Catering Consultant – Parks, Open Spaces & Leisure Attractions Visitor Cafes – Challenges & Opportunities

From our experience as catering consultants working with parks, open spaces and wider leisure attractions, we are acutely aware of the unique challenges that these environments present to visitor cafes and wider catering operations. The key starting point is to understand the organisation’s requirements as well as visitors’ needs and wider environment.

Catering consultant, Paul Smith sets out a small sample of considerations when improving and developing visitor café operations in parks, open spaces and leisure attractions where there is a dominant outdoor focus:

  • Different visitor groups often have varying food and beverage requirements. A clear understanding of different needs is key in terms of determining how this translates into a relevant visitor catering offer and enhanced visitor experience. For example, if travel distance to the attraction is short and/or dwell time limited, visibility of impulse food and beverage offers and more hand held snack items may be more relevant for those visitors that clearly have the choice to eat prior to arrival.
  • Seasonality is particularly challenging and through our work we have developed strategies to mange seasonality relating to staffing, menu style, opening times, type of operation (fixed versus mobile), production techniques etc.
  • As well as seasonality, weather and changes in weather can have dramatic impact upon the visitor catering operation, including its financial position. Through our experience, we have found that it is not just wet and cold weather that can reduce visitor numbers and impact on the catering, hot weather often results in potential visitors undertaking alternative leisure activities elsewhere. Flexible solutions are required for many aspects, from staffing to stock.
  • Providing specific advice in relation to appropriate covered areas as well as relevant menus choices and complementary activities are part of the approach we apply to our work. Similarly, on peak days it is essential to optimise the potential by ensuring that there is adequate catering, appropriately located and able to serve and accommodate visitors, particularly during the peak periods of the day. The provision of adequate, flexible seating is also a key part of this consideration.
  • Visitor catering staffing can be a further challenge within park and open space environments. The seasonal nature of some environments can result in high levels of seasonal staff and often, high turnover of employees. Further, remote locations dependent on relatively junior staff requiring a car to travel to and from work can further compound this matter. We have developed a number of staffing approaches, including shared roles and flexible ‘multi site crew’ to more effectively cope with this challenge.
  • The above seasonality and staffing considerations are also important in terms of developing menu items that are easy to produce, while being quality, value for money and relevant for visitors. Menu choices often need to be focused with assembly and production straightforward, particularly if catering staffing costs are to be controlled and staffing skills are relatively limited.
  • Location and type of catering also plays a big part in terms of determining success or failure for visitor catering. Full service restaurants, cafes, kiosks and mobiles all have a part to play when considering the appropriate mix and location of visitor catering. But too much catering can also result in lost profitability.
  • If the most appropriate management route involves selecting a catering partner to operate the visitor catering facilities, as well as evaluating their technical abilities, we work to ensure there is a close cultural fit between the two organisations. Further, it is important that service level agreements are simple, clear and realistic. Setting onerous, and often unachievable, service criteria is likely to result in limited interest from relevant and interesting catering organisations or early termination, if appointed.
  • Determining the realistic financial potential from visitor cafes and catering as well as how changes to the service can impact upon the financials is also essential. Our extensive experience and benchmark data allows us to accurately model different scenarios.
  • Understanding both food and beverage sector and wider trends, and their relevance to specific locations is also critical. Visitors no longer compare one similar attraction to another. Their exposure to food and beverage operations across all of their experiences typically results in much higher expectations and needs.
  • Design application and ensuring that the catering design is both practical and relevant is also key to any successful visitor catering operation.
  • For multi site operations, we also always consider any collective initiatives, which could enhance and add value to the individual sites.

These are just a few considerations that, as catering consultants, we develop and apply via our structured, tried and tested approach to developing successful visitor catering operations. Our catering consultancy and wider catering operational experience has enabled us to develop opportunities from the challenges, through the application of insightful data, creative solutions as well as learnings, experience and application from both similar and other environments.

Sample parks, open spaces and leisure organisations that we have supported in an independent catering consultancy capacity include Heaton Park, Manchester; Lepe Country Park; Royal Victoria Country Park; Staunton Country Park; Manor Farm & Country Park; Queen Elizabeth Country Park; Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve; Standalone Farm; The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre; Northumberland National Park Authority; Lake District National Park Authority; Arnos Vale; Brockhole Visitor Centre; Horniman Museum & Gardens; ZSL Whipsnade Zoo; Llechwedd Slate Caverns; Chester Zoo.

Posted on February 6th, 2019