and ended up in a hospital in Kuala Lumpur. I spent the first few days in hospital feeling very low, in a lot of pain, a long way away from home and my family. As I had a walk around the hospital I found a Starbucks and can still remember how excited I was! Every day for the next week I ventured down to Starbucks, ordered a Latte and sat with my book whilst allowing my wrist to heal. Although this was 10 years ago, I still get the same feeling of happiness, warmth, comfort and healing every time I walk into a Starbucks!
Finally, I recently visited a beautiful restaurant in Spain on a work trip that would be an ideal "Third Place" and would definitely become one of my "Third Places" if I ever lived there. I was lucky enough to enjoy lunch and dinner at the restaurant which gave me two different experiences from one restaurant. This restaurant has everything going for it, the decor is unique, beautifully thought through, stylish but comfortable. The staff are attentive and happy, they cleary love their work. There is so much to look at, so much to eat, so many different types of drinks that mean I would never bore of visiting. They have got every aspect right!