More Than Food
MORE THAN FOOD: THE RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE
Recently, we found ourselves working with 2 Michelin star restaurant Ciel Bleu of Hotel Okura, Amsterdam on their strategy and identity. The process was a fascinating journey, exploring what makes the best restaurants in the world just that: the best restaurants in the world. Our favourite part? Getting to dine at the restaurant itself (we’ll be back…).
Upon our return to Studio HQ, we were keen to run an experiment amongst the team, asking them about their favourite restaurants, be it low-key Hackney pop-up or Michelin Star haunt, and why exactly they were so special them. It quickly transpired that it was the full experience, rather than particular flavours or dishes, that stuck in their minds – an interesting idea.
To bring it to life for you, here are some of the questions and answers we got back. All a clear indication that the experience of a brand is almost just as important as the product itself…
“I have photos of us using local napkin rings as monocles, so maybe that’s why I can’t remember various details?!”
Why did you visit the restaurant?
A simple question, and one we expected a lot more people to answer with something along the lines of “We wanted to have the best experience ever” but actually, their responses were more in the realm of: “It was near my flat” “It was recommended by fellow honeymooners in Zanzibar” or simply “I Like Indian food”.
Maybe there’s something to be said for not setting expectations too high? For not forward-planning?
What made it special?
“It’s very limited capacity (there are 5 or 6 tables) and it only does one sitting each evening, which coincides with sunset and the call to prayer.”
“I clearly remember the plates and cutlery all being different and have cool grandma florals.”
“The theatre of having a sommelier and someone talking us through all of the dishes”
We didn’t ask people to not mention the food in this answer, but no one did.
Do you remember arriving?
When prompted, no one remembered the booking experience, very few people remembered researching but so many people remember arriving at the restaurant and what made it special.
“I remember struggling to find the restaurant entrance because there was no signage. Walking in, it had a long, very minimal fluorescent pink lit hallway and was completely unclear how you get to the main entrance from the hallway.”
“You climb up and up and up the stairs of the town house (also a very nice hotel) and eventually emerge on the rooftop, with a view that you can’t imagine from the warren of streets below”
“The entrance into the restaurant is beautiful, wooden Japanese gate/arch, through a garden and some stone step paving.”
“Think it’s the type of place you could walk past without knowing.”
Do you remember the food?
People describe food in different ways, but they tend to talk more about the presentation and experience of the food more than they do the taste – which is interesting when so often restaurants and chefs focus just on the flavour.
“The dish I remember most clearly was the dessert. The staff cleared our table and laid down a silicone tablecloth on the table. The chef then came out and started painting different sauces and placing different food items directly on the table cloth. He then pulled out a smoking white sphere out of some liquid nitrogen and placed it on the middle of the table and smashed it.”
“Tofu cooked in a wooden box at the table”
“I like the whole salt baked fish because there was quite a ceremony in opening the salt bake.”
“Toasted pineapple coconut dessert was the highlight”
Do you remember the drink?
“No – just the free rose in the queue”
“Alcoholic bubble tea, and Asian influenced cocktails.”
“Yes – Some strange concoction of spices and Gin”
Do you remember the people?
“A definite family vibe – the owner Kiki was always there, keeping an eye on how everything was running, from greeting guests to serving food.”
“The tables are sparse in the space so i don’t remember seeing any other diners. I remember the waiters were super attentive without being intrusive. They would make sure every crumb was brushed from the table but do it discreetly while filling your water or something.”
“the chefs – it is all open plan so you can see them cooking the pasta fresh”
“The company I was with was pretty underwhelming…”
If money wasn’t an option – how often would you visit this restaurant?
“Twice a year. Aside from it being super expensive, it really isn’t something i would want to do often because it was a 4-hour meal and because 17 courses is just too much food no matter how small the portions of each course is.”
“I’d go back every year, to still keep it somewhere special”
“2-3 times a year”
“If I’m ever in Zanzibar again I’ll definitely go, and I recommend it all the time!”
What did we learn from this?
- You can understand a restaurant, its concept and story, without talking about the food.
- Even for people’s best experience ever – they still wouldn’t go all the time. We should make a virtue of it being a rarity.
- The people can be as memorable as the food.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, it’d be great to hear of your favourite restaurant experiences. What do you remember, beyond the food?
By Adam Larter – Strategic Account Director at Studio Black Tomato