Eat, drink and be merry


The desire for unique experiences is driving the creation of some unusual F&B concepts.

Some, such as Labasin Waterfall restaurant in The Philippines, or Culial hot air balloon restaurant in The Netherlands (seen above), have unique natural settings or boundary-pushing locations. Some differentiate through a theme, such as Milwaukee's Safe House spy restaurant. Other concepts encourage diners to immerse themselves in the story of the menu: Osteria Francescana was recently voted the best restaurant in the world thanks to its intriguing dishes such as `The crunchy part of the lasagne.'

Experiential dining is often dismissed as a bucket-list gimmick, but operators and investors can distil some key scalable elements from successful experiential concepts.

In a crowded market with delivery a growing presence, F&B operators must create a sense of belonging and social interaction. A clear and embedded narrative is vital to success but isn't just the preserve of standalone offerings from Michelin-starred chefs. Inception Group's chain of six London-based cocktail bars, Mr Fogg's, draws consumers fully into the curated world of Victorian explorer Phileas Fogg with attention to detail in decoration, tone of voice and menu. A focus on storytelling has allowed each branch to take on and maintain a unique personality and supported the roll-out.

Not all venues can capitalise on unique natural surroundings or extreme locations, but curation and creative use of space can add uniqueness. Operators such as Coppa Club in London, Quay Three in Swansea and Bar Hutte in Manchester, London and Liverpool have expanded their offer outside with winter igloos and ski chalets that create hype, with experiences being shared on social media. Street food markets such as London Union's Street Feast or Time Out Lisbon amount to more than the sum of the parts due to the social interaction, atmosphere and experience they offer.

Today's diners are knowledgeable, principled and discerning. However strong the concept or enjoyable the experience, fundamentals such as quality of food, provenance and social responsibility are the key to avoiding being a single-visit novelty.

Safe House spy restaurant requires diners to say a secret password to get in and work their way through a network of passageways and challenges to reach the restaurant. Open since 1966, it has countered possible temptation to focus on transient tourist revenue rather than food quality evidenced by its recently-opened second site in Chicago winning awards for its burger. At Dans le noir, blind or visually impaired waiters serve diners in a pitch-black restaurant at 4 sites in Europe plus a series of franchised partnerships with hotels. The theme allows a stripped-back focus on only the food and support for disability awareness increases emotional buy-in from diners.  

We expect no let-up in the weird and wonderful F&B concepts around the globe but also expect to see experimental elements continuing to feature, and indeed acting as a differentiator, in more mainstream F&B.

Jessica Williams