Enhanced Dining


I just realized that I’ve been collecting food-related links. I think it may have started with Why Menus Suck + Other Deep Thoughts on the Food Tech Revolution. In the post, Dave McClure starts with the premise that “menus suck” and then goes on to offer some opportunities to improve the restaurant experience. The most simple is to include pictures on menus — something I always joke about at restaurants, half worrying that it’ll turn places into Denny’s. He then details more interactive/digital options such as keeping track of favorites, ranking and reviews of dishes, the ability to better interact (ie. request the check) with the restaurant’s staff. They’re not bad ideas, and they speak to an industry which hasn’t yet been transformed by technology — although so much of his anecdotes are based on miserable dining experiences I worry about where he’s eating.

dennys_menu seems like a step towards what Dave is asking for. It’s an iPhone app that lets you find the highest rated dishes at nearby restaurants. Powered by reviews from sites such as Yelp and Foursquare, it aims to help users find the best things to order. And with the right amount of personalization it could be pretty powerful.

For people in the food industry, this experiment from Food Genius IDEO Labs looks interesting. It’s aim: “serve up real-time data to industry insiders hungry to get ahead of food trends. Their key ingredients: food-related data from Facebook, Twitter, Yelp!, and other social web services—information like people’s favorite dishes, trendy new ingredients, and red-hot flavor pairings.” The video below doesn’t show too much, but it looks like fun…

One recent app that try to improve the ordering experience is Livmenu which lets you watch videos that show how each dish is prepared. While it’s great to see the work that goes into amazing meals, I can’t imagine the videos at Taco Bell or McDonald’s would be very appealing. Besides, at higher-end restaurants, I think customers would prefer to have the waiter provide the service of talking about the dishes, rather than stare at a screen. If you read reviews of great restaurants, the service is a big part of the draw. For example, look at these reviews of The Stork Club and 21.)

The Smart Tasting prototype (from Think Big Factory) aims to augment the entire dining experience — creating a kind-of interaction between the chefs and the diners. Projection screens and tables show the cooking process, provide background information, and generate ambient experiences to enhance the meal. It feels a little overwhelming, and perhaps a little impersonal — but for a foodies, looking for a focused dining experience, it could be a scalable way to give more diners access to more.


A while back, the NYTimes published an article on how food has replaced art as high culture. In it, the author talk about the rise of foodie culture:

Foodism has taken on the sociological characteristics of what used to be known … as culture. It is costly. It requires knowledge and connoisseurship, which are themselves costly to develop. It is a badge of membership in the higher classes… It is a vehicle of status aspiration and competition, an ever-present occasion for snobbery, one-upmanship and social aggression. … Nobody cares if you know about Mozart or Leonardo anymore, but you had better be able to discuss the difference between ganache and couverture.

But the author also worries that we are now treating food as an art. “A good risotto is a fine thing, but it isn’t going to give you insight into other people, allow you to see the world in a new way, or force you to take an inventory of your soul.”