Star City wanted to create one of Sydney’s top 10 restaurants.This was a challenge because Australian casinos are not traditionally renowned for having superior restaurants.
To help create the right product Star City asked existing and potential customers what they expected from a fine dining restaurant.
The response was fine food and wine, exceptional customer service and a ‘known’ chef at the helm.Star City met the challenge by totally refurbishing its fine dining restaurant, Astral.
The aim was to rival the Sydney’s best fine dining restaurants like est., Rockpool etc…Star City's public relations team was then set a challenge to transform Astral from "one of Sydney's best kept secrets" into a publicly acclaimed restaurant.
A major publicity drive was launched to promote the restaurant, its head chef and customer service.
The campaign was a resounding success with extensive publicity, rave reviews, increased visitation - and Astral gaining genuine credibility in the restaurant industry.
To cap it off, the restaurant's head chef, who was largely unknown, was recently named 2006 Chef of the Year at the AHA Awards for Excellence.
The campaign was so successful that Star City now hopes to win a ‘Chef’s Hat’ in late 2006.
Star City management was concerned that it lacked a signature restaurant. The company wanted a restaurant, which would not only attract more customers but also stamp Star City as a quality restaurant venue.
The aim was to create a restaurant, which was so good that it could stand-alone and be a destination in itself.The Astral Restaurant, on the top floor of the Star City hotel tower, underwent a refurbishment.
The Star City public relations team was then given the task of running a campaign, which would ensure Astral was recognised as one of the best in the country.
The challenge was to change the perception of Star City so it would be recognised, not only as a casino, but also as an entertainment destination with a world-class restaurant.
How would we determine what the new Astral would be?
- Several focus groups were held with both existing and potential customers to ask them what they wanted Astral to be and what they looked for when choosing a restaurant.
- Restaurants in Astral’s desired competitive set were evaluated. What were they offering and were they successful?
- Restaurant critics and key opinion leaders in the restaurant/food industry were approached for their opinions and ideas on what would make Astral one of the best.
- A complete design audit was undertaken on Astral’s existing marketing collateral.
It was evident after all research was conducted that Astral needed a facelift to reposition it in the marketplace and a notable chef to drive the campaign.
It also became apparent following the research that there was a need to create a private dining room experience as Sydney was lacking this product.
The campaign to relaunch Astral was aimed at many different groups for various reasons:
- Astral’s existing customers – to retain existing customer base
- Star City’s existing customers – to attract customers of Star City that were not necessarily customers of Astral
- New customers – to acquire new customers i.e. people that had never dined at Astral
- Media – to communicate to the wider public
- Restaurant critics – to create a buzz with key opinion leaders within the industry
- Astral & Star City staff – to give them a sense of loyalty and pride
Star City’s Public Relations team liaised with a specialist PR agency to devise a communication strategy that would position Astral to the media, a wider client base and peers in the industry.
It was determined that this would be done by:
- Hosting a major re-launch event to introduce key people to the new-look restaurant. The guest list included media, key opinion leaders, celebrities, suppliers etc…
- Hosting smaller dinners with select key media to introduce them to Sean Connolly as well as the new-look restaurant in an more intimate setting
- Identifying story ideas and pitching to the media on a regular basis particularly profiling Sean Connolly
- Creating ‘events’ that would be news worthy i.e. cross promotional events with suppliers such as Moet Hennessey to launch products
- Hosting lunches, dinners and/or events with PR professionals to introduce them to Astral and get them talking about the product
- Hosting an event for staff in key communication positions (i.e. concierge, VIP hosts, guest services agents etc…) to create an awareness of the product which inturn would enable them to promote Astral to customers
- Having Sean Connolly cater for off-site exclusive VIP events that would obtain publicity
- Host a series of launch nights for the Private Dining Room with key media and opinion leaders
The first phase of the campaign, following the actual refurbishment, was to re-launch the restaurant by hosting a major event which would include a guest list of over 400 people ranging from media, celebrities, restaurant critics and key opinion leaders to suppliers, corporates and Star City’s VIPs.
