Alea Leeds' 'entertainment hub' re-positioning pays off

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Restaurant

Charles Merchie, venue director at Alea Leeds says repositioning the casino as an entertainment venue has been a winning decision
Charles Merchie, venue director at Alea Leeds says repositioning the casino as an entertainment venue has been a winning decision
The boss of casino and entertainment venue Alea Leeds says a repositioning of the business as an entertainment hub rather than a gambling destination has helped the business survive through a recession.

As the venue, based at the city's Clarence Dock and home to two award-winning restaurants - The Leeds Kitchen by James Martin and The Bird by Vineet - celebrates its fourth birthday, venue director Charles Merchie is celebrating the fact that the business has not only survived, but thrived since opening its doors. 

“Opening at the end of 2008 was a massive handicap because the economy was so challenging, so to still be here and still be the market leader in Leeds is in itself a major achievement," he said. 

Dining and conferencing

Alea Leeds' dining areas have helped boost the business
Alea Leeds' dining areas have helped boost the business

Merchie, who was hired by Alea Leeds' owner London Clubs International to manage the venue and its 120 staff in May, gives much credit for the business's success to its two restaurants, which can turn tables up to three times in an evening on a weekend, as well as to an upturn in demand for conferencing facilities. 

"From Friday evening until Sunday both restaurants are really busy," he said. "James Martin's restaurant is a 54-cover restaurant and Bird by Vineet Bhatia has space for 90 and every seat is used two times, sometimes three times on a Saturday."

With Alea Leeds, which is currently bidding for a large casino licence, being home to two restaurants with well-known names behind them and due to the fact it also has a bespoke events floor and private cinema, Merchie said he felt the business was missing a trick by not promoting these areas more heavily when he joined. 

"Six months ago we started a new strategy for the business and that was to reposition the business as an entertainment hub. Two thirds of the property is food and beverage and conferencing, while a third is casino so really we are very different from other casinos in the UK. I wanted to make more of that," he said. 

Merchie, who came to the venue with a strong hospitality background - he has worked in food and beverage and management roles at Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels, most recently at Wood Hall Hotel & Spa in Wetherby as general manager - has also seen a large pick-up in the number of customers booking conferencing facilities 

"With conferencing we've really had a few very good months compared to the past few years. Companies are certainly starting to spend out again on banqueting and conferencing," he added. 

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