The theatre of dining

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London is a city of busy people. I am constantly on the go, every moment filled with stimulation; however, I recently found myself arriving at a restaurant before a friend and bored in the dead space waiting for a drink. Surely (I thought to myself) they are missing an opportunity to entertain or entice me? Of course, I could have checked some emails but I wanted to want my food; I wanted to be engrossed in their eating environment. Instead, I was left uninspired. So I spent the time looking at how other brands are encouraging their guests to engage with their experience.

The anticipation of an eagerly awaited meal is now being built upon in innovative ways. Though we often eat to commemorate big events, such as birthdays and anniversaries, the hype approaching the event is not necessarily to be relied upon.

Different restaurants and companies are approaching expectation in various ways, tapping into alternative senses. When Heston Blumenthal launched the animated sweetshop into the reservation process at The Fat Duck, some people were concerned it was overdone. However, it appears Heston was ahead of the curve. The video that arrived via an emailed link to each guest a month before their reservation was littered with markers that they would come across at The Fat Duck. Not only did Heston invest in the animation element, but as a sensory experience, he was keen to focus on the scent that was used at The Fat Duck.

Not all restaurants command a three-month waiting list and thus the period of anticipation is much shorter, especially if eating out is a spontaneous decision. However that does not mean you cannot capitalise on any wait period that guests experience. The lull between seating and ordering and receiving your first course does not have to be a time of awkward chatter or desultory phone scrolling.

Skull Mapping is a company that is harnessing narrative with projection to give restaurant guests a story. La Petite Chef began as a demo to explore the possibilities of 3D Projection Mapping in smaller and more intimate settings. Following the smallest chef on his adventures around the plate and around the world is a great way to entertain and interact with guests as well as exhibit unusual ingredients and techniques used. Though initially, La Petite Chef was an example of the technology’s capabilities after the viral reaction, it is something I expect to see more of.

Though both these examples build anticipation in different ways, they both treat the dining experience as an event central to a narrative. Heston’s ‘Like a kid in a sweetshop’ may glorify nostalgia while Skull Mapping marries entertainment with exploration. However they both make eating about more than a perfectly seasoned dish or a well-prepared dessert.

The eating out industry constantly craves surprise and innovation and for years this has been sourced from the food. With the increase of interest in molecular gastronomy and fusion foods, some restaurants are having to look outside of the box to elevate their dining experience.  Unwilling to compromise on culinary credentials or reluctant to indulge in every fad, interaction via animation is a great way to premiumise your brand and further the concept of your establishment with a well-thought-out narrative.