Starting Out

Most restaurants publicise their menu and their opening hours and then wait for the customers to come pouring through the doors – or not, as the failure of so many ventures of this type proves.

David Vaughan - Proactive push sends Chapel Down to heights

David Vaughan runs a restaurant business with a twist

David Vaughan, who runs the Chapel Down Wine Bar and Bistro, soon realised the value of a more proactive approach to marketing and his venue’s overwhelming popularity is a testament to his strategy’s success.

Vaughan had had a first-rate grounding in the catering industry, working for leading hotel brands like Hilton International and DeVere, and as clubhouse manager at Chart Hills Golf Club, when he first came to Chapel Down Vineyard in Tenterden, Kent, to run a simple tea-house-cum-café above the Vineyard shop.

“I thought it could do a lot better,” he recalls “so I put together a business plan and took a proposal to English Wines, Chapel Down’s owners, which they accepted.” This involved Vaughan running the restaurant on a franchise basis, for which he would pay an up-front franchise fee of £10,000 and an ongoing rental.

Overnight, Vaughan became his own boss, and immediately got stuck into turning his vision into a reality. So what were his priorities? “To bring in a new team, revamp the menus and generally upgrade the whole offering,” he says.

“We got rid of the plastic menu covers and replaced them with blackboards, we changed the name from The Grapevine to Chapel Wine Bar and Bistro, and we moved up market.”

At about the same time, English Wines were embarking on a major refurbishment, investing a considerable amount of money in improving the shop and building a terrace for the restaurant. The two businesses would clearly be symbiotic, each bringing a steady flow of customers to the other.

Vaughan then began building what has become a very significant database, canvassing his customers and asking them what their interests were. From that, it became clear that themed evenings featuring jazz or opera would be very popular and, based on experience he had gained at Chart Hills, Vaughan got in touch with local group, Doctor Jazz.

The idea took a little while to catch on, with only around 30-35 covers at the early events, but now, says Vaughan, customers need to book six months ahead if they want to be sure of getting one of the 70 seats available. The light opera dinners are just as heavily booked, with regular customers reserving places for the entire season.

“Our philosophy is to base it on really good food and make it a fun night, so you tend to see the same faces appearing regularly.

“I used to do around a dozen events a year,” Vaughan continues, “but now I’ve had to cut it back to eight, because there’s another side of the business that has also taken off very successfully and there are simply not enough weekends to go round.”

He is talking about weddings, which have mushroomed in number since they were first introduced last year. A licence was granted for marriages to take place either outside in the Herb Garden or inside in the Bistro, and couples can put their big day together using a variety of different options.

All this is on top of 50-60 covers a day for lunch and regular corporate bookings, when the whole place is taken over for meetings and seminars, frequently in conjunction with English Wines.

Vaughan’s ideas for marketing are endless. He has already introduced special fish weekends, featuring the very best of the local catch, and in the autumn he plans to bring in carvery lunches on Sundays, after 81pc of his customers said they would come if he did.

He regularly takes part in The Daily Telegraph’s lunch promotions, and joins forces with the Vineyard to offer a gift experience, incorporating a wine tour and lunch, sold through Boots and the online gift company, Into the Blue. This is a restaurant business with a twist.

Aspiring restaurateurs take note.

By Jenny Hirschkorn.