07 July, 2012

National Trust tea rooms

It’s that time of year again—spring and summer—which means that my family and I spend quite a bit of our spare time mooching around National Trust houses. Yes, I know, we’re suckers for anything musty and ancient...

Seriously, though, I have a lot of admiration for the NT—its staff are truly knowledgeable and its properties are really well displayed to the public. It also makes a huge effort to engage children via appropriately historic activities, dressing up, etc., which is great.

However, my one complaint is with its tea rooms. In my book, no visit to a stately home is complete without a visit to the tea room.  You would hope that this would be a pleasant and stress-free event, but in my experience, it’s anything but. The queues are often huge and poorly managed by far too few staff; the food frequently runs out; and the tables can be dirty and uncleared. This seems a pity—surely the NT brings in enough money (the food is expensive enough!) that it can employ sufficient catering staff. You would also think that its staff might be sufficiently experienced to make better predictions about the volume of visitors to their sites.

Perhaps the NT is simply a victim of its own success? Has a hugely successful advertising campaign resulted in more visitors than it can cope with? I recall visiting NT properties as a child back in the 70s, when visitor numbers were pitiful...

Incidentally, the NT isn’t the only relevant player here. There are also some wonderful privately-owned stately homes which tend to be much quieter than their NT equivalents. One such example is Sulgrave Manor—a fantastic Tudor manor house, which isn’t nearly as well visited as it ought to be...

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