May 2020: Life changed for all of us. As we all confined ourselves into our homes, not being able to dine out at restaurants was one of the biggest changes that the pandemic brought to my life. The entire experience of dining out, with well-set tables and cutlery, hot appetizers, and beautiful ambiance was suddenly missing.
By week 8, it was a missing hole I desperately wanted to fill. So, my partner and I decided to get creative and bring the restaurant experience home. I’m a designer so naturally, I started thinking “How might we create the ambiance of Nola, Mountain View based restaurant?”
With the mood set, we started decorating our patio. Out came the bedroom area rug with couch pillows playing the role of randomly colored floor seating. We affixed fairy lights to the roof, played a restaurant playlist from Spotify, and ordered some food. This was our version of recreating “Nola”. Thirty minutes later we heard the door knock, and it was Doordash with our Nola order. In my imagination, he arrived with a dapper Nola uniform and tossed in some nice cutlery and cloth napkins, but in reality, he arrived with a brown paper bag with two styrofoam food boxes containing Roasted Cauliflower Taco and Spicy Jambalaya with a pair of plastic cutlery, our DIY version of “Nola” left us with a feeling of dissatisfaction. Eating from styrofoam boxes with recyclable plastic cutlery left us with a mismatched and underwhelming experience. It just didn't give us the “$$” feel.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected every person and business on the planet in some way or form, restaurants have taken some of the biggest hits. The pandemic has forced restaurants to find new ways of managing their income and keeping themselves afloat. For example, many restaurants are now changing their menu to make sure their food fits in takeout boxes. Some fine dining restaurants have started renting out their restaurant space and using ghost kitchens* instead to prepare food for their customers. In a matter of days, restaurants had to quickly switch to takeout and delivery options exclusively to bring in revenue while working closely with foodservice apps. This switch required significant effort from the restaurants to quickly build a delivery infrastructure and learn how to maintain it. The IT systems had to be revamped in most restaurants as more and more customers started embracing take-out and food delivery.
In the pre-COVID era, the dine-in experience was one of the main differentiating and luring factors for restaurants. But now, since restaurants have mastered take-out/ delivery processes I believe the next natural progression is designing the right takeout “dine at home” experience. Bruce Reinstein, partner at the food consulting firm Kinetic 12 recently wrote in QSR magazine that since restaurants are currently unable to use atmosphere and on-premise services to differentiate themselves from their competition they are now focused on designing the right take-out packaging OR finding ways to innovate the pickup experience. Their main intention is to alter some experiences that can eventually help them build a differentiated brand value. The fine-dine or dine-in experience is now getting replaced by a newly designed takeout experience.
For example, The Village Pub in New York City sends to-go orders out with amuse bouche (the complimentary small dishes you'd get at the start of a meal during your dine-in visit) and plating instructions for every dish like how to spoon oval-shaped saffron risotto onto a plate and top it with the sorrel-roasted chicken. Seattle’s Landmark Hotel Canalis Penthouse restaurant has recently started playing live piano music over zoom for customers at home while they sit and enjoy their prepared meal. Creating these quirky ways of pairing “take-home” food with the makeshift dining experience can really resonate with a holistic dine “at home” experience.
How can we help as Experience designers?
These experiments with experiences would need to be driven by the restaurants so that their patrons do not miss the old times. In the spirit of completing the Nola “at home” experience, the Experience Designer in me thought of charting down the experience and finding factors that I interface with while dining.
The experience of dine-in at restaurants and the experience of “dine-in” at home are drastically different, even though food is the common denominator.
HOW CAN WE HELP RESTAURANTS FIND MOMENTS IN THE DINE-IN EXPERIENCE WHICH CAN BE REPLICATED AT HOME?
Published on February 18, 2021