Food: An experience of the senses
Food is always high on the agenda in our business and equally in our homes, we are all keen cooks and we reside in an area of London that is bristling with great eateries and a plethora of artisan producers running through the centre of Clerkenwell like an edible spine.
Let’s start by saying – Food is meant to be experienced. The way a dish looks, smells, tastes, and even sounds, factors into it. In our current age of interconnectivity, food has fewer surprises; therefore experiential marketing plays a vital role in creating individuality in a crowded market.
Customers look for an authenticity of experience with a brand, being able to have an emotional connection leads to longevity, especially for chain restaurants that can struggle to keep the buzz when facing competition from independents, which have more freedom.
If a settled restaurant is looking to boost sales and wants to avoid discounting as a means of driving covers, an alternative is needed in which to distinguish itself from competitors. While people tend to stick with the restaurants they know won’t let them down, they are also looking for brands to wow them with something unique. Depending on the execution, experiential marketing can have a widespread effect, particularly in the social age where your customers themselves are a marketing channel.
Experiential marketing for restaurants can take many forms, but at its core the goals remain the same as it would be in any industry; to create long term affinity with the brand and in the case of restaurants, a connection with the customer that reaches beyond the physical walls. It will also show innovation and flexibility that to push itself to find a new audience outside of the traditional restaurant sphere. Customers are now far more savvy to marketers and aware of thinly veiled attempts for sales without building that relationship.
So how should it be used? Experience should be about providing the customer the ability to form their own connection with the brand, not dictate what the brand should mean to them. Too often we try to tell a customer what they should feel with the interaction, rather than simply creating a situation or environment that builds an organic and genuine lasting relationship. Dishoom’s Holi Festival is a great example, a free-spirited event for all ages, not simply sponsored by a restaurant brand, but with an experience rooted in the restaurant offering, with large numbers of people enjoying entertainment, food and a whole lot of gulal throwing.
Great experience marketing like this shouldn’t move the person too far from the essence of the brand and will succeed when both the brand and the consumer benefit. Even with more simple experiences, if you’re asking for them to sign up, or for them to post online – they need to be rewarded, through the enjoyment of the experience itself or physically by what they take away with them.
So where do we go next in the world of restaurant experience marketing? It’s likely that along with the continual use of festival/street activations, that we’ll start to see more initiatives involving technology and interactivity. Digital screens are used by some restaurants, creating entertainment and distraction during waiting times, but virtual reality is becoming more mainstream and the concept of eating in a version of a brand’s homeland, never more appealing… I for one am excited to see where we take experience next.