I’m fed up facing crummy sambos, chicken nuggets, nuked quiches and fridges full of global fizzy drinks at top tourist attractions.
Ireland’s food has never been better, so why is the revolution bypassing so many tourism sites?
Clearly, visitor attractions are not restaurants. Food is not their core offering. But good food entices visitors to stay longer and spend more. Using quality local produce supports Irish suppliers; it paints a picture of our culture, it hints at how exciting Irish ingredients and cooking can be.
Our visitor attractions welcome millions of people every year, and the moment they pause to eat and drink is a golden opportunity. You don’t want them leaving having forgotten their lunch. You want them raving about great Irish butter, bread, beef, cheese and seafood, telling their friends, hungry for more.
I know you can’t cook à la carte or change menus overnight for thousands of visitors. Catering contracts are complex and sometimes visitors just want chips.
But I’m not suggesting Michelin star mains. There’s no point trying too much, or presenting great ingredients poorly. Simplicity is key.
Instead of fridges packed with paninis, what about shorter lists of Irish dishes? What about using Irish cheeses, local juices or cordials, or Irish-roasted coffee?
What about naming producers on your menu?
There’s lots of reason for optimism. I’ve enjoyed several memorable, locally-sourced lunches at small attractions this year (the Burren Perfumery, for instance), and larger sites like the Guinness Storehouse and Kylemore Abbey (above) have made super strides – the latter cleverly incorporating produce from its walled garden.
Last week, I ate at the National Gallery, which gets over a million visitors a year. A €13.75 pie didn’t stop me in my tracks, but posters highlighting a commitment to seasonal and sustainable sourcing, and a chart listing local producers (beef from Crawford’s in Co Tipperary, for example) did. It’s a step forward, and eating extended my visit by almost an hour.
Be it visitor attractions, airlines, trains or transport hubs, our food mindset needs to change. Up to 75pc of travellers are inspired either wholly or partly by food, according to the World Food Travel Association, and Fáilte Ireland – which runs ‘Taste of Place’ training programmes – has research showing that visitors leave pleasantly surprised by our food and drink.
Good food makes business sense.