Destination dining: give customers more than just a good meal

Destination dining: give customers more than just a good meal

Food and drink customer experience

By Paul Manktelow, Strategic New Business Manager at Barclaycard
Friday 23 Nov 2018

Food and drink operators are looking to turn the tables on tough trading conditions[1] by offering innovative experiences that transform dinner into an unforgettable evening. Themed and experiential dining is in, with restaurants finding creative ways of tempting customers away from their favourite box set for an entertaining, sociable evening and a memorable customer experience.

From bar games to theatrical presentations of food preparation, customers can choose from a range of increasingly ambitious food and drink outlets that draw crowds and keep them spending for longer.

The increased focus on customer experience matches what diners are craving. Research published by Barclaycard and OMD reveals that 68% of diners believe that the experience of dining out is as important as the food or drink[2]. This trend is leading to innovation in the sector geared towards providing a more entertaining and slick customer experience: a fun evening out, delicious food and drink, and a fuss-free way of paying the bill via an app or other similar payment tech.

Upping your dining game

There's a growing trend for experience-focused restaurants across the UK. Bounce, the table tennis restaurant, offers customers the chance to enjoy a game of ping pong over pizza and a cocktail in stylish, slick settings. Darts fans could always head to Flight Club for a game with friends over burgers and beers. Crazy golf fans can tee off at Junkyard for cocktails and elaborate courses that include “Bozo”, a killer carnival themed course, and Pablo, a jungle course featuring bears dressed as UFC fighters and pirate speedboats.

The aim of the game across all of these venues? To keep customers entertained, and to give them a fun space for socialising while they order food and drink. And, of course, the longer they stay, the more they’ll pay to play.

Putting on a show

As well as sports and gaming themed bars, diners can also opt for theatrical, Instagram-worthy dining experiences. Circus in Covent Garden gives diners the opportunity to sit down for dinner, drinks and a full-blown circus performance – fire-eaters, acrobats and cabaret acts are followed by music and dancing.

Another way that food and drink brands are innovating on the customer experience front is by taking the idea of a “tasting” event and turning it into an evening’s entertainment.

For instance The Gin Distillery runs “experiential dining” experiences, including one called “Five Centuries: An edible adventure through the ages”. Diners are taken on a culinary journey from the 1600s to the present day through a selection of dishes and beverages that reflect different eras. As they eat, customers are given a series of fascinating presentations – a trip through Britain’s food heritage by an expert guide.

It’s a way of providing diners with more than a meal out – it’s a guided tour with dinner and drinks that results in a unique customer experience, as well as allowing long-established brands the opportunity to talk about the history and origins of their products. For diners less interested in history, they also run a James Bond themed evening, and one dedicated to food and drink on the silver screen.

Pop-ups : Here today, gone tomorrow 

Research by Barclaycard and OMD shows that 23% of diners have visited a pop-up store or restaurant in the past 12 months[3]. Pop-ups, which often offer a more intimate or informal setting for a rare or regional type of food, are particularly popular with those aged under 34, suggesting that this could be a potential way for brands to extend their customer base. 

They also have the benefit of being a way for brands to dip their toe into the water and test the public’s appetite for a cuisine or experience without the risks of long-term commitment, as well as having the cachet of being “exclusive” and only available for a limited time-frame.

Poon’s pop-up in London is an example of an established restaurant opting for a variation on its usual fare to allow diners a chance to try up-to-date versions of the owner’s Chinese classics.

Sometimes taking inspiration from pop-ups can be beneficial to permanent food and drink outlets. Phat Phuc, the notoriously named noodle bar, is designed to have the casual look and feel of a pop-up stall, despite being a permanent restaurant in Chelsea. It serves authentic food in an unexpected, stripped-back setting and provides a memorable customer experience in an area not famed for affordable dining.

Mixing it up

Established brands have also experimented with pop-ups as a way of offering a unique customer experience. Mexican market-food chain Wahaca has demonstrated that pop-up style food trucks, such as its Canary Wharf and Southbank stalls, can be a valuable and cost-effective way of offering diners informal and tasty food on-the-go.  Wahaca’s restaurants have also been a notable example of a chain that has innovated in the customer experience department via a partnership with Flypay to make it simple for diners to pay their bills via an app.

Finally, Louie Louie in south London is a good illustration of an outlet using the pop-up “limited time only” format to draw crowds and offer a unique customer experience. Although the restaurant is in a fixed location on the Walworth Road, Louie Louie swapped its usual menu and decor for Japanese Izakaya style fare, including the famous Noren (shop curtains with Japanese characters). A Japanese chef revamped the menu and prepared variations on bar food such as Okonomiyaki, Japanese fried chicken, and a range of Sakes and Japanese beers.

Whether it’s activities and games, reinventing outlets to draw crowds, or designing elaborate themed events, diners are spoilt for choice when it comes to innovative evenings. In a booming experiential dining sector, venues offering a memorable experience are sure to leave customers hungry for more.

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[1] Restaurants are on the ropes because supply has outstripped demand:

[2] A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults and 250 business owners conducted by OMD Research between 19th June – 5th July 2018

[3] A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults and 250 business owners conducted by OMD Research between 19th June – 5th July 2018

The article contains reference to certain restaurants, these references are merely by way of illustration. We are not responsible for, nor do we endorse in any way such restaurants.  The article contains hypertext links to third party websites. We are not responsible for, nor do we endorse in any way such third party websites or their content. If you decide to access any of the third party websites, you do so entirely at your own risk.

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