Sunday 9 June 2013

Deptford market 'food court'

I put the 'food court' in inverted commas here because it's a phrase I really don't like. For me it conjures up plastic fixed bucket seats and tables in an airport or shopping centre, with half a dozen piss-poor food concessions dealing out greasy burgers and unattractive slop.

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.


Sanjit Chudha said...

We obviously had the same thought - I was there Saturday morning too around 10.30. I loved the whole set-up but agree with you that having better signage and more publicity would help the stall holders. Overall, I thought the quality of the food was high across the board .

Anonymous said...

Wow wee, I can actually remember you. Your article has many true points but the personal barbs are tacky.

Deptford Dame said...

@anon the 'barbs' were deliberately not personalised, my intention being to offer a customer's perspective on service without singling anyone out. Other customers may have had a better experience, I'm simply reporting on what I found and there's nothing in my comments to identify individual stallholders.

Anonymous said...

I live in Lewisham and jog home from work through Deptford a few times a week and haven't even heard about this until I read about in The Resident Guide magazine today.

Brockley Market has gone from strength to strength and is really helping the whole are, if would be lovely if a similar effect could happen in Deptford.

I will have to give it a try and see...

Anonymous said...

Although it is brilliant that things are vibrant in Deptford (as ever) what about the poor jerk chicken man who has been there for years selling AMAZING chicken, rice, plantain, fish etc. He is lovely and the food is out of this world but now the massive competition is making things hard and will inevitably either drive his prices up or drive him out. We do not want another hyper expensive 'uber' market as although they are lovely who can actually afford to eat there??!! In conclusion, just give his jerk chicken a try, even'll be hooked!

Anonymous said...

@anon One was referring the not paying attention in class 'barb'. 'As i understand it ' in regards to training taken to make a success of their buisiness? You also said a couple of stall holders showed no interest in potential customers? That would be strange considering the effort and money that goes into starting your own buisiness. Did you watch these stall holders for a time, to me you sound more like a critic that customer. As for your money and support my guess is just your money will do.

Unknown said...

I know this is an old post but I wanted to have my say, albeit it's a bit late. It's such a shame what happened to the food court as it is now almost non existent! A couple of the traders come out on a sporadic basis to trade but it seems many have chucked in the towel. I am on the mission to get other traders down there because there is no reason that there should not be a waiting list! Hopefully with some support, good marketing and sheer persistence Deptford can get it's well needed and deserved food court.