Morrison’s Irish Pub opened in a historic building in the heart of downtown Alton, Illinois, in 2015. Ireland and the Irish experience were near and dear to the hearts of the pub’s three owners, Lisa and Mary Morrison, and Mary’s daughter, Katey VanKirk. The women wanted to create a place that featured authentic Irish dishes in an authentic Irish pub setting. Since then, they’ve been serving up traditional dishes and have recreated the feel and ambiance of a small Irish pub. Many of their ingredients and foods are sourced locally. What they can’t find nearby, they import directly from Ireland, like genuine Irish bacon and Irish butter.
When they opened Morrison’s doors, Lisa, Mary and Katey were new to the restaurant business. In fact, Lisa kept her day job as a charge nurse in a St. Louis hospital, and Mary and Katey began working full time at the pub. The pub itself has just over 40 seats and 10 full-time employees, and it’s open every day for lunch and dinner. Each Thursday evening is open-mic Sea Shanties night, and the weekends feature live music.
Within a year, STLRestaurant.news named Morrison’s the No. 1 pub in the St. Louis area.
High expenses and inconsistent traffic
Despite establishing itself as a top pub in the St. Louis area, Morrison’s wrestled with many of the same issues that challenge countless small businesses.
In the pub’s first few years, sales grew steadily to more than $300,000 annually, and all three owners were able to pay themselves salaries. However, those salaries were often going right back into the business to help cover expenses, along with additional loans from the owners’ savings.
“Our sales grew every year, but we were still holding our breath,” Mary said.
In addition to the normal expenses of running a pub, flood insurance is a particular concern. Since the building is located on Alton’s picturesque riverfront, flood insurance is a necessity, yet that coverage costs $5,000 a month and is increasing. Because of the high expenses the pub incurs, the $300 that Lisa, Mary and Katey had originally budgeted for monthly marketing quickly dwindled to $50 a month.
“We don’t shortcut quality, but where we did compromise was marketing,” Mary said.
Another issue facing the pub was inconsistent foot traffic. While weekend evenings were so busy that some customers had to be turned away at the door for lack of space, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and lunches were often too slow to justify being open. Despite the busy and desirable riverfront location, Morrison’s has no outdoor seating area to help attract passersby.
Morrison’s was also inadvertently concealing its best assets: While many people associate pubs with beers and ales, Morrison’s serves more than 60 different Irish whiskeys. In fact, its whiskey collection is its most profitable part of the business. Despite that, the pub (which also features a dozen beers on tap) was downplaying its whiskeys — instead of drawing customer attention to them.
As one of the six Alton businesses chosen to benefit from a $500,000 marketing revitalization through Small Business Revolution — Main Street, Morrison’s Irish Pub was ready to start highlighting its unique attributes while deploying new ways of attracting customers.
Leaving no (Blarney) stone unturned
The Deluxe team worked with Lisa, Mary and Katey to establish clear goals for Morrison’s:
- Attract more customers and increase sales during weekdays and lunches
- Become the No. 1 casual dining destination in Alton, and a giant among Irish pubs in America
- Become cash flow-positive
The team also started looking at customer segments that would most likely appreciate an Irish pub like Morrison’s. The target audiences they decided to focus on were the following:
- Alton locals in search of a casual and quick lunch or dinner, with a special focus on business lunchers
- Tourists visiting the Alton area
- Hibernophiles — i.e., lovers of Ireland and Irish culture
- Irish musicians
With these goals and target audiences in mind, the Deluxe team began identifying aspects of Morrison’s that would benefit from a revamp or revitalization. When complete, the makeover would position Morrison’s as a unique, casual dining experience that wraps customers in the fun, comfort and authentic taste of Ireland.
Staying true to its roots
The Deluxe team, working in conjunction with Lisa, Mary and Katey, tackled several opportunities for improvement: Morrison’s logo, website, directory listings, social media, apparel and promotional items, and printed materials.
The original logo for Morrison’s Irish Pub communicated “Irish,” but the font had a generic feel to it. Additionally, the logo didn’t convey the prestige of the pub’s extensive whiskey collection, and the design didn’t speak to the family behind the business.
