As someone who enjoys a moderately healthy, hearty meal, the catering at visitor attractions always catches my eye. Imagine my disappointment when, at various venues in the last year I’ve been priced-out by fine-dining, missed out due to limited stock or put off by ‘beige stodge’. I’ve also seen vegan items ‘temporarily’ (perpetually) unavailable and children’s menus reduced to the bare basics.  I’ve had great experiences too, but such is my fear of going ‘hangry’ I now make sure I eat before a visit. 

First world problems of course, but if my experience is felt by others then visitor attractions risk losing out on revenue (and good will).

So in this light it is perhaps a good thing that we are seeing brands such as Costa and Benugo increase their footprint across the sector.  These established, well-run chains usually offer a range of tasty options, and rarely run out of stock. I may not be blown away by their offering but there is a reassuring sense of familiarity and predictability, which means a reduced risk of disappointment that might go on to taint the entire visit.

That said, when food has the potential to meet both a human functional and emotional need, could ‘predictable’ also represent an untapped opportunity for both the attraction and the 3rd party? I would argue that with a few smart moves, there is potential to add a little extra wow factor for mutual gain.

Take a recent visit to London Transport Museum as an example and source of inspiration.

I was impressed that the Benugo had adapted the menu to offer three bespoke cocktails that reflected the setting – the Elizabeth Line, Routemaster and Red Arrow.  The core Benugo offer remained intact, but this relatively simple step forged a clear connection with the attraction and created a memorable moment that added to the visitor experience.

But what about other more fundamental aspects of the experience?

Often, when sipping my flat white in one of these cafés, I no longer feel as if I am sitting in the attraction. I feel I have temporarily stepped outside, perhaps to my local high street or train station. I get this feeling regardless of where the café is situated – be it at the entrance of a city museum or deep inside a rural castle’s walls. 

This feeling of disconnect is driven by some logical factors such as the chain’s branding and staff in different uniforms, but also by the way that the chain’s employees represent the attraction.  Of course, they are not directly employed to represent the attraction, but visitors may not see it this way.

In 2023 we conducted over 400 mystery visits at visitor attractions, which included a detailed assessment of each venue’s catering offer.  Fuelled by my observations, mystery visitors were tasked with asking café staff a question about the visitor attraction.  The question had to relate to the site’s visitor experience offer, such as ‘are there any guided tours on today?’

It was striking – if not surprising – that where catering was run by a third-party chain the ability to answer a question about the attraction was dramatically reduced (60% compared to 85% overall).  

Moreover, far from just not knowing the answer to relatively basic questions, third-party staff would often proactively disassociate themselves from the attraction with responses such as “I’m not sure, ask the museum staff,” or even “I don’t know – I only work in the café”.  The adage ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it’ comes to mind.

This presents a challenge. Visitor attractions work so hard on consistency of language, message and brand at all points in the visitor experience so any disconnect in the café breaks the flow. Suddenly that sense of escape vanishes and time-travel to World War II, Medieval England or Ancient Egypt becomes a flat white in your 4th favourite High Street coffee chain.  Compare that to the likes of Warner Bros Studio Tour London where you can sip a hot chocolate in the Chocolate Frog Café, and the difference in visitor experience is obvious.  It’s not too extreme to argue that this break in the flow may even curtail a visit, or at best require visitors to psychologically ‘start again’.

I’m by no means advocating throwing the baby out with the mochaccino – third-party catering chains bring lots of benefits – but our research suggests that more needs to be done to integrate these chains into the whole venue.

We don’t have all of the answers, but training seems to be a good place to start, either with the attractions involving 3rd party staff in their own training or providing some simple guidance so that they have a basic understanding of what’s on at the venue or are able to suggest a helpful alternative when faced with trickier enquiries. Couple that with a sprinkling of magic from some menu adaptation, as we saw at the London Transport Museum, and it could be a recipe for success which benefits everyone.

Don’t let your visitors go “hangry” – fuel the experience with on-brand food that ignites imaginations: Assess catering provision and the visitor experience at your attraction with Mystery Visitor Benchmarking

 

The National Trust has received much of the attention on the subject of historic links to slavery, however a number of our other clients in the attractions sector have also sought to re-evaluate how they talk about it.

A key concern from our clients is the impact any reinterpretation will have on attraction visitor numbers.

Some worry that by drawing attention to the negative side of a place’s history, there is a danger that the ‘idealistic traditionalist’ may decide not to visit.

But others argue that the public’s understanding of how historic sites relate to slavery has shifted.  There is an expectation that interpretation conveys the full history of a venue (warts an’ all).  By doing nothing, they will be providing a sanitised version of what happened, which will lead to a less fulfilling visitor experience.  This will also mean people will decide not to visit.

As individuals, our team has fairly developed opinions on the subject – the excellent Story of our Times podcast on Penrhyn Castle will give you a clue as to mine.

But as consultants who work in the sector, we seek to understand the objective truth, so we put the question to the general public.

