As a sector we’ve all been caught up in the formalities of reopening – ticking off the dreaded risk assessments, blocking café seating areas for social distancing, ordering (or trying to order) PPE and training tentatively returning team members.
Space allocation in kitchens and smaller teams might mean similarly reduced food offers but there’s no need for boring menus.
It’s all systems go – but what of the food and drink offer itself? As cultural venues and attractions we pride ourselves in a creative approach to commercial activities and catering has been no exception. Covid-19 for all its challenges has been a spur for many food and drink businesses to innovate and create new products or service approaches. There are some great examples at cultural venues.
Space allocation in kitchens and smaller teams might mean similarly reduced food offers but there’s no need for boring menus. Baltic’s Six Restaurant has continued their approach of championing sustainable local ingredients from local and community farms. Dining is less formal at Six now and trading opportunities have been supplemented with a ‘Six at Home’ meal kit service. The team have an in-house butchery and create their own charcuterie.
There may instead be opportunities for low volume but high value products. Some venues are creating exclusive events and ‘bubble’ dining in domes and other temporary structures.
This approach is reflected internationally with Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam placing a big emphasis on ‘pure and honest products with a Dutch heritage’. Vasa in Stockholm similarly has its menu focussed on traditional Swedish fare. Local food has never had a higher profile as many of us turned to farmers markets and local supply chains for our weekly grocery shop during lockdown. So let’s continue to support those businesses and celebrate great British produce.
Challenges with indoors dining space? Look to dine out instead. Harewood House’s catering partner Harewood Food and Drink Project is offering click and collect picnic hampers (including the scrumptious sounding Estate Venison Pie). Picnic selections are also available at Scotland’s Royal Botanic Gardens regional locations. And at Kew Gardens the chargrill is fired up for alfresco dining and the pizza oven for takeaway slices.
It’s true that many venues have lost covers and associated high volumes, at least in the short term, and that takeaway cake and coffee will not drive the levels of income forecast earlier this year. There may instead be opportunities for low volume but high value products. Some venues are creating exclusive events and ‘bubble’ dining in domes and other temporary structures. Inspiring examples are at London’s Secret Garden and Weston House.
Safety is obviously going to be important to visitors and pre-visit information can assist in marketing the efforts venues are making in this respect. Abbotsford has added ‘eat with confidence’ to the drop-down menu on the café website pages, in addition to encouraging pre-booking.
There’s no doubt that these are challenging times and there is a nervousness among venue professionals and caterers alike about reduced capacities and income generation but let’s not lose sight of the value that food and drink add to the visitor experience.
In summary, three pieces of advice:
- When redeveloping the menu think about what you do best and why visitors come to your café or restaurant – they may well have been looking forward to this for all those weeks in lockdown!
- Reflect the venue and your local area in ingredient choices and menu styling
- Think value as well as volume when exploring new products and services