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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
19 Nov 2003
 

Anyone dreaming of opening their own restaurant should, before they take the plunge, book a day trip to Winchester, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton or Harrogate and discover how Robin Hutson and Gerard Basset have managed to get it so right with their group, Hotel du Vin & Bistro.

Firstly, find a little niche in the market so that you stand out from the crowd. These places have done it with wine very successfully.

Then be as inclusive as possible. By using the user-friendly term bistro rather than any combination of bar, café or restaurant there is an immediate signal to the guest that he/she will be made to feel welcome and not priced out of anything too expensive.

Once you have drawn them past the reception (much more difficult in an hotel than a restaurant) do make sure there is something on the menu for everyone.

The Tunbridge Wells menu is a delight. Seven starters at £6.50; eight main courses at £14.50; seven simple classics which incorporate starters such as locally smoked salmon and potted rabbit and main courses such as a châteaubriand for two and game and then five vegetarian main courses. No one feels left out, not even those with poor eyesight, as the menu is clearly and cleanly printed with no fancy fonts.

Finally, don't forget that your customers have come in to have a good time. There are no negatives - the ubiquitous, correct 'don't smoke cigars or pipes in the diningroom' is replaced here by a line which reads that 'you are most welcome to smoke pipes and cigars in the bars and lounges'. And for anyone not swayed by a dessert at £6 there is the clever offer of an espresso icecream at £2 which few seemed to refuse.

Most importantly, don't let your standards drop. Although this vital ingredient does not appear on the menu it is clearly a fact of restaurant life which the Tunbridge Wells management and staff have inwardly digested. Our meal there last month was the best of several since the bistro opened in 1997.

www.hotelduvin.com for details.