To update the logo, the Deluxe team experimented with many fonts, finally landing on a typeface that feels more modern, but retains Irish charm and character. The trio of owners loved the Trinity icon at the heart of the logo, not only because it’s an important symbol in Irish culture, but also because it perfectly represented them. The new logo has the warmth of the original but feels more distinguished — like the kind of place that has one of the finest whiskey selections in the country.
Morrison’s had a website, so it was already on the right track with its online marketing. But the site wasn’t fully communicating the authenticity and story of the pub. Some of its links weren’t clickable, other links were broken and the site didn’t display well on mobile devices. Mobile-friendliness is important for nearly every website, but it’s especially crucial for restaurants and bars, as would-be patrons often search for nearby establishments using smartphones and tablets. In fact, mobile searches for restaurants “near me now” have doubled in the last two years. On top of that, would-be patrons often search for restaurants by cuisine, not by name. The Irish aspects of Morrison’s had to be front and center in any website revamp.
Morrison’s old website didn’t display well on smartphones and didn’t convey the authenticity of the pub.
To redesign the website, the Deluxe team focused on a primary call to action (CTA): Turn online visitors into in-person visitors. Secondary to that, but still important, was to show off the pub’s extensive Irish menu and whiskey list, and to promote upcoming events. To maximize the potential of Morrison’s website, the Deluxe team followed these guiding principles:
- Genuinely transport Irish culture, hospitality, and tradition to the look and feel of the website
- Make each website visitor feel welcome
- Surprise visitors with the pub’s Irish knowledge, and its expansive selection of imported whiskey and beers
- Delight visitors with from-scratch family recipes, and the pub’s local and authentically Irish ingredients
To that end, the Deluxe team launched a new, mobile-friendly website boasting these pages:
Homepage: The updated homepage welcomes visitors with Sláinte, Irish for “Cheers,” and it clearly communicates that Morrison’s serves food and drinks. It also highlights happy hours and upcoming events, conveying the idea that Morrison’s is a lively destination.
Menu page: The new menu page is much easier to read than its predecessor, even on mobile devices, and it’s optimized to show off popular Irish dishes such as bangers and mash. It also highlights the pub’s lunch options.
Whiskey page: True to its name, the new whiskey page shows off Morrison’s extensive selection; with its epic size, this page is aimed at whiskey enthusiasts and those curious to try something new.
Music & Events page: The old website calendar was difficult to navigate, especially on a smartphone. The new version showcases Sea Shanties nights and is much easier for a visitor to engage with to see upcoming events. The Music & Events page also integrates seamlessly with Facebook, so upcoming events can easily attract interest on social media.
About Us page: This page, telling the Morrison’s story, was revamped to be more personal and endearing, and to convey how Lisa, Mary and Katey live and breathe Ireland.
Morrison’s directory listings
According to a 2017 Yext Local Search study, 76 percent of consumers say that they’re more likely to choose a restaurant that provides detailed information in search results, and more than eight out of 10 consumers read a menu before deciding to eat at a certain restaurant. In the last two years, mobile searches for food and drink establishments that include “‘open’ + ‘now’ + ‘near me'” have grown more than 200 percent. That’s why it was vital that Morrison’s online directory listings accurately described its offerings, location and hours of operation.
Prior to the Deluxe team’s help, Google listed Morrison’s as nothing more than a bar. Because of that, anyone in the vicinity searching on Google for a place to have a meal would have missed Morrison’s entirely. The Deluxe team updated the pub’s Google listing to categorize it correctly as an Irish pub, an Irish restaurant and a lunch restaurant. The team also claimed several other online directory listings, including Yelp, Bing and TripAdvisor, which Morrison’s hadn’t previously done. For every listing, they added enticing photos and made sure the correct business hours were prominently featured, along with the updated menus.
Morrison’s social media
Morrison’s was already a popular destination for patrons to share images on Instagram — an effective way to build word-of-mouth and attract new audiences — but the pub had no official Instagram account to capitalize on that online marketing. The Deluxe team created an Instagram account to take advantage of the great activity already circulating on social media, and they integrated the account with Facebook for efficiency.
