Immersive, Experience-led Restaurants?

experience-led dining

Pizza Express’ New Direction is Food for the Ears

You may know your Margherita from your Diavolo, but do you know your big band from your hard bop? Pizza Express is looking to combine music with food with the brand assessing where additional music venues can be added to its 477 UK restaurants.

While chains like Byron Burger, purchased back in 2013 for a meaty £100 million deal by capital management firm Hutton Collins Partnership LLP, are struggling to attract customers, Pizza Express is on track to ride out the latest sector slump by offering customers more than just a facsimile of pizza. The company has been involved in hosting live music since the 1960s when jazz enthusiast and Pizza Express founder, Peter Boizot, opened the first jazz-hosting branch of the now infamous chain. Their legacy of experience-led dining has proven to be an important point of differentiation over the years. Managing Director of Pizza Express, Zoe Bowley, told the Guardian: “It’s a cluttered market so what’s critical is to remain differentiated… Innovation is keeping the industry going.”

Other Restaurants Cashing in on Experience-Led Dining

Stumbling Around in the Dark for Ideas?

Dans Le Noir anyone? No, it’s not one of Del Boy’s catchphrases. Dans Le Noir is, in fact, a restaurant with locations around the world in which patrons eat in complete darkness. Currently in its 12th year, Dans Le Noir (London) gives diners three options: meat, fish or vegetarian; how you go about eating the mystery plate of food is up to you.

The concept behind the restaurant is to give people a flavour of life as someone with a visual impairment. The hosts and waiters all happen to be visually impaired and are essentially your guides as you stumble through the evening. The unique experience challenges diners to “rediscover [their] senses” by essentially turning off the visual cortex of the brain. What’s left is full engagement with the frontal lobe, responsible for, among other things, smell and taste.

A Performance or a Meal?

If Dans le Noir is eliminating background noise, the Chamber of Flavours is pure sensory overkill. The immersive dining experience throws punters from one scenario to the next. Each ‘experience’ is performed for a set amount of time before the performance is re-written. One example saw diners move from a Victorian haunted house to a drag-queen hosted aeroplane scene. The food is created to match the scenario, and diners are kept on their toes throughout the performance.

Haven’t We Seen This Before?

If the ailments of the dining industry sound familiar, it could be that you recognise some of the patterns in the slow death of the high street. Retailers are finding that directly competing with online shops is a fight they cannot win. Budgetary restrictions are forcing consumers to seek value unless the price can be justified by the experience.

For restaurant owners, the extreme saturation of food services now on offer is indeed a cause for concern. The rise of services like Deliveroo and Uber Eats (delivery services), and HelloFresh and Gousto (delivered gourmet recipe boxes) are fighting for diners cash. Simply, eating good food has never been more convenient. Why would diners settle for an identikit burger from an average chain when they can get a delivery from their favourite place or cook a better version themselves? Like retail, will experience-led dining be the silver lining of this gloomy period?

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