It’s becoming increasingly obvious that people – particularly the upcoming generations – want more than just food and drink when they sit down at a restaurant. An Eventbrite study, for instance, estimates that 78% of millennials would choose to spend their money on a desirable experience over purchasing something material. The idea here is that these experiences collect memories. The only thing material objects collect, on the other hand, is dust.
Whether reactionary or otherwise, the hospitality industry is a leading example of how the ‘experience economy’ can provide an extra layer of intangible value beyond the value of a particular business’s basic function. Exhibit A: London Union’s Street Feast. Ostensibly a collection of street food markets with drink and music, Street Feast is more than just the sum of its parts. Perhaps that’s because street food encourages sharing and culinary exploration, therefore introducing a social aspect to the fray. With nightclubbing on the decline, and with Street Feast co-founder Jonathon Downey’s suggestion that ‘fine dining has withered’, late-night street food markets appear to the younger generations as a new and exciting alternative to more traditional evening pursuits.
Even though Street Feast always has, by Downey’s own admission, been about the seemingly unattractive proposition of ‘getting a load of people in a carpark to try things out.’ Old shipping containers, dirty food, and burning oil drums are all synonymous with Street Feast. Which all means that, suddenly, a good experience isn’t about white tablecloths, stocking the finest wines, or multi-million pound décor. This is a game which involves careful ingenuity and an eye for building something that can’t be bought or experienced elsewhere.
At some point in a restaurant’s lifetime (the sooner the better), it will likely want to offer customers this sense that they’re experiencing something unique. Harvard Business Review says that, ‘unless companies want to be in a commoditised business, they will be compelled to upgrade their offerings to the next stage of economic value. The question, then, isn’t whether, but when – and how – to enter the emerging experience economy.’
So, how have restaurants managed this? Shoreditch joint Lyle’s has added value to its business by inviting a new guest chef into its kitchen every now and then – the insinuation that diners will be able to experience food from chefs otherwise found in far-flung locations, but this time in in London, and for a couple nights only. Two years ago, Hotel Café Royal trialled, with some success, a service where diners supplied their own ingredients for the chef to build a 3-course meal with. Though the trial didn’t carry through, the hotel garnered a good deal of press in the process. A more recognisable example is the Hard Rock Café. Known the world over, few people go to a Hard Rock under the presumption they’ll have good food – rather, they want to take in the experience that the rock n’ roll vibes and unobtainable memorabilia bring.
Sure, any business starts with selling goods and services to the customer. But at some point, you’ll have to ask yourself what else can you offer the people you serve. Marketers need to start looking at things they can provide customers that customers didn’t know they wanted. Give something new or not seen before, and in a way people don’t expect. Manage to do this, and you’ll have captivated a generation hooked on experiences, and who can’t wait to share those experiences with those around them.
Photos courtesy of Lyle’s