A visit to the cafe, restaurant or food outlet within a visitor attraction should no longer be seen as an add-on at the end of the visit, but it is expected as part of the whole experience.
My presentation at the VisitEngland Assessors Conference last month provided ideas to help raise the standards and quality of food and drink at visitor attractions. Topics up for discussion were:
* Food and catering plays an essential part in creating a seamless customer journey at attractions.
* Catering is a great business with healthy margins and has the capacity for creating a distinctive product.
* A great Café or Restaurant can increase footfall and visitor numbers and become an attraction in itself.
* Quality food and drink if done well can rival the best of exhibitions.
* Food and drink outlets are an important secondary spending stream.
But as always looking at current food trends created the most lively of discussions.
Diners are not turning up for their bookings and for whatever reason guests think it is ok to 'no show'. It's becoming such a problem that it is having an enormous financial impact on restaurant businesses. Of course it is a lack of courtesy on the customers part to not 'phone and cancel a booking or inform a restaurant that they can't make it. But can restaurateurs help themsleves improve this situation?
Working with accommodation providers who faced similar problems here are some of the suggestions that I know worked, especially with the online bookers who were the worst offenders.
* Set out your booking and cancellation policy - an official policy can't be disputed.
* Include - how far in advance a cancellation is required, how long a table will be held for in the event of a no-show, whether you'll charge customers for not turning up if they haven't cancelled their booking.
* Consider taking a small deposit at the time of booking - perhaps the amount you would consider charging for a no show. Diners tend to be more likely to show if they have money at stake.
* Engage with customers as soon as a booking is made - send menu's, a wine list, double check dietary requirements. Send a text or email to confirm the booking, reminding your customers who may have forgotten where they've booked. Include a phone number and address as well as the time of the reservation.
* The day before, engage again, make a phone call, text or email to remind customers of their booking, providing the customer with a good impression of your customer service.
* Make it easy to cancel the booking - this will at least give you more time to fill an empty table.
We should be proud of our food and drink heritage in Suffolk. It is one of the finest places to eat in the country. So it was no mean feat to judge the Best Restaurant Category for publisher's Archant, the promoters of the awards. Armed with score sheets and an insatiable appetite to sample multiple courses and many meals, the very worthy winner was The Unruly Pig at Bromeswell. Runners up were The Bildeston Crown, 1921 and Tuddenham Mill. All areas of the businesses were scrutinised in the judging process, including pre-arrival booking processes, the welcome, menu knowledge, wine service, cleanliness as well as the quality and presentation of the food. Pictured above are head Chef Dave Wall and owner Brendan Padfield from The Unruly Pig.
I have just put together a four week practical course for a client which will show the versatility of popular culinary herbs. Sessions will be 3 hrs long and include a dish to cook and take home and recipe sheets. This is based on a course I taught a few years ago at West Suffolk College. I have always been fascinated by herbs and their many uses and have developed recipes for all of these popular and easy to obtain herbs.
Week 1 - Basil, thyme and chives.
Week 2 - Parsley, tarragon and bay.
Week 3 - Coriander, sage and oregano
Week 4 - Mint, rosemary and dill.
Get in touch if you would like a short cookery course created or delivered for you.
In Case You Missed It - social media is not just a way to communicate with your friends but necessary to target and market directly to those you want to reach. Top platforms are Facebook (the place to go to chat and be friendly, keep the tone light and informal), Twitter (interactive dialogue and communication, nurture, engage and build your following, retweet and answer questions when possible), Instagram (creative and collaborative with the chance to create stories and expand your reach using hashtags), Pinterest (female centric and image based, develop your own personality with eye catching, unique pinboards, great for recipe boards) and YouTube (create useful and instructive 'how to' videos as well as capturing attention), Google owns YouTube so is routinely ranked highly on Google search page. So what are you waiting for?
We had an a really interesting debate about foraging last weekend at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. I was invited to sit on the panel for a Food Writers Question Time where the conversation got very lively. I loved the question from the student in the audience who wanted to know how to prepare a pigeon captured in the garden of his student accommodation.
Cafes and Restaurants don't just sell food and drink they provide a sense of belonging and recognition. Customer service is as equally important as the food. Friendly staff make happy staff. Well trained staff make customers happy. My top tips for excellent customer service are.
It's always good to get published in a cookbook! I have lots of local food knowledge and contacts in the food world if you need recommendations
What a great way to spend summer, visiting some of the brilliant visitor attractions in the East of England. As a trained freelance assessor I will test everything before I go including the website, promotional material, social media streams and leaflets. Then there is the visit itself where I mingle with the other visitors and assess every facet of the attraction, interacting with all members of staff, testing the cafe, shop, experiencing the whole visitor journey. Once I have made myself known at the end of the visit, there is the detailed feedback and debrief, followed by a written report, including any recommendations that I feel are relevant. All areas must meet the high standard required to be awarded VisitEngland's Quality Rose Marque. I love my job!
The Prince's Trust helps get young people into work. Their Enterprise programme helps turn big ideas into business reality for 18 - 30 year olds. The site is well worth a visit and has some great templates, business tools and resources to download whether you plan to apply for their help or not.
Online reputation matters so try to stay at the top of the rankings. Don't ignore TripAdvisor it has over 50 million monthly visitors worldwide!
It's not always about fine dining. It's really important to be able to assess "quality in context". Recently I have been working on the Motorway Services, assessing quality in service stations for VisitEngland. This includes the forecourts and service areas. It might mean buying more than my fair share of McDonalds, KFC, Harry Ramsdens or burgers like this. And always a newspaper from WHSmith and a yoghurt from M&S or Waitrose (to see if I get offered a spoon)
A glimpse of the blinding obvious
Understanding services from a customers point of view is so important. What is blindingly obvious to a customer isn't always so obvious to a business owner. So you need to step back and take a good look at yourself sometimes and listen to your customers! Or consider a mystery guest visit to get some really valuable feedback about your business.
Suffolk County Council approached me to create a short five week cookery course teaching young, vulnerable, single parents to cook. Each week while the children were entertained in the creche the parents created a delicious, healthy and simple lunch to sit and eat together with their children at the end of the session. We covered basic cookery skills and worked within a set budget. When I asked for feedback at the end of the course the favourite lunch proved to be "Let's cook a Chinese Takeaway" Not only nicer than the local takeaway but also about a quarter of the price!
I always try and keep up to date with what's going on in the food and drink world, especially what is happening in East Anglia. So today I'm off to Menta's Food and Drink Seminar at The Cookhouse. Suffolk Food Hall.