Hampshire Eateries Toast Award Success

A new quality assessment scheme for restaurants, tea rooms, pubs, cafés and other eateries is being piloted in two Hampshire districts on behalf of the regional tourist board, Tourism South East.  Tonight sees successful winners of the new Hampshire Hospitality marque lining up to collect their certificates as part of a Hampshire Food Festival event at Winchester Cathedral Café.

Thirty-one food and drink businesses from the Winchester City Council and Test Valley Borough Council districts signed up for the free pilot scheme and underwent a 'mystery shopper' assessment in June.  The trained assessors considered every aspect of the customer experience including cleanliness, hospitality, service and efficiency, presentation and food quality.  Businesses could also sign up for a separate assessment of their use and promotion of local produce.  Twenty-six businesses were successful in obtaining either the full quality marque or a local produce award.  They will receive their certificates tonight from Simon Wright who was previously editor of the AA Restaurant Guide and is now consultant to Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on Channel 4.  Winners of the local produce award will also enjoy a year's free affiliate membership of Hampshire Fare, the county food group.

Project manager Eloise Appleby, who is Head of Cultural Services at Winchester City Council and a member of the Hampshire Committee of Tourism South East, said, "We are all familiar with the idea of star ratings for B&Bs or hotels, which are designed to help visitors decide which accommodation will best suit their needs.  By contrast, eating out can potentially amount to a game of chance when you visit a new destination so we felt it was time to introduce a scheme which provided a degree of reassurance to visitors planning their meal out."

One of the businesses that gained both a quality marque and a local produce award was Greens Restaurant and Bar in Wickham.  Owners Carol and Frank Duckworth said, "The award scheme is a great idea.  It will encourage all of us to raise our game, and we will be using the written assessment to motivate and develop our team.  It's a good reminder that however good you are, there is always room for improvement.   It will also mean that customers can expect a certain level of service and quality of product where they see the Hampshire Hospitality marque."

Cllr George Beckett, Leader of Winchester City Council and Portfolio Holder for Economy and Tourism, commented, "It's all too easy for restaurants and pubs to view the local authority as an enforcement agency as a result of its environmental health duties.  But this scheme offers us a new way to work alongside the eateries to help promote them to visitors and residents alike, and to celebrate Hampshire more widely as a destination for food-lovers."

Winchester Tourist Information Centre Manager Alison Woods added, "We are always asked for restaurant recommendations by customers, and this scheme will enable us to respond with confidence.  The pilot has included businesses from across the Winchester district, from hotel restaurants to country pubs and from tea rooms to takeaways.  We will be distributing the list from the tourist information centre from the end of this week and circulating copies to local owners of visitor accommodation.  We're also adding a new section to our tourism website at www.visitwinchester.co.uk and including a dedicated section in our 2007 visitor guide.  The businesses should really benefit from this package of promotional support."

The 2006 pilot is being jointly funded by the Hampshire Economic Partnership and Tourism South East.   Although it was intended to be a Hampshire initiative on behalf of the wider region, the tourism body VisitBritain is already considering adoption of the assessment scheme with a view to national roll-out.  It will be examining the progress of the Winchester and Test Valley districts at a meeting in London next week alongside that of other pilot schemes in the Isle of Wight and the Norfolk Broads.