Such an image is a far cry from what I found in Douglas Square yesterday, the first chance I'd had to visit the new foodie part of the market since it launched four weeks ago.
There were about a dozen food stalls arranged into a little square right in the middle of Douglas Square itself. In the centre a chap playing a guitar was being accompanied in an impromptu performance by a fellow wearing a red T-shirt with the words 'God Inspired Me' emblazoned across it. Divine inspiration or not, his repertoire may have been somewhat limited but his style was 100% Deptford. You won't get that kind of entertainment at Brockley Market.
The range of cuisines on offer was encouraging, although the presentation and marketing effort was very variable. As I understand it, the stallholders have had training to help them make a success of their new businesses; it seems one or two may not have been paying attention in class.
Overall, however, the standard of food and presentation was excellent, and I'll definitely be going back for food next weekend. It's not just a great place to get your lunch, there are quite a few options that you can take home with you to heat up for dinner later in the week - a high quality ready-meal, if you will.
Many of the stallholders were offering free samples - a great marketing tool as it gives stallholders the chance to chat to potential customers and talk about what's special about their food, how they make it, where they are based and so on, and strike up a relationship with them - and obviously customers get the opportunity to see if they like the food before they buy it.
Foods ranged from the ubiquitous jerk chicken (sold by at least three stalls) to Portugese baked goods via Italian, Vietnamese and Mexican. There were also freshly squeezed juices and flavoured ice cones on offer. I tried all the free samples I could, and enjoyed talking to the stallholders to find out how they liked the market and how they were getting on.
I particularly enjoyed the samples from Pastificio Mansi and Two Hungry Bees, but since I wasn't really in the mood for a pasta lunch, I decided to make the spectacular steamed pork bun my main dish - not before I'd gobbled down a pesto and cheese pastry from Wonder Baker.
I washed my lunch down with a freshly-juiced mix of orange, apple, carrot and ginger squeezed by the friendly guys from That Natural Stuff.
I saw plenty of other options that I wanted to try, which means I plan to be dining at the 'food court' *shudder* for the next few weekends at least, until I've sampled them all.
Just a few observations which might be useful feedback for the organisers/stall holders; the seating consisted of a few benches arranged in a square. This was not particularly sociable since friends have to sit in a line, and the benches themselves did not look very stable. Tables would be better and you could probably get quite a few more in the space available.
In my opinion the marketing has been spectacularly poor - aside from a half-hearted online publicity campaign, there were no posters or signs on the high street to direct potential customers into the foodie area. Even when you are on Douglas Square you'd be forgiven for not noticing it at all, there's no signs there either. A lost opportunity in terms of passing trade and a kick in the teeth for the traders, who need all the help they can get with this new venture.
Traders who are friendly and welcoming, who offer free samples, and who come across as passionate about their food and their business, are much more likely to get my money and support. A couple of stallholders who showed no interest in potential customers - whether because of a lack of confidence or just indifference - seemed to be short of trade, not surprising really. But it was a shame as their products were markedly different from the others on offer, and I felt they could probably have done pretty well if they'd only pushed themselves forward a bit more and talked to people.
My final word of advice - make sure your menu (including veggie options) and prices are crystal clear, and legible from a reasonable distance. People want to know what is on offer and what it will cost them before they start to consider whether they are going to buy it.
See you in Douglas Square - every Saturday 9am till 3pm.