Transforming the mess halls: How Levy Restaurants catered to the culinary needs of three IWM venues

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) contract was a major win and a mobilisation project for Levy Restaurants UK in 2016 – the project developed new ideas and concepts for each of the catering areas within three IWM venues: IWM Duxford, HMS Belfast and the Churchill War Rooms

The IWM portfolio attracts more than two million visitors each year and the group partnered with Levy Restaurants to develop a rounded and satisfying experience for visitors and corporate clients.

Levy Restaurants was appointed as the caterer to design and manage a wide range of new eating and entertaining spaces across the IWM portfolio:

  • IWM Duxford, a world-renowned aviation museum and Britain’s best preserved wartime airfield
  • Churchill War Rooms, Churchill’s secret headquarters housed below Whitehall
  • WWII War cruiser HMS Belfast.

The project saw Levy Restaurants open a new deli café and bar on HMS Belfast, a casual dining restaurant, and two visitor cafes at IWM Duxford, and redesign a visitor café at Churchill War Rooms.

The innovations implemented demonstrate how the customer experience have been enhanced through food, service and targeted investment.

At HMS Belfast – catering exclusively for the pre-pay line: Tom’s Kitchen Deli, Tom’s Kitchen Bar and on-boat café, Levy Restaurants designed a bespoke menu with renowned chef Tom Aikens, focusing on seasonal and local produce. This included seasonal sharing boards, nibbles and a line-up of cocktails, spirits, beers and wines developed to heighten the customer experience. Both areas have exclusive private hire options with their own sales team driving revenue and business.

Then at IWM Duxford Levy Restaurants developed three public post pay line restaurants: The Armoury Café, The Workshop Restaurant and the American Museum cafe, along with mobile units catering for peak periods and air shows. Each outlet was refurbished to improve aesthetics, food and service on offer. The result is that guests find versatile and diverse menus from hot seasonal British food, freshly cooked classics and afternoon tea and cakes. An onsite sales team drives revenue and bookings for events and corporates.

At The Churchill War Museum – a 40 cover café and mobile unit was developed at The Café Churchill War Rooms to provide catering for visitors. The café specialises in classic British food, home-cooked pies and freshly-baked cakes based on traditional British recipes. An onsite sales team drives revenue for events.

Qualitative and quantitative research was conducted to help inform the project and shape the creative process,” says Levy Restaurants. “Research showed that 40% of people like to see a food and drink concept associated with a venue and 10% a high street brand. The latter figure increased to 25% for 18-34 year olds.”

Further research highlighted there were ten food and drink items guests expect to be available when visiting a museum, but would only buy four. This insight helped shape the offerings at each venue, making sure customer expectations were met.

Research showed the following:

  • 95% of customers expect a coffee shop or café at the venue
  • 89% would typically use the facility
  • 14% said they would use formal seated restaurants
  • 95% of the customers who brought food and drink would be happy to pay more for made on site produce

IWM tasked Levy Restaurants to create tailor made catering concepts which would enhance the visitor experience. Levy Restaurants wanted to develop strong, concept-specific menus optimising the customer journey, in turn adhering to the IWM’s vision of creating modern, relevant and multi-tiered experiences.

The commercial strategy for the project was to increase retail catering sales and develop revenue streams for meetings and events; from private dining and corporate events to Christmas parties.

The aims of the project were to enhance the visitor experience through world-class design, reflecting changing tastes in food and drink through contemporary menus and service levels; drive day-to-day sales and pound-per-hour spent by guests, increasing event and conference sales, including Christmas and raise the profile of each venue’s event spaces and increase conference and event enquiries. It was also as chance for Levy’s to strengthen and showcase its well-trusted partnership approach, developing concept-specific menus and recipes that headline quality produce.

“Through our partnership with Levy Restaurants UK and the introduction of innovative catering options, we have greatly enhanced the food and beverage offering, as well as the overall visitor experience,” said Barry Smith, Assistant Director of Commercial at IWM. “The redevelopment of our onsite cafes and restaurants has been a great success to date and has created a diverse portfolio of venues, not just for social dining but locations to host meetings, events, conferences and private dining.”

Through the project specific targets were set:

  • Levy Restaurants optimised the customer experience through a tiered approach split into three segments: grab and go, café/bar and restaurant to meet the grazing needs of visitors.
  • Menus and dining concepts were developed to be socially inclusive suiting the wide socioeconomic, cultural and age diversity of visitors.
  • Multiple opportunities created at the venues to drive sales; for example, at HMS Belfast guests could purchase at the deli bar in the visitor centre or café on board the ship.
  • Each venue developed concept-specific menus which change regularly to reflect seasonal and high quality local produce.
  • Marketing focussed on pre-visit, on the day and post-visit communications. Each segment allowed for key offers and messages to be signposted and reinforced through digital, print and point-of-sale materials.
  • To generate revenue through conferences and events, Levy Restaurants developed an in-depth sales and marketing plan to drive enquiries and raise the profile of each venue.
  • To facilitate this the IWM Events brand was established, looking after event management and sales and marketing opportunities at the three museums.
  • Through Levy Restaurants in-house conference and events marketing consortium, Lime Venue Portfolio, venue-based sales teams executed proactive sales and marketing plans to local and national events markets, underpinned by robust training and measurement programmes.



  • Toms Kitchen HMS Belfast reported a 57% retail sales growth and spend on transaction growth of 47% year on year.
  • Tom’s Kitchen Deli served over 39.5K customers and Tom’s Kitchen Bar served over 63.7K customers since its opening in March to September 2016.
  • The launch generated PR coverage featuring in national, regional, consumer and trade publications.
  • IWM Duxford’s The Workshop saw a 45% increase on spend per transaction from April to September 2016 and the American Air Museum had a 10% increase on spend on target. The penetration rate grew from 65% to 90% across IWM Duxford.

Following the contract award, Levy Restaurants worked with IWMs to finalise plans and commence the multi-site refurbishment. The first three months of the contract were used to refine plans, ensuring the redevelopment process occurred with minimal disruption to visitors and was implemented efficiently and swiftly.

“Further challenges were overcome in the rebranding of the cafés and restaurants and to change potential, past and existing visitor perceptions of the food and beverage on offer including the aesthetic of the venue itself,” they said. “Attitudes and expectations were shifted through traditional and digital communications plans showcasing the offering at each of the venues.”

With Tom’s Kitchen, the Levy team launched a high street concept, working with Tom Aikens Group to adapt the proposition and ethos to the target customer demographic.