GCA inspector Ian Boardman, speaking at the association's conference this week, said average assessment scores from the GCA's 146 centres were 79% for catering compared to 77% overall.
Boardman asked: "Are garden centres now better at catering than other things?" Judges added that only four garden centres inspected did not offer catering and centres with catering were much busier than those without.
GCA conference speaker Lawrence Kay of catering consultancy Foodworks said centres need to target the over-60s, vegetarians and those with food intolerances by offering salads, glutenand dairy-free dishes and meal deals.
He said garden centres can offer the best food safety and calorie counting and that customers will not return if they get a bad meal in the same way they would if a plant they bought at a centre died.
He recommended pies, sandwiches and omelettes as profitable meal options and said not to ignore "microwave meal" suppliers.
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