All media in attendance were presented with a media kit complete with press release, menus, wine lists, profiles on key staff including Sean Connolly and sommelier Samuel Maher and photographs.
This event would introduce guests to the new-look Astral as well as Sean Connolly.
In addition to the re-launch event, a staff event was also implemented where Star City staff in key communication positions were introduced to Astral to encourage them to promote to Star City customers as well as their friends and families.
The next step was to organise smaller dinners with select media particularly restaurant reviewers and leaders in the restaurant/food industry.
These dinners were held over two months and were more intimate to give a better sense of the true Astral experience.At the same time, with media training under his belt, a string of interviews were set up for Sean Connolly with various publications in a bid to raise his profile.
This involved several appearances on Kerri-Anne Kennerly, guest spots on Lyndey Milan’s 2GB program ‘The Good Life’ and well as numerous other radio interviews.
Following on from the dinners an events calendar was established to create more opportunities to talk to the media. Such events would be staggered throughout the year to achieve constant coverage.
These events included dinners where Sean Connolly came out from the kitchen and cooked in the restaurant to show diners his abilities as a chef.Linking the Astral brand with other premium brands such as Moet Hennessey, Cerrone, Simon Johnson, Bollinger, Sass & Bide also helped elevate the brand, for example Moet Hennessey seasonal diner offers.
The most recent phase of the campaign was the launch of the new Private Dining Room.
This included smaller scale media and VIP dinners as well as the sponsorship of the Chandon Supper Club, which was attended by 12 key media people.
The Astral re-launch, in August 2005, was attended by more than 200 people and was covered extensively by all major Sydney metropolitan newspapers. In the lead up to the re-launch the event was also listed in the Sun Herald’s ‘RSVP’ column as "one of this week’s hottest invitations?” thus creating a buzz amongst the social set (see Appendix A for press clips).
Phase 2 of the campaign involved a series of social events including the Social Diary party, 9to5 magazine’s birthday party, $1,000 menu launch and the National Breast Cancer Vespa LX launch to expose Astral to Sydney's social set.
These events not only attracted enormous media coverage - but they also resulted in some of Sydney's social leaders booking the restaurant for future functions (see Appendix A for press clips).
Head Chef, Sean Connolly was then engaged to work at some of Sydney's most high profile off-site events including the Ian Thorpe Fountain of Youth Trust dinner, Breakfast Point Country Club launch, Sass & Bide store launch and the Moet & Chandon Reserve Imperial Dinner.
Again, this had the double benefit of raising his profile and encouraging people to visit Astral.
He went from being a virtual unknown among Sydney's head chef, to winning "Chef of the Year" in the AHA annual awards for excellence (see Appendix A for press clips).
Importantly, the campaign resulted in a significant increase in visitation, not only from existing Astral customers but also from new customers.
The Astral team, kitchen and front of house staff, have also been affected by the increased interest in the restaurant. Morale levels are now extremely high which in turn has impacted on the level of service provided. Staff are proud of their workplace and work hard to maintain Astral’s new image.
Another indication that the campaign has been a success is that bodies such as Tourism NSW to have adopted the brand to promote Sydney.
The objectives of the campaign, as set out earlier in this document, were:
- To raise public awareness of Astral and improve its image through increased publicity
- To attract top restaurant critics and key opinion leaders who could recognise and acknowledge Sean Connolly’s talents publicly
- To encourage more people to dine at Astral through increased media exposure of the product
It is evident that these objectives were achieved and the campaign was successful as:
- A total of 75 articles regarding Astral and/or Sean Connolly have been published in a variety of publications from major metropolitan newspapers to high-end glossy magazines. Astral also enjoyed coverage via electronic media including mentions by Alan Jones where he described Astral as “one of the best restaurants in the world.”
- In addition to media exposure on Sean Connolly, efforts to lift his profile culminated when we was awarded the Chef of the Year at the 2006 AHA Awards for Excellence.
- Following the relaunch campaign Astral has experienced a 36% increase in visitation, which exceeded expectations, and the average cheque is up by $30/head.
All in all the PR campaign to relaunch the new-look Astral, raise the profile of Sean Connolly and thus increase visitation to the restaurant was undeniably a success.