Jazz. Candlelight. A gentle beep as the cashier scans through Fairy Liquid and a loaf of sourdough below us. Welcome to the new Waitrose supper club. 

Not content with cosy wine bars tucked behind its tills, fresh sushi counters staffed with skilled itamaes or, perish the thought, simply selling its customers a trolleyfull of groceries, the posh supermarket has gone one step further in its quest to become a ‘destination’.

For £35 per head, shoppers at its shiny new Haywards Heath store can breeze through the automatic doors in their Sunday best, wave to neighbours stocking up on toilet roll in aisle 10, and climb the stairs to a (subtly) rearranged Waitrose Café for a four-course meal.

Arrival is at 7pm. With names ticked off and coats stowed away, we’re handed a glass of prosecco and directed to the far side of the café where easy listening jazz carefully drowns out the murmur from the busy supermarket operating metres below us (the supermarket doesn’t close until 9pm).

Candles lit and tablecloths on, you can almost forget this is where you came to buy milk and teabags last night in your jogging bottoms. Until the small talk at your communal table turns to a sample grabbed at the sushi counter on the way in, at least, and how this new 30,000 sq ft arrival (it’s the biggest Waitrose in Sussex) is cannibalising customers from its branch down the road in Burgess Hill.

Communal feel 

Left with seats smack bang in the middle of a long table, there’s no escaping this stilted chitchat, either. But we don’t mind. For some of the 50 guests (of which the average age is 50-plus), the communal feel is clearly the draw over and above the food, such as a 70-year-old here alone on a rare break from caring for his severely disabled wife, and a younger couple new to the area.

Attentive staff top up our wine glasses with an endless supply of Trebbiano (on sale downstairs for £10.99) and a Pinot Noir (£8.99) before serving up our starters.

My joyfully pretentious ‘Edible Garden’ is tasty if a little small, and the basket of fancy rye bread was gone in seconds (a request for more was met with a sad plate of bogstandard white sliced instead, hastily grabbed, I can only assume, from the downstairs bakery.)

My salmon and tenderstem broccoli main course, cooked en papillote, lets the side down, though. It’s very underdone, a fact I might have attempted to politely eat around were it not for one of my helpful neighbours poking her fork at it and proclaiming “that’ll give you a dodgy stomach tonight, I wouldn’t eat that”.

Staff are apologetic and swiftly take it away to be stuck back in the oven, though I overhear another table mentioning a similar issue. But my boyfriend thought his roast chicken was “delicious”.

Only a week in, you could forgive Waitrose a few teething problems, though. And all is forgiven when I’m handed the delectably dense chocolate pavé anyway.

Positive feedback

Kitchen mishaps aside, can the concept of dining in a supermarket catch on? With upcoming dates sold out, and plenty of positive feedback round the table, there’s undoubtedly curiosity. And unlike the current trend among younger diners for chic BYO supper clubs served up in the chef’s dining room, it’s clear the local supermarket is a more accessible, if less atmospheric option for older clientèle.

At £35 per head, though, it’s also pricier than many, a fact it will need to justify with consistently high quality food, excellent service and airbrushing out all signs we’re socialising in a supermarket (forcing diners to head downstairs to the harshly lit store toilets for one).

Even then it may struggle to convince younger shoppers to swap date night in an intimate restaurant for supper above a supermarket. For some, Waitrose will only ever be a destination for tonight’s tea, no matter how loud they turn up the jazz.

The menu

waitrose supper first course

First course: Edible Garden - carrot crudité, mustard seed, pickled radishes, carrot yoghurt, watercress with sourdough croutons 

waitrose supper second course

Second course: Salmon with brown butter, Tenderstem broccoli, Jersey Royals, lemon and cauliflower purée

waitrose supper 3rd course

Third course: A selection of fruits with whipped cream

waitrose supper fourth course

Fourth course: Chocolate pavé with salted caramel popcorn and buttermilk ice cream