“Less and less people are going out just for a drink and there are also a significant number that don’t eat out unless it’s part of something more experiential.”

These were the words of a successful and long established restaurateur and bar operator pitching for a catering tender at an iconic cultural venue that we were recently consulting on.

There’s been a growing cultural shift towards ‘immersive dining’ and wider ‘experiential’ offers, integrating an activity and experience with food and drink. At one end of the spectrum there’s the big production “Mama Mia! The Party” – an all-singing, all-dancing theatrical dining experience, with tickets costing in the region of £100 – £200 per person.

Albeit on a tighter budget and scale, across many of the cultural venues where we are providing catering consultancy advice, we are supporting with the integration of eating and drinking with all-encompassing wider experiences.

There are typically two potential approaches for a more experiential offer for visitor catering within cultural venues:

  1. A café or restaurant experience that shares the DNA of the wider attraction, integrating elements of the attraction in to the visitor café or restaurant. Black Country Living Museum is one such example, with many of the visitor cafes, restaurants and bars set within period buildings and reflective of the environment that may have been typical at that time.
  1. An independent, albeit complementary destination in its own right, although physically part of the cultural venue. One of the recent food and beverage tender commissions we have consulted on has resulted in the appointment of Jaguar Shoes Collective repurposing the previous Empire Bar at Hackney Empire with a new concept – Two Palms. While the core offer is food, drink and great hospitality, being a culturally rooted organisation they also integrate a diverse programme of live events as well as unique exhibitions. The offer is not dependent on Hackney Empire’s audience footfall, creating a unique cultural destination, although it is culturally compatible to their programme and provides a sustainable commercial return to the Hackney Empire.
Hackney Empire

Experiences can also differ and be turned on and off at different times. Take a few other examples that we have recently been involved with across cultural venues:

  • Added value experience ticket, including admission plus ‘democratic’ wine tasting from a local partner organisation – making wine tasting fun and inclusive – an added extra to the main visit occasion.
  • Café book clubs – organised by the visitor café operator, actively embracing community engagement. One particular group even coordinate some of the books choices with the local theatre programme so they can also enjoy a relevant performance reflective of a novel that the group has recently read and discussed. Even better if it’s your theatre café that has that book club!
  • Wellness walks, knitting clubs, spoken word, coffee chats – providing touchpoints for locals to meet and expand their social networks, while often partaking in another activity. It doesn’t always have to be complex or expensive!
  • Seasonal ice cream parlour – as well as embracing the recent trend for dessert cafes, this one is also going to be a big hit with those groups booking the ice cream making (and eating) classes. For the rest of the year the venue gets to use the space for its own needs.

These are just a small sample of how integrating experiences in to your visitor café or restaurants can provide unique and memorable moments, as well as the potential to develop a strong sense of identity. By doing so you will not only add value to your visitor and public catering but also create a unique proposition and differentiator for your café or restaurant.

Additional potential benefits to your organisation, apart from very satisfied visitors? -increased footfall, longer dwell time, greater participation, increased spend, repeat visits and an improved commercial return.

While we believe there will always be a place for restaurants, bars, cafes and the likes to focus solely on great food, drink and hospitality, there are sectors of the community looking for an integrated experience or adventure…something different.

The cultural sector is perfectly placed to integrate great experiential offers within visitor catering. What more could you be doing to elevate your visitor café or restaurant to create a strong sense of place?

Montfort Catering Consultants is a trusted independent catering consultancy, delivering commercially sustainable and culturally sympathetic catering destinations across the cultural and leisure sectors. Do get in touch for an informal chat if you would like to explore opportunities and discuss how we could support you.

montfortconsultants.com | info@montfortconsultants.com

Paul Smith
By Paul Smith
Founder & Director of Montfort Consultants, Paul Smith is an enthusiastic, committed and motivated catering professional with circa 25 years senior level food and beverage consultancy experience and extensive operational knowledge gained across a broad range of cultural organisations often with diverse stakeholder requirements.
Write a response … Close responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Cookie

This website uses cookies to help improve your user experience.