We don’t envy you Mr. and Mrs. Restaurant owner. Remember when it was all about location, location, location or the menu? Now your restaurants and diners have become destinations for “foodies” who want to elevate their dining experience, take pictures of their food, and “experience” their meal to get more shares and likes.
“Foodie” has become more than a hip label for culinary aficionados; it’s become a movement—with each generation becoming more and more food fanatical.
Boomers found their food-bliss with the discovery of French cuisine through Julia Child, a.k.a.: The French Chef. It also seemed that each kitchen carried the unofficial Food Bible: The Joy Of Cooking. Gen-Xers had a whole new world open up to them with the birth of the Food Network and the rise of celebrity chefs imparting kitchen wisdom and insights like Nigella Lawson, Emeril Lagasse, and the late, great, Anthony Bourdain, to name a few.
Now that we’re in the digital age, Millennials have contributed to the rise of “food porn,” where diners take pictures of their cuisine and post it on their favorite digital media sites like Instagram. Others see how condensed they can make their food-prep-process by watching any of the Tasty video series on YouTube.
Plus, there’s been an explosion of amateur chefs because anything they want to cook can be viewed through streaming, online videos, and DIY tutorials that have proven to be much more engaging than reading dusty and cumbersome cookbooks. A little food knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it’s transformed these amateurs into diners that expect more out their cuisine.
And now the food culture rules have shifted yet again, and we’re in the middle of an “experiential economy.” when it comes to dining. For a while, the focus was on food preparation, then the ingredients and the story behind them, but now in this experiential age, the focus is on the dining experience in addition to the restaurant’s cuisine.
While we’re partial and think that in many ways the rich cuisine of Louisiana, New Orleans sells itself and a tie into Mardi Gras brings a natural following, we’re going to touch on some of the ways that restaurants have upped the food frenzy game by introducing interactivity and experiential elements into their establishments.
What is Experiential Dining?
At its best, experiential dining provides a vibrant, complementary brand, content or story experience that’s part entertainment, part informative depending on the individual specifics. It’s used to augment a customer experience in a creative or useful way by making a cool connection with a brand, or its product or services. Recently, it’s gone beyond brand and into total customer immersion.
“Where does the food come in?” you ask. It’s at the center; it’s the heart. What we’re focusing on is making inroads into customer engagement and loyalty through interactive and ultimately, cutting-edge experiential dining experiences.
Why should you care about experiential dining?
You might be thinking, “What’s all the fuss? Can’t great cuisine carry a restaurant alone?” It can, but with your competition putting serious time and money into creating unique experiences along with their award-winning fare, you’ll have to up your culinary game to stand out. Plus, food culture and a few other market trends are making it increasingly difficult for restaurants to attract customers and remain relevant in today’s marketplace.
Some say that restaurants are facing a deterioration, but we’d argue that the stakes are higher and experiential dining is just the newest shift for owners like you who strive to provide the best and unique experience for customers. It doesn’t matter whether your selling clothes, consumer products, or gumbo, almost every retailer out there is facing the same problem: the shifting of power from the retailer to the consumer and how to meet their expectations.
So, how do you go about creating a memorable dining experience?
Restaurants usually focus on appealing to a diner’s sense of taste, sight, and smell but experiential dining includes the other senses like touch and sound.
For instance, we believe that some of the upper-end restaurants will invest in multi-sensory experiences unique and personal to each customers dining experience. You might imagine it starting with the reservation, extending into a personalized experience at each table and how the dining experience uniquely ends. You could have one digital table with an interactive or immersive video playing in the background that invites exploration of a culture that contributed to the food being consumed. The next table over might be more interested in a live feed inside of the kitchen showing their specific dish being made from start to finish—it all depends on a diner’s personal preference. While another is interested in dining in a virtual table on the banks of the customer’s favorite destination like vivid images of the Bahamas, Italy, or New Orleans.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; let’s walk through a few examples.
Design For Interactivity
Interactive dining is the doorway into experiential dining. It’s also an excellent place to start to see how your customer’s respond, so you expand, add, and explore the possibilities. Let’s start with the simple task of ordering food. You could put the power of ordering in the customer’s hands—literally and figuratively. An interactive ordering system could be a tablet placed on the table sometimes or a kiosk that allows customers to place their order while they wait in line. Interactive ordering streamlines customer orders and reduces restaurants hiring and training expenses.
Speaking of saving money, another way to interact with customers is through their preferred social media channel. We touched on the behaviors of each demographic, from Boomers to millennials and the rise of online foodie content on sites like Instagram, Yelp, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Low Hanging Fruit for Restaurant Owners
We believe owners should think of their establishments as brands, not restaurants. A brand invests in curating customer experiences as unique as the items on the menu. As such, brands should be smart about building, marketing, and managing themselves online. Here are a few simple suggestions we think restaurant owners should begin investing in.
1. Act Like a Brand – Part of the culinary craze are customer’s capturing and sharing pics of their meals online. We don’t see restaurants leveraging basic digital marketing or social strategies to take advantage of the free social marketing content that’s out there. Why not tap into what customers are doing as any other brand would do? You might imagine a simple curated social media feed of your patrons dining on your food being used for an interactive video wall outside of your restaurant (or a social media spot, billboard, or digital signage) reflecting the great dining experience.
2. Serve Instagram Ready Meals – Knowing foodies might spend more time preparing their shot of your menu item when it arrives at their table longer than it took to make the dish—how can you make their dining experience better? You might imagine different branded Insta-frames pre-sized at the table for people to use. Or, the table itself could be digitally infused.
3. Social Media Room – Increasingly, brands are creating rooms, or areas with the lighting, color pallets, and artwork that’s friendly to Instagram. Think of it like an Instagram photo booth with your restaurant brand colors, imagery, and history as the props in an Instagram shoot. Each customer might mix and match but your brand benefits from the post. Now, circling back to #1 – your restaurant can act like a brand, taking the social data from the customers posting foodie shots and re-market to them via targeted social ads.
We’ve touched on what experiential dining is, and why you should care before we quickly touched on some examples.
In part two of our Experiential dining series we’ll cover our next two examples: Animation and Immersive Dining, and Telling A Story.