Association of Independent Museums

31 Mar 2017 By Charles Manners

Food for thought -  How catering is changing

The biggest change in catering has been the growth in coffee shops, with major brands Costa, Starbucks and Caffè Nero leading the way.  Sales across the market are 10% higher than last year as the café culture tightens its grip, and these brands are influencing the direction of travel for all cafés.

Everyone now sees the importance of cafés in museums, not only to provide a space for visitors to relax and enhance their visit, but also as a commercial opportunity.  A good café can increase the overall museum dwell time and provide the glue for the overall experience.

What is also evident is that the consumers’ expectations of quality products, well-presented, has continued to evolve, with an increasing emphasis on innovation and new products, great displays and fresh home-made products.

Tripadvisor has become (like it or hate it) the best mystery shopper measure, and it is important to address and to respond to posts, in particular any negative comments.

Well run and attractively presented cafés can also command premium pricing, which adds to the visitor spend, which ranges across the country from £1 to £4 per visitor, depending on the offer, location and local competition.

Staffing remains and will continue to be challenging; however well trained, friendly and engaging staff make all the difference, and it is an area that can never be taken for granted.

Museums planning changes or refurbishment should consider a number of areas for the future: 

Catering staff should ideally have access to good quality staff changing rooms and toilets; too often this is not the case.If you look after staff they will look after customers!

Interior design (furniture, lighting, colours) and connection to the museum ethos and mission is all too often missing, with the café space open and too clinical.Watch what’s happening in the high street where both brands and individual operators cleverly weave their messaging into not only the design but the food offer; use humour and fun to add interest.

Additional purchase points, e.g. mobiles, coffee and ice cream carts, strategically located at the entrance to the museum will drive sales and are unlikely to dilute existing business.

Outside patios and terraces, visible to all visitors, well designed, with quality outdoor furniture and umbrellas are a significant draw particularly during the summer.

The use of technology will in the future play a much greater role, from EPOS information, to mobile tills, customer self-ordering and payment, and promotions to generate sales; we are at the beginning of a fast changing period.

The need to demonstrate what you are doing for the environment and the less fortunate is and will become important e.g. food banks, food provenance and waste.


Ian Doughty


Tracey Fairclough


Charles Manners


Chris Brown







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