A serving table at the Brooklands Museum's cafe

Case study: Brooklands Museum

Rebecca Atkinson, 16.01.2012
Brooklands Museum has seen cafe sales increase 50% after it changed caterers
Brooklands Museum, in Weybridge, Surrey, attracts thousands of visitors every year who come to see the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation – from its collection of racing cars and second world war aircraft to the only Concorde with public access in south east England.

Visitor research carried out in 2009 was very positive for all areas of the museum experience with one notable exception – the cafe.

This feedback wasn’t a huge surprise for the museum. Its cafe and events business were not bringing in a profit and, at the same time, the museum’s relationship with the caterer was deteriorating.

Valerie Mills, commercial manager at Brooklands Museum, says falling quality of produce and unimaginative catering meant the return from the cafe was dropping.

The museum gave notice to the caterers. “We felt liberated for a few days and then thought ‘what now?’” says Mills.

Catering consultancy Turpin Smale was appointed to conduct a tender for a new caterer. The firm scoped the potential of the museum’s catering and researched caterers who would have the required passion, experience and quality. 

Chris Brown, director of Turpin Smale, says his approach was to invite established caterers as well as companies who had good management and a “hunger” to expand their operations.

Following a robust tendering process, four caterers were shortlisted and invited to bring in examples of their food for museum staff to try.

Eventually, Mills says the museum settled on a firm called Creative Events. “We felt they understood us,” she explains.

The caterer was also willing to make a £100,000 capital investment into the museum cafe, which paid for a refurbishment and turned the site from a canteen into a coffee shop.

Before:

16012012-brooklandsbefore

After:

16012012-brooklands3

The refurbishment also included a new soft play area to help appeal to young families.

The cafe’s existing staff were retained and transferred to the new operation, and immediately the performance improved. Cafe sales have increased by 50% and event catering is up 25%.  

A big change for Brooklands was moving from a profit share agreement with the previous caterers to a contract that is built on turnover.

“We’re now seeing a really good income stream from the cafe and have a better relationship with the caterers,” says Mills.

This case study is based on the Museum Practice seminar on catering delivered by Brooklands Museum and Turpin Smale at the Museums Association's 2011 Conference and Exhibition

Links

Brooklands Museum

Turpin Smale

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