Poor availability of fresh seafood, a lack of pubs or restaurants willing to serve food in the early evening, and “bizarre” restrictions over serving times for lunch were among the main complaints.
Other problems reported in the research for national tourism agency VisitScotland were menus dominated by burgers and “bland” cuisine served up in supposedly high-quality hotels and restaurants. Only the quality of mobile phone coverage and a lack of wi-fi received a poorer rating from recent visitors to Scotland.
The research – entitled Opening Up Scotland’s Larder to our Visitors – has also found that the Scottish tourism industry is being held back by low expectations among potential visitors, particularly from Europe, of the quality of food that will be on offer.
The research found there was a clear need to raise the profile of Scotland’s natural larder and find ways to “surprise or challenge” perceptions of the eating out experience. The industry was urged to help remove the “stigma” of solo dining in Scotland, focusing on the health and wellbeing market, and take account of growing demand for natural and “less processed” food.
The research states: “Food tourism is no longer just about niche culinary experiences sought out by the dedicated foodie, but about regionally relevant food and drink offerings which provide something appealing for every occasion, every budget and every taste. When people are away from home, authenticity and diversity are key.”
Malcolm Roughead, Visit- Scotland’s chief executive, said: “Scotland is ideally positioned with its rich natural larder and world-famous products like beef, salmon, haggis, cheese and porridge oats to continue to rise to the challenge and give visitors experiences to remember.
“Food and drink is an integral part of the visitor experience and, by working together, we can promote the rich and seasonally variable larder and show that Scotland is well placed to excel in the provision of locally sourced, high-quality food and drink.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “Food and drink accounts for one in every five tourist pounds spent in Scotland. Think what that spend could be if our industry got even closer to our producers, consistently delivering an experience that not only meets but exceeds visitor expectations, particularly in relation to using local provenance.”
The research has emerged months after the Scottish food and drink industry revealed an ambition to double its value to £30 billion by 2030.
James Withers, chief executive of industry body Scotland Food and Drink, said: “Scottish food and drink is increasingly showcased around the world, from top bars in New York to high-end restaurants in Hong Kong. Yet, despite great progress over recent years, more can still be done to embrace Scottish produce at home and celebrate what is produced on our doorstep.
“We want visitors, no matter what part of Scotland they visit or where they come from, to get the opportunity to enjoy our amazing local produce.”