Additionally, the Deluxe professionals verified Morrison’s Facebook business page, which helps legitimize the business on Facebook and allows it to rank higher when customers search for the pub.
The Deluxe team provided hands-on social media training for the Morrison’s staff, showing them how to update photos and keep the pub’s contact information up to date. They also gave tips on taking artful food and drink photos, particularly of the whiskeys, and then tagging those brands on social media to help the pub expand its reach.
The new Instagram account and updated Facebook page make it easier for people to find and share Morrison’s on social media.
Morrison’s branded packaging and apparel
Packaging and apparel are two often-overlooked opportunities for branding. Putting a brand — a name, a logo and other distinctive elements — within customers’ sight on a regular basis helps reinforce that brand in their minds.
The Deluxe team created Morrison’s T-shirts for the pub staff to wear, and Morrison’s sweatshirts and hats for retail sale. The Deluxe marketing professionals also created Morrison’s-branded whiskey glasses, flight boards and other drinkware. Not only did these items and apparel reinforce the pub’s brand for customers, but they also indicate that Morrison’s is a destination worthy of souvenirs.
On the packaging side, the Deluxe team created eco-friendly to-go bags with Morrison’s logo and brand colors. They also created Morrison’s stickers to put on other packaging items, including the pub’s eco-friendly food containers, so that the brand is never out of customers’ sights.
The updated packaging keeps Morrison’s branding in customers’ minds.
Morrison’s menus, business cards and other printed items
Print is one of the most important aspects of marketing. To put Morrison’s in a class by itself, the Deluxe team created these printed items for the pub:
- Menus: Morrison’s old menu was black and white and distributed to customers in worn-out holders. The new menu is printed in full color, is easier to read and matches the updated branding. Additionally, the Deluxe marketers created a new, shorter lunch menu aimed at busy diners on the go during the week.
- Whiskey and specialty drink menus: These new additions to the pub’s suite of printed menus are also full color with the pub’s branding in full evidence. The whiskey menu, in particular, was organized to guide beginners and connoisseurs alike with color-coded categorizations.
- Table tents and coasters: The Deluxe team designed and created table tents so the pub can spotlight upcoming events as well as specialty food and drink items.
- Business cards and lunch punch cards: Business cards are a must for virtually any business; for bars and restaurants, they’re something customers can easily slip into a pocket and carry with them. The Morrison’s lunch punch cards were created by the Deluxe team specifically to drive repeat lunchtime traffic.
- Outdoor signage: Many people drive between Alton and nearby Grafton, Illinois, to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. By printing a large vinyl sign advertising Morrison’s and placing it on a brick wall along that drive, the pub has the opportunity to capture drivers who may not find it otherwise. Additionally, the Deluxe team created a sandwich board to put on the sidewalk outside the pub, attracting the attention of pedestrians passing by.
The updated menus, coasters, business cards and table tents tie in perfectly with Morrison’s branded packaging and apparel.
No longer hiding its best assets
Within weeks of the revamp, Morrison’s was seeing results it never had before:
- The business is in the black; Lisa, Mary and Katey have not had to lend the pub money from their own savings.
- For the first time, the pub has recorded weekday sales of more than $1,000.
- Lunchtime sales have doubled.
- Morrison’s social media followers are approaching 400.
- In the first month since the revamp, 87 percent of the pub’s 5,300 views on Google were category searches (not searches by Morrison’s name), indicating that new people are discovering the pub via Google.
- The pub earned TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence and is now the trip-planning website’s No. 2 restaurant in Alton.
- Along with the ever-popular Sea Shanties night on Thursday, Morrison’s now boasts Whiskey Wednesdays and Beer Flight Fridays.
Because of its marketing revitalization and the new focus on its best assets, Morrison’s Irish Pub is enjoying its most successful year to date — and is poised for many more successful years to come.
Owners Katey VanKirk, Lisa Morrison and Mary Morrison show off their new vinyl sign.