Standing out from the crowd and maintaining longevity in an ever-changing industry can prove challenging. We caught up with Co-Owner Lou Leahy to learn how Ukiyo has cemented itself as a legendary restaurant in the city and the role OpenTable plays in its success.
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In an increasingly competitive restaurant scene, standing out from the crowd is no easy feat, and maintaining longevity in an ever-changing industry can prove challenging. For that reason, Ukiyo is all the more impressive. This little Japanese spot sits on the corner of Exchequer St and Dame Court in Dublin, a position it has occupied for almost 20 years.
How does a small family-owned business become one of the longest-running restaurants in Dublin? Great food helps, as does the staff, who are ready to go that extra mile with their service. But there are other factors to consider, like excellent marketing and having the right tools to succeed and attract diners.
For Ukiyo, that means using OpenTable to manage day-to-day operations and find new guests. We recently caught up with Co-Owner Lou Leahy to learn how Ukiyo has cemented itself as a legendary restaurant in the city and the role OpenTable plays in its success.
Lou co-owns Ukiyo with her husband, Duncan. After spending time in Japan, they felt inspired to bring the Japanese restaurant culture to Dublin. Today, Japanese spots in Ireland are hardly groundbreaking. Back in 2004, however, Ukiyo was unique.
It set the trend and has evolved with the times, expanding from a 35-seater to more than twice the size with an outdoor terrace, bar and lounge area and a downstairs nightclub with karaoke.
Perhaps more than anyone, Lou is well aware of the transformation Ukiyo has undergone over the years. “The other day, I was thinking about how long we’ve been around and what comes with that, including recessions, changes in diner behaviour and new technology.”
Initially, Ukiyo stood as one of the few restaurants on Exchequer Street but now shares the space with many others. Yet, it’s almost always full to capacity and has thrived by embracing cultural shifts without being afraid to adapt and stay relevant in an ever-changing market.
Lou says, “Over the years, we’ve faced many challenges and reimagined the business several times over. Just when we think we’ve nailed it, something else springs up to keep us on our toes.”
There’s plenty to keep up with when you’re in business for so long. Recessions, worldwide pandemics, and even the changing consumer preferences have the ability to stop you in your tracks and force a rethink of what it means to be a modern-day restaurant.
“Diner habits have certainly changed over the years, and we’ve needed to keep up with that”, says Lou. She continues, “They’re more health conscious now and just know so much more about food and drink in general than my generation.”
If it’s not enough to keep up with diner trends, Ukiyo has had to deal with the explosion of Asian restaurants in the west. Back in 2004, Asian cuisine was popular, but diner choice was nothing like today’s options.
Lou says, “Now that we’re an established restaurant, the goal is to keep up with trends and ensure we still appeal to our customer base while attracting new guests.”
Technology is one area where Ukiyo hasn’t been afraid to make changes and look at what’s culturally popular with other restaurants. In 2020, they started using OpenTable.
Indeed, technology is one of the newer concepts in the restaurant, as Lou admits that old-school methods were previously employed when it was a small spot with a handful of seats. “We had the sheet with the names of each person that’s coming in every day”, Lou admits with a laugh.
She continues, “Then, in 2018, we expanded from 40 seats to 120, and that’s when we decided a reservation system was vital for operations and the day-to-day running of the restaurant. Honestly, I kick myself that we didn’t use OpenTable sooner. “
Customer support was one of the reasons why Ukiyo decided to use OpenTable. “Customer service is everything in the hospitality industry. I think people can forgive an off night with food, but they won’t forget poor customer service.
Since using OpenTable, Lou has been impressed with the level of service on offer. “The support team always took time to explain how it all works and that was really important to me during those early stages. For that reason, I believe Opentable’s customer service is a shining light.”
High-level customer service gave Lou the confidence to thrive using OpenTable, and after a few months, she was essentially an expert at using the restaurant platform.
Today, OpenTable plays a crucial role in helping Ukiyo fill tables. She says, “We’re fortunate to have regulars, and we’re in a good location right in the centre of Dublin. But we still need to attract diners who aren’t walking by on the off chance, and OpenTable really helps with that.
Ukiyo uses Experiences to try to get new diners through the door. “Using the Experiences feature has been amazing for us because we’ve been able to include our popular set menu, which comprises our ten best-selling dishes. This particular Experience was very popular with guests, as they were able to sample the best of Ukiyo’s menu.
Beyond Experiences, Ukiyo uses Boost Campaigns to help fill tables and expand reach for diners in Dublin, be it locals or tourists.
“Expanding our reach with OpenTable has been great because it’s helped us meet new guests we may not have met before. Dublin is the headquarters to big businesses and many of their employees have found us using OpenTable.”
Throughout the years, Ukiyo has remained a refreshing constant in Dublin. For many regulars, it’s a food pilgrimage and a familiar spot where they can enjoy excellent service, an exciting Asian-inspired menu and a spot for karaoke nights.
As for new guests, Ukiyo relies on its excellent location. But when that isn’t enough, Ukiyo uses OpenTable to reach new diners while running restaurant operations.
As Lou says, “It’s been a game changer really for us, you know, I mean, completely 100%.”
Lou Leahy, Co-owner
Ukiyo Bar & Restaurant
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