Can digital menus work with haute cuisine?

Can online ordering work with posh menus?
November 20, 2020 Adam Stead
~ read | In Thoughts, Hospitality, Table Ordering
haute cuisine header

It’s not stupid to care about beauty

In 1983, the new French President Francois Mitterrand made the unusual decision to hire Chinese-American architect IM Pei to redo the front of the Louvre. 

Perhaps The New York Times said it best. The Louvre pyramid was “an architectural joke, an eyesore, an anachronistic intrusion of egyption death symbolism in the middle of Paris, and a megalomaniacal folly.” Pei’s new pyramid was to disfigure one of France’s finest art institutions, and it was worth getting angry about. 

There’s something very Parisian about this sort of story. One hundred years earlier, French author Guy de Maupassant took his tea daily at the base of the Eiffel Tower – another modern eyesore, by 1887 standards – so that he did not have to look at it. 

And why should he? It’s not traditional, it’s not Parisian, it’s not French. 

We can laugh at Guy, but it is not stupid to care about beauty. For an art gallery, or for the skyline of Paris, it’s the most important thing in the world, absolutely crucial to maintaining the USP of either. But the Eiffel Tower is beautiful. It wasn’t that his preoccupation was wrong, but his taste. 

This brings us to the question about digital ordering at the top of this page. Can a digital menu work with haute cuisine? If you divide the world’s dining stereotypes into French and American, our mobile ordering products skew hard yankie. The very idea of getting out your phone to order is so casual, so informal, that Marco Pierre White is already fixing to murder Heston Blumethal over the issue. 

Let’s investigate. Can you do “posh” with phones?

 

The two tests 

The gimmick test 

“Mon amis, Netflix with me” 

– Un Romance Moderne, Gustave Flaubert 

Behaviours can change, and what’s considered “normal” can shift. Aibnb has normalised the idea of paying someone to sleep in their flat when they’re away. Uber has normalised getting in a stranger’s car. The digital dating revolution was on the horizon for decades but it was uncool – and then Tinder came along. What’s normal changes, all the time.

But in order to achieve the change, these things – which are all products – have to pass “gimmick” status and come out the other side. This is hard, especially in hospitality, where a “gimmick” is a good way to run an entertainment/hospitality business with a four year expiry date as tastes move on (axe throwing, for example) which makes people particularly sensitive to them. These apps aren’t gimmicks, and the reason is because they really are the best way of executing the task they set out to do. It is cheaper and simpler to rent an Airbnb than to book a Hotel for every trip. It is better and has better outcomes to browse Tinder than meet people in bars. That’s what thrust the technology through the difficult “gimmick” stage and into widespread adoption.

So the first test isn’t, “is it unusual?”, it’s “does it work? Does it add value?” 

We’d argue that’s different for different digital menu products. Takeaway software is some way down the road to familiarity; and software is clearly the best way to order online. The question here is about whether takeaway food can retain the kind of delicacy we’d associate with haute cuisine – which we’ll talk about below. The software isn’t the problem – it’s the experience of delivery recreating the experience of fine dining.

Digital table ordering systems have been given a jump start by the pandemic (in particular, mandatory table ordering in pubs) – so they have achieved familiarity. But you should only use and order & pay if it’s the best way to take orders – which we feel it usually is. You can read the practical arguments for restaurants here. So, this time it is about the software, and whether it can fit into the core creative vision of your restaurant.

The formality test 

Here’s the second test before you should consider using a digital menu. 

What makes an experience premium? One answer could be, like the food itself, it’s taste. If you successfully convey a superb taste across your design, your experience, your menu, that lays the groundwork to expect striking, tasteful, interesting food combinations. The less traditional your choices, the higher the bond of trust required to take the customer there – but if you only have traditional choices your restaurant will be boring. 

So, formality can be part of your expression, a series of style conventions which act as a canvas to riff on and to demonstrate your taste – but can’t replace taste itself. Following convention is not enough on its own to make your restaurant yours.

If you have a creative vision, and you think you can achieve customer buy in, then a “modern” choice, which isn’t a gimmick, could be a masterstroke (the Louvre pyramid) even in the context of a mostly formal experience (The Louvre).  As per any big idea for a restaurant – from lighting to menu choices – you need to do it well, in a way which befits the style in which most of your restaurant is carried. The formality test is for you: do you have the taste to pull this off?

A haute creative vision for ordering a takeaway

What does haute takeaway look like? One answer is supper, a company designed to do more or less the same thing as Deliveroo – but posh. If you’re looking for a DIY marketing solution which you can use anywhere, StoreKit Takeaway is our favourite, and includes a dark mode more suitable for night time venues. You can see that “dark” is the favoured design colour of “posh” – in the case of supper, black and gold.

Good food photography is obviously essential. Using depth, light, and shade in order to create food photographs which look handsome is incredibly important. Unlike with paper menus, photographs on digital menus do not look tacky – unless the photograph itself is tacky. Online, smaller menus work – better to focus on a few items you can nail than to offer something in full. 

The food arrives. As it does, you have two moments of interface with the customer – the courier you send, and the moment of unwrapping. As much as possible, these are your opportunities to simulate the premium experience you could create in-store. Fortnum & Masons know a thing or two about how important the wrapping is to a premium delivery experience. Paper bags and clingfilmed liquid pots can’t be the answer for very expensive food. How can you make it a pleasure to unwrap, to discover? 

Then there’s the food. Your chef is probably better placed than us to think about the best delivered food – but remember there’s no need to put your whole menu online. Better to do a few things well. 

You could also create a slightly different proposition than a la carte. What about a supper club? A different meal each week, where there’s one meal available to order, and people opt in, or opt out. Your weekly luxury. That’s the kind of offer which would be a pleasure to market. You could target repeat customers who might join you for the club every week, and repeat marketing is rational as you explain what the meal will be each week… on the grand reveal.

That’s the kind of thing you could do with StoreKit Takeaway. 

A haute creative vision for ordering to tables

What about table ordering? Well, table ordering software invites a breakdown in the course structure favoured by traditional meals. It specifically suits – and can boost orders the most when – patrons are invited to order again and again and again. Tapas, a la carte, bar style.

Of course, this is not formal – but it’s not casual dining either. Small plates brought out as and when is an exciting creative format for chefs to work their magic. If you can structure the meal that way within your own creative vision, this can work with expensive food in premium environments.

Order & pay apps also suit a more bar-like atmosphere on which patrons might be expected to get out their phones. This might have an impact on the design of the restaurant – lower lighting, smaller tables, less formal seating arrangements. Again, less formal than a vast clothed table and ten pieces of cutlery per person; but it certainly can be premium, as anyone who has spent money in a cocktail bar will attest.

It’s the case for pubs that they don’t have to work so hard for an order & pay system to work. But it is precisely because of the effort that fine dining establishments put into their experience, their feel, their food, that a digital menu takes commensurately more effort to implement. If you bring an order & pay system into an expensive restaurant, it can be done. And like Mr Pei’s Pyramid, it can be done in style. 

 

What next? Get Started 1

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Can online ordering work with posh menus?
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