Introducing: The Complete Dining Club

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An innovative business designed to encourage more diners to eat at some of Devon’s best independent cafes and restaurants.

Exeter is quite a lucky city in some respects.  We have an array of places to eat, most of them branches of larger chains, and intermixed there are a select number of independent places that are really good.  Some are recognised on a national level (Devon Coffee, The HubBox etc.) and on the whole, any good restaurant going bod in Exeter will be able to name at least three or four Indy places that do good food having been to them.  But diners are often creatures of habit, and many like the big chain restaurants that Exeter is filled with.  This can make things tricky for independent restaurants and cafes who don’t have the same marketing budgets or the buying power a large corporate entity might have.

From stage left, let me introduce you to Will Baker and John Peterson, (scroll down for a brief interview!); the founders of The Complete Diner’s Club (TCDC).  The founders are passionate about independent restaurants, low food miles and through my conversations with them in person and over email, they are dedicated team who have been meeting and promoting themselves to indy restaurants and cafes since the business’s creation earlier this year, and now after a busy week at the Exeter University Fresher’s Fair and at foody events, they can be found proselytising the ‘eat local, support local’ mantra that CDC embodies and promotes.

So, what is CDC?

As many regular readers might be aware, I’m passionate about local produce, independent restaurants and the ‘eat local, buy local’ mantra, so this concept has got me very excited.  In fact I got so excited, I accidentally posted this blog post a couple of weeks ago and frantically had to delete it afterwards! Why? Well… there are two things that are guaranteed to put a spanner in the works of any well laid plan.  The first thing is technology, and the second thing will be the lawyers of a large American corporation.  Will and John have had two weeks to rebrand from The Complete Diner’s Club to The Complete Dining Club after an nasty email from Diner’s Club International, who felt that the TCDC name was a little too close to their own.  So after some frantic rebranding, the business if finally ready to launch officially.

The Complete Dining Club is a unique (only one of its kind in the UK) card scheme that gives club members offers, discounts and unique experiences from independent restaurants  and producers.  So far there are twelve restaurants on-board in Exeter, Exmouth and Crediton, all of them giving Complete Dining Club members something special.
And they are adding more to the list, so make sure you check the website regularly!  As the number of establishments that sign up grows, the website will become a directory of excellent independent businesses, and with the information on the website it will help aid decision and will help diners discover new places to eat.

But it isn’t just the benefits to diners.  In the future, with a combined buying power, CDC hopes to make things cheaper for restaurants too with costs of such things as maintenance, finance and even down to printing menus etc.

its a really fantastic concept with Will and John promoting and negotiating with businesses to get member offers that are worth signing up for.  The business is relatively young, but there is already a buzz amongst the mavens in foody circles I move amongst.

So why should you? Have a look at the members page to see more, but there are some awesome discounts including:

  • A minimum of 10% off at all supporting stores
  • A variety of different exclusive offers (Free glass of wine, 50% off the food bill etc)
  • An easier time finding places worth exploring when going out to eat with friends and family

This is one project that I firmly believe is going to be beneficial for independent restaurants in the long-term, not just for the diners that eat at them but for their owners too.  In a recent article in The Caterer, the struggle of independent restaurants was clarified:

“Figures from the NPD Group show that sales at independent outlets have dropped by 22.8% since 2008, while business in chain restaurants has increased by 15.5% during the same period. As a result, independents accounted for 43% of the eating-out traffic by the end of 2014, compared with 53% in 2008″

These depressing statistics say to me that a scheme like CDC will only help to boost the chances of getting bums on seats and why we all need to ‘Eat Local and Buy Local’.

I was lucky enough to get Will and John to answer a few questions about starting the business and how things were going.

What gave you the idea to start Complete Dining Club?

John: The initial idea came to us while Will and I were having a meal in ‘Lloyds Kitchen’ in Exeter once. We were sitting there chatting about how we all have that one independent restaurant that we love but there’s no place to find more independents like it; so we set up Complete Dining Club, a place to find some of the best and unique independent restaurants, pubs and cafes in your area that we believe must be explored.

What’s the benefit to diners that sign up to be a member?

