Small Museums May Need Creative Solutions for Visitor Dining
Small museums hold a special place in our hearts. Their larger counterparts, like the National Museum of Natural History and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, have food service providers lining up to do their bidding. With millions of dollars in sales on the line, larger museums can be very profitable accounts for their food service providers. Smaller museums, on the other hand, may find it challenging to offer a visitor service amenity that can survive as a standalone. Traditional solutions have included packaging exclusive catering or bar rights with the visitor food amenity to create a sustainable venture or instituting a management fee model on the café. Here are a few other alternatives smaller museums might consider.
While many museums contract with food trucks for the exterior of their facility, you might instead consider bringing a food truck operator into your bricks and mortar location. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington recently opened their new building with an outpost of a successful local food truck. JGL conducted their RFP process to find the perfect provider. Following copious market research, Off the Rez emerged as a candidate. The young food truck company was chosen to run the café, and since they also had experience in catering, they were able to offer a range of services to their museum client. Their signature, unique Native cuisine aligned perfectly with the Burke’s mission. They now offer dine-in, pick-up, and delivery services, and the museum has become a hub for the community, exposing patrons to a unique culinary experience, while furthering the museum’s mission. Read more about Off the Rez at the Burke here.
With national and local food service providers feeling the pinch of the pandemic effects, including hiring challenges, self-serve markets are poised to make an entrance into the museum world. Pre-made selections like poke bowls, wraps, sandwiches, salads, giant cookies and parfaits are attractively displayed, and guests check out and pay themselves using a variety of POS systems that can either automatically scan your item once it’s removed from the case or once it is physically scanned by the guest. Coffee and other beverages can be offered too. Fun, high-end vending machines are all the rage too, selling everything from pizza to grain bowls to smoothies.
For museums with highly seasonal or weekend-oriented attendance, consider launching visitor food service with a weekend brunch provided by a local caterer out of an off-premise commissary. This can be a steppingstone to developing more robust future offerings. Be sure to provide clear details on your website so guests are not surprised when they come back on a weekday.
Many of our museum clients are interested in offering dinner but cannot do so on a sustainable basis. Consider instead a programmatic option that incorporates an educational and culinary component. Guests purchase tickets in advance, so financial risk is limited, and it is a great mechanism to connect with and or develop members.