In 1988, the Victoria and Albert museum launched an advertising campaign that was to prove surprisingly controversial.

The slightly tongue-in-cheek campaign focused on the quality of the museum’s restaurant, rather than it’s heritage, with the slogan “V & A an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached”

In a time when most museum’s had fairly basic food on offer, and large rooms for school parties to eat packed lunches, a decent place to eat was not that usual a sight.

The campaign though drew much ire from the intelligentsia who talked darkly of dumbing down and the encroachment of vulgar commercial interests into museums. I suspect they thought that the entire V&A would turn into another Conran outlet, with the art collection relegated to the basement.

Yet today, a decent restaurant can be as much of a draw to people as the museum or art gallery itself. A place to sit and rest after long slow wanderings around the museum, and a vital source of income for the venue.

Some museums seem to see the restaurant as necessary, but a mere appendage to the commercial division of the museum, where as others put the refreshments firmly at the heart of the venue seeing them as an attraction in their own right.

Neither approach is the correct one for each location as some museums couldn’t support a fancy restaurant, faced with either too small a customer base, or too much competition from local cafes — but some could, and yet don’t.

Over the past few weeks I have visited a number of museums, and will carry on doing so until I have exhausted either wallet, waistline, or venues.

And will write little reviews of them. The first on Monday.


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  1. Gillian Lawrence says:

    Looking forward to that.

  2. Lisa Hirsch says:

    Me, too!

    I find “V & A an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached” to be very funny. However, “There’s nothing wrong with modern art that a good cuppa won’t cure” really plays more than it should into stereotypes about inaccessible modern art, my two-year-old draws as well as Picasso (no, alas, your two-year old doesn’t), etc.

    I understand that it’s supposed to be funny and satirical, but it’s ham-handed. A music publicist I know once sent email to people advertising a program of new music (very beautiful music, prize-winning and accessible new music) that used a slogan “Cookies & Sparkling Wine Make Intense Performance Art More Palatable.” Hello, your customer, the organization putting on this performance, doesn’t want you suggesting that their music might not be palatable.

  3. LadyBracknell says:

    I was in the V&A last month for one of their special costume exhibitions – as you ask, it was ‘… Italian fashion’ – and had to pass on the restaurant as I thought it rather expensive, although the food looked delicious.

  4. Francesca Fenn says:

    What a fabulous project to embark on – life’s a bitch, but someone’s got to do it….
    In major museums abroad that cost a lot to get into (as opposed to our wonderful and infinitely valuable free entry policy) it’s fun to spend the whole day there, taking coffee breaks and lunch as part of the day and it works very well. A good eating hole makes the day even better. Thyssen gallery in Madrid wins the prize thus far.

  5. Heather Parry says:

    The V & A used to be a lovely place to eat with a great self service restaurant and some delightful rooms in which to have tea and cake. However the restaurant has become an education centre and the indoor food provision shoe horned into the once delightful rooms, now crowded and noisy, and a corridor. The new members room is noisy and uninviting. And nasty unisex loos. I now go to eat outside the museum.

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