I'm not a fan of generalising, but I've recently come to a slightly sad conclusion.
Most museum cafes are crap.
I've pondered the reasons for this on and off for a while, ever since I had some particularly bad experiences at the National Gallery of Scotland's cafe on three separate occasions. I know, more fool me for going back, but generally I believe in second chances.
There are a couple of reasons I've come up with, most involving franchising and tenders - areas I'll admit that I don't know a vast amount about. If the profits of the enterprise are not being put back in to funding the museum or gallery, but in to the pockets of the owners and shareholders then it is perhaps sad but not entirely surprising that cafes and restaurants are not often up to the standard of the museum itself. They're not so much income generators, but a service that museums provide because they are expected to. Of course, there are exceptions - hence my reluctance to generalise - but sadly in the big tourist spots of Edinburgh and London it increasingly seems to be the case.
The National Gallery of Scotland's cafe is, for example, run by the Contini family, who also own Centotre on George Street. Until recently, they also had Zanzero in Stockbridge, but perhaps tellingly that has vanished rather quietly and become something else instead. They've renamed their NGS venture "The Scottish Cafe and Restaurant" and have managed to fill the venue rather admirably with diners in the time they've owned it, but there have been problems - poor service, soup so salty it had to be returned, drinks orders that were taken but never delivered...
Anyway. I digress. I am not supposed to be reviewing The National Gallery's efforts, but those of the newly re-vamped National Museum of Scotland instead. I fear this has also fallen foul of the franchise.