Friday, February 15, 2008

Food & Community Memo: Food, Culture and Community Come Together At A Waitrose Supermarket In-Store Cafe on Valentine's Day

The experiment yesterday by British supermarket chain Waitrose to hold live plays in an in-store cafe at a Norfork, Wymonham supermarket is being hailed as a big success by all who participated in the Valentine's Day dramatic production, as well as by those store shoppers who were in the audience. [We wrote all about the play, "Lonely Hearts" in a piece last week you can read here.]

"Lonely Hearts" is a play written by Wymonham resident and Waitrose store customer Tony Vale. It's a short, about 10 minutes long, play about a couple who find mutual companionship while waiting in a restaurant for their respective blind dates to arrive.

The play featured amateur playright Vale's wife Georgette in the female lead, and Richard Crawely, a friend of Vale's who is an amateur actor as the male lead. The Vales' and Crowely all belong to the Wymondham Players, a community theatre group.

Waitrose agreed to host the Valentine's performances (there were two) of the play in its in-store cafe as a way to make live theatre more accessible to the public, and as a way to build closer bonds between the store and the community. And the play, "Lonely Hearts," and the day, Valentine's Day, fit perfectly together.

Local TV station Norwich Channel 24 covered both performances of the play at the Wymondham Waitrose supermarket in-store cafe yesterday. Following the performance, playright Vale told a Channel 24 news reporter "I've have never done anything like this before in a supermarket, but it seemed to go well. The customers all laughed in the right places, and clapped at the end, which is a good sign."

Indeed the audience, or customers, seemed to enjoy the free live theatre performance in the cafe considerably. Waitrose shopper Rod Crockford told Channel 24 he was impressed watching the unusual performance of a play in a supermarket. "I would have paid extra to watch it," Crockford told the reporter. "It brings a new meaning to sitting down and having a cup of coffee after you've done your shopping."

Waitrose store and cafe management staff were pleased with the performance and the crowd it brought to the store as well. We were able to get a store employee on the phone earlier today. The store staffer told us the cafe did a brisk business in coffees, teas and deserts right before, during and after the two performances of "Loney Hearts" yesterday. She couldn't tell us though if there were any Valentine's Day love connections made as a result of the performances at the Waitrose.

Waitrose marketing assistant Fran Young was the person behind the live theatre production happening at the Wymonham Waitrose supermarket's in-store cafe. She says playright Hale came to her with the idea to put the play on in the store. She talked to the store's manager about it and he agreed. She says it's part of her role to get the stores invloved with the community, and believes the play, and the concept of in-store cafe-presented live theatre, does that well.

We think such creative ideas like producing a play and other forms of live theatre and entertainment in a supermarket in-store cafe are smart, both in terms of invloving the stores' more closely with the communities they serve, and as a way to create more business for the cafes.

In the U.S., Whole Foods Market recently started having a live DJ spin music in the evenings on the patio of its in-store Bistro/Cafe and Wine Bar at its fairly new lifestyle-oriented supermarket in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in San Francisco. The DJ has been packing the crowds in during his evening sets.

We believe Waitrose has stumbled on to something good and important yesterday at the Wymondham in-store cafe, where the play "Loney Hearts" received at least five stars from the store's shoppers. We hope the grocer branches out, and starts to experiment with similar dramatic productions at its in-store cafes at other Waitrose branches. (Listening Mark Price?) This would be a wonderful boost for the arts, and hopefully would get food retailers in other parts of the world to experiment with the concept as well. (Listening Whole Foods?)

We like the sound of it: "Coming to a supermarket near you; community theatre."

>You can view a video of the play "Lonely Hearts," which was taped yesterday while being performed live in the Wymondham Waitrose supermarket in-store cafe, at the Norwich Channel 24 website by clicking here. You also can read the station's full-coverage of the play's dramatic supermarket debut at the website.

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