Operator profile – Dessert: What Waffle?

Operator profile – Dessert: What Waffle?

It may be tucked away on a side street, but He Says, She Waffles is a well-known secret in the market town of Cirencester, having built a fantastic reputation online and among the local Cotswolds community. Not only does the venue offer a delicious range of sweet and savoury waffles, but it’s also famed for its cups of coffee and thick home-made milkshakes served in a traditional milk bottle, all of which create a continuous buzz about the business.

While social media plays a significant part in attracting visitors, director Debbie and her team of 12 employees are able to match, and even exceed, expectations through a combination of “friendly, welcoming staff, a great location, a unique offering and quality food”. Indeed, people are often so impressed with their experience that they feel compelled to leave a review on Facebook or TripAdvisor, with He Says, She Waffles boasting an impressive four-star rating on the latter.

A quick look on both sites makes clear just why people would recommend this waffle house to others, with comments referring to everything from the food through to the atmosphere and the friendliness of the staff. One customer recently wrote on TripAdvisor: “Such a lovely little café. Best waffles my partner, daughter and I have had.” On Facebook, meanwhile, one person put: “Great service and lovely food. In fact, it was that good we went back an hour later for more.” Debbie admits to checking for the latest reviews “far too frequently” and feeling reassured by the positive feedback. “The good ones are always nice and do give a sense of satisfaction. They make me think we are still doing things right.”

He Says, She Waffles first opened in August 2012 and Debbie later joined as the manager, having already gained relevant experience through running a pub and a restaurant. “I was certainly familiar with all the general management around running a business like He Says, She Waffles,” she recalls. “It was more the financial side that was new to me, but I have a good team around me to help with this.” When the original owners decided to sell the business in 2017, Debbie couldn’t resist the opportunity to step up and take full ownership. “I made the decision to buy because the owners offered me a good price,” she says. “They were also going to close the place, which made me determined to find the capital to take it on.”

Once the sale was complete, Debbie made it her priority to boost custom by creating a stronger voice on social media. “When I took over there was already a customer base, it’s just that we had stopped regularly communicating with them,” she explains. “Therefore, I continued using the previous owners’ approach, by utilising the website and Facebook, but I also extended our reach to Instagram as I found this to be a great medium for the younger generation. Most importantly, I began communicating frequently so that He Says, She Waffles was never far from peoples’ minds – or phones. The previous owners were all about building the brand and I have tried to keep that going.”

To enhance the appeal of her waffle creations on social media, Debbie instructs her partner, who is a keen photographer, to capture them on his camera, ensuring a high-quality, professional finish. At present, more than 1,000 people follow the waffle house on Instagram, while nearly 2,500 people have liked the Facebook page. “Social media is key for business promotion and staying relevant,” says Debbie. “We found that the website had very few hits, so in the end we binned it and redirected all the traffic to our Facebook page.”

Debbie says it would be interesting to see the demographics but has noticed that her business mainly attracts college students and families, with members of the older generation sometimes visiting too. While she is forever keen to create an exciting food and drink experience, equally important to Debbie is the atmosphere for the customers, whether they are sitting inside or outside, and she and the team aim to provide a warm and friendly service time and again. Indeed, anyone visiting the Facebook or Instagram page is encouraged to ‘come for the waffle and stay for the chat’.

Open from 10am, the venue serves breakfast waffles with toppings including salmon and scrambled egg. However, Debbie reveals that goats’ cheese and caramelised onion is one of the most popular savoury options, while the majority of people with a sweet tooth opt for either the S’more waffle, which is drizzled with a warm mixture of white and dark chocolate and topped with toasted marshmallows, or the salted caramel waffle, featuring warm caramel sauce and a scoop of locally-made Winstone’s vanilla ice-cream. If desired, customers can also enjoy the taste of pecans and sliced banana on top.

“The waffles are the standard type that are popular with all waffle establishments,” says Debbie. “In terms of toppings, we review the menu each year and tweak it a bit, sometimes dropping a bad seller and introducing a new one. We put salted caramel on the menu because it seems to be everywhere nowadays and we would be silly to ignore general trends. We also experiment with seasonal waffles; for instance, in the summer we promote strawberries. Generally, we do look to try new things, but we do so gradually because I am sure that too much change to the menu would have a negative effect on the business.”

While buying He Says, She Waffles was a major career and lifestyle choice, Debbie admits that her future plans are on a much smaller scale. “If I was a few years younger I would seriously consider expanding the business, because I am sure it would be a big hit in other towns. The brand is good and the reviews and feedback that we get are very positive. However, I am now thinking that ideally I would like my daughter to take over the business one day and maybe she can look to expand it.”