Clearly exasperated with the perception implicit in a recent survey /report by Which? Magazine that “that meals served at Britain’s visitor attractions contain fat, salt and sugar well above recommended guidelines for children” Varney thinks “people will automatically assume that the survey is pointing a finger at him and his team”.
Having invested a huge amount in healthy eating options across all its attractions he feels that the report unfairly castigates the UK’s attractions industry and by extension the Merlin brand. He also gives short shrift to a UK Minister (Margaret Hodge, the Tourism Minister) who was happy to criticise large visitor attractions for poor customer service without actually having visited any of the Merlin attractions.
The Times reported on Friday that Blackpool Pleasure beach was also underwhelmed by the report, pointing out that Which? Magazine’s reporters only visited 4 food outlets and failed to notice the numerous healthy food options available across the site..
Having made healthy food options available for their visitors, short of attendants frog-marching their guests directly to the healthy food stands, one might conclude that the operators had done enough. As Beverley Hogarth, catering manager at the Pleasure Beach, explained: " If people want to go healthy …they can. But it is a treat day at the park and people don’t always want to go healthy." Interestingly, Varney mentions that Legoland Windsor offers a free fruit salad and water with every kid’s meal but 50 % say they don’t want it.
Perhaps what we think we want is different to what we actually want. When I go to Old Trafford to watch 22 millionaires play football in the rain, part of the experience is the half time beer and hamburger combination, the ketchup and onions dripping down my shirt. I wouldn’t want to settle down to an organic nut cutlet and curried eggplant bisque.
Merlin’s errant child is the Dungeon brand. Ecclesiastical eyebrows were raised when the London Dungeon, in the news recently for taking legal action against a neighbouring attraction (see Merlin sues London attraction) debuted a Christmas “Satan’s Grotto” and last years PR stunt of giving free entry to visitors with anti-social behaviour orders got Merlin into “lots of trouble”. Varney sees this irreverence and humour as part of the Dungeon’s USP and intrinsic to the attraction’s appeal.