Will: Members of Complete Dining Club get access to exclusive discounts/deals at some of the best independents in town. Some deals are suited to groups (for instance, a bottle of wine between 4) whilst other deals can be enjoyed when you’re out in town on your own. One card gets you access to one Complete Dining Club deal per sitting. There is a variety.

John: The way to use your card is by firstly looking on the website to find independent diners in your area that you like the look of and then checking the individual pages of those diners to find out what deal they are offering. Some places, like Bumble and Bee in Exmouth, do a daily deal which means that there will always be a deal available but sometimes it will be different to the one on the website, as it changes daily. Other places, like Lloyd’s Kitchen in Exeter who are offering 50% off the bill at breakfast, have a permanent deal in place and this deal won’t change for at least 30 days but it will have terms and conditions such as not available on Saturdays and must be ordered by 11:30am.

How much does it cost?

John: Membership to Complete Dining Club costs £20 per year. In return you get exclusive access to Complete Dining Club deals in all the independents that we support. The membership card will be valid for a year and gets you a year’s worth of discounts at some of the best independents in town!

Will: The membership cards are definitely worth the money. If you use your card at The Oddfellows in Exeter which currently offers of a free glass of prosecco (worth £4) when you buy a main course, then you can get your money back when you use the card 5 times. We have more places in Exeter that also deserve a visit such as Real Food Store or Lloyds Kitchen. All stores offer at least 10% off so you know that when you buy a card, there’s definitely money to be saved at places worth going to!

Independent restaurants face tough competition from chains, how would Complete Dining Club benefit restaurants that sign up?

We publicise some of the best independent restaurants, pubs and cafes in Exeter, Exmouth and Crediton on our website. Our goal is to have all the best and most unique independents in one place so our members and non-members alike looking for places to eat out in can look for the hidden gems of the city with ease.

We also give our supporting stores, The Complete Dining Club certification badge so if anyone sees our badge, they know that a certain place is worth exploring when going out to eat with friends or family.

We want to create a buzz around the restaurants that are participating.  John and I have designed our website and added content that specifically works with Google’s SEO rating system. This will mean that our website (the hub for great and unique independents) will rank highly on google. Increasing overall internet traffic to our supporting stores.

What are your personal connections to independent restaurants, pubs and cafes? Any favourite places you remember?

John: On our journey with this business we’ve visited some really cool places. One place that stands out is a coffee house in Crediton called the ‘Crediton Coffee Company’ that roast their own coffee in-store. We actually made a video ( of Dan ‘The Coffee-Man’ (Ex World Championship Coffee Barista judge) roasting some coffee beans in-store and we learned loads about how coffee is made whilst doing so. Did you know there is a bigger spectrum of Coffee flavors than all of the different flavors of wine in the world!?

Will: My connection with independent business sprouted from my Dad. He runs a medium sized bespoke wardrobe design and fitting company in London. He taught me that “small businesses are the heart and soul of the country” So I have always gone out of my way to find independents, from hair dressers and dry cleaners to cafes and restaurants. I feel you are truly looked after at an independent.

I have actually just finished a meeting with ‘The Glorious Coffee House’ on Fore Street in Exeter. This place has impressed me as one of the most unique places in Exeter. When an art lover and a coffee lover combine, you get ‘The Glorious Coffee House’. It’s just brilliant.

What are the plans for the future for Complete Dining Club?

Will: We want grow the business all over Devon by increasing the number of independents we have on our website so our members have more choice when they want to use our Complete Dining Club card. We want to be an alternative to the “safe” routine of chains. The combination of CDC badge and the innovative website layout will help eliminate the risk of trying somewhere new, or encourage someone to explore some of the hidden gems we find on our travels.

We want to bring out a mobile application that lets members and non-members alike find the best independent restaurants in their local area. It would also give members the chance to look at all the different deals available at all the different independents in the town.

We want to help our partner stores reduce their costs which ultimately means they can lower their price to the customer. We want to include helping them with different things. For instance, the printing of menus etc.

Follow The Complete Diner’s Club on Twitter and don’t forget to check out their website too.  Also find them on Facebook

For a limited time Eating Exeter is selling cards at half price (£10 opposed to £20!), just click the link at the top right of the page and it will take you through to our link page.  If you go through the main site instead, just remember to mention that it was Eating Exeter that referred you over!

Click here to buy a card

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