Catering where the people are

03 January 2008
Catering where the people are

The turn of the New Year means it is an ideal time for catering operators to be looking at new opportunities, according to Chris Brown, director of Turpin Smale Foodservice Consultancy

Caterer? Café operator? Restaurateur? Now is the time to think creatively and reassess your strategy. Take advantage of new opportunities.

As a consumer yourself, you and your family no doubt visit garden centres, farm shops, museums, parks and visitor attractions. You probably comment on the catering. You may be pleasantly surprised that the instant coffee in polystyrene cup of old has long gone.

Cafés are vitally important to these leisure destinations. The old idea of serving customers a restorative brew has been superseded by a hard-nosed drive for greater income, with catering driving both reputation and visitor numbers - and the ambition to be distinctive.

Don't scoff at the numbers: 300-seat cafés are becoming commonplace in garden centres. We are working on a 450-seater in Preston Warrington has one with 650 seats, expanding to more than 800. Farm shops are coming up fast behind. The best museums get more than £2 catering spend per visitor. Companies such as Peyton and Byrne and Company of Cooks, which specialise in visitor attraction cafés, are booming.

What do you need to enter the world of concession cafés? A sensible appetite for risk won't go amiss, and you need to assess the footfall, especially of new developments. Your food may be simple, but it must be good. Your story has to be well told. This is "buy with your eyes" country. Why on earth would a customer buy what they know is unhealthy for them - a delicious chocolate brownie, for instance - unless it looks fabulous?

The commercial beauty of these cafés is the all-day trade they can obtain. Breakfast might work off a busy road, and the mid-morning and early afternoon trade can be excellent. They are the new meeting places and can give Costa and Starbucks a run for their money, especially where the car parking is more convenient.

Catering exists wherever people come together. You might not get an airport or train station site - but what's the harm of trying, as they, too, want new ideas? However, there are visitor attraction operators who are only too glad to outsource the problematic catering to a professional, passionate, creative caterer. Go for it.

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