We asked a nationally representative sample of the U.K. public (sample size of 1,750) the following question:

In the last couple of years, organisations such as The National Trust have started to examine the links their properties have with colonialism and historic slavery. In cases where slavery has played a large role in the site’s history, how much do you agree or disagree these organisations should include information about their links to slavery as part of their on-site interpretation?

Our findings

The key finding was that the majority of the population (55%) supported information about links to slavery being included in the interpretation.  Perhaps more importantly, only a small minority of 15% opposed it.  30% had no firm opinion either way.

Notably, although support for this sort of interpretation falls as people get older, it remains significantly higher than opposition for every single age group.  Arguments that there is a huge cultural divide by age are largely unfounded.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is majority support across all ethnic groups, with agreement increasing to 7 in 10 UK residents of black ethnicity.  For sites that champion an inclusive agenda (which is every historic attraction we work with), this figure may be enough motivation to update interpretation in itself.

We tried in vain to find an audience that is more likely to oppose, but such was the support for the suggestion, we were unsuccessful.  The closest we came was amongst ‘anti-vaxxers’.  But even amongst this ‘counter-cultural’ audience, support was higher than opposition – 39% to 27%.

A few words about the minority

This is a complex subject with many layers and nuances, and we don’t expect this one question to provide meaningful recommendations.  But we hope it demonstrates that – despite what some tabloids may say – opposition to including links to slavery is only held amongst a minority of the general public.

However, we mustn’t forget this minority either.  Although 15% is relatively small, no venue would want to lose this amount of visitors.   With any additional interpretation on slavery,  this minority will want to be reassured that their ‘traditional visit’ is protected and that extra interpretation adds depth rather than takes anything away.

Our wider research on brand purpose suggests that one possible objection from these detractors is that places are responding to a ‘woke’ political agenda.  So it’s important that interpretation is clearly supported by robust source material too.

Traditionally, banks have acted as the facilitators of finance and transactions, resting on a solid footing of traditional values, trust, and history. These values were built at brick-and-mortar stores through personal relationships and brand loyalty that started when we were children. Fast forward to today, the digitalisation of retail banking means that customers can switch to a more appealing offer more efficiently than ever.

In the digital age, banks are striving to foster customer loyalty by creating value that can replace the in-person elements of banks’ value proposition of years passed. Part of this shift involves streamlining and unlocking data that can create engagement. Engagement is typically conceptualised as having two components: the extent of usage (e.g., frequency, duration) and the subjective experience (e.g., interest, appeal, and attention). When deployed effectively, behavioural science can help increase the stickiness of digital banking tools by strengthening consumers’ habitual use.

Here are four behavioural science principles that are proven to improve customer engagement with digital products.

Hyper personalisation and contextual banking

Successful digital banking products of the future will provide a contextualised banking experience tailored to individual users based on a variety of information like location, time of day, personal preferences, money habits, and behavioural patterns. Contextual banking is based on the behavioural science principle of Just-In-Time-Adaptive-Intervention (JITAI). It delivers pertinent information to customers where and when they need it based on data analytics and intelligent algorithms. For example, an app might send a notification based on the user’s location or the time of day based on their previous behaviours in those contexts.

Goal setting and behavioural monitoring

These are two of the most effective behaviour change techniques (BCTs) for digital tool creators. While it’s common for banks to include some elements of goal setting and behavioural monitoring within Personal Financial Management Tools, this will become increasingly common and sophisticated as part of the new world value that banks create for their customers. Goal setting is strongly linked to increasing motivation but also usage engagement by encouraging users to log in and continually check their progress. In the future, these BCTs will become far more personalised and targeted using open data frameworks. Banks are not yet ready to utilise all the data that is available to them, but many are testing and trying new things.

Gamification

Refers to the inclusion of game-like elements like point scoring, rewards, and rules in non-game contexts, to promote user engagement with products. In Australia, the CX-focused and digital-only brand Up leans heavily on gamification to encourage a positive emotional connection with customers. Their ‘Save Up 1000 Challenge’ combines gamification, goal setting, and behavioural self-monitoring in a robust and engaging offer.

Capacity building

Key trends in digital banking tend to support customers to self-manage their wealth and money. Therefore, retail banks will grow as agents of empowerment, helping individuals set financial goals (BCT: goal setting), track their progress towards them, and develop positive money habits and financial literacy. This will become a central element of banks’ offers, with new value created for the customer.

How to get started

The first step towards designing a behaviourally informed solution or feature is to define your behavioural challenge. We recommend that clients start with an understanding of the user’s job to be done (JTBD). This involves studying what customers are trying to accomplish rather than what they are saying they want, especially in areas with insufficient solutions, as these often make for great opportunities for innovation that gets to the heart of the job to be done.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford

JTBD is best reduced to its simplest parts while taking a zoomed-out view. Consider using a sentence framework that considers customers’ JTBD in terms of its verb, object, and context. The job to be done should focus on the end goal, not the task at hand.

“Save $60,000 for a house deposit in a rates driven market” rather than “open a new high interest saving account”

Prioritise opportunities to tackle those JTBD. While many opportunities can be available, it is essential to identify the highest value ones for your brand. What aligns most with your values and current product strengths?