The restaurant of the future might be housed in a space-aged, floating mirror ball with a four-dimensional laser show rotating around a gravity field, with customers eating from chairs and tables hanging in multiple directions. It could also be much the same as current restaurants.
However, if it is too similar, it might not be around very long. Restaurants will have to change in order to compete with technological advances. For now, these are limited to technologies that focus on convenience, which are, most commonly, food-delivery-based apps. Why bother going to a restaurant when you can have the same food in the comfort of your own home?
The answer has to be: because of the ‘experience’. It seems obvious, but the experience will have to be good enough to attract customers to the physical restaurant.Restaurants will have to provide an exceptional customer experience in all three facets – service, food and atmosphere. Technology can help here, with, for example, remote and online queuing, but the ultimate goal will be the same – to improve the experience.
How is the experience affected by Covid-19 and social distancing? It is easy to say that the future restaurant might need to be larger to account for either Covid or other pandemics. But can restaurants afford to be bigger? This obviously means more rent and fewer covers to operate and generate profit.
But for me, the biggest issue is the impact on the experience. How do you provide a worthwhile experience in a cavernous canteen with no atmosphere? I don’t think you can, and so I don’t think restaurant should or can get bigger.
What restaurants could do, however, is increase their outdoor seating. This needs buy-in from local councils, but this is already happening in London where streets are being pedestrianised over weekends or during the summer.
So, the restaurant of the future is actually very similar to the one now – just with an improved experience and, hopefully, bigger terraces.
Patrick Abrams is managing director of Applied Studio