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The food experience: it’s a cool time to be in the business of food

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Food has always been cultural, social, nourishing, essential. Now, it’s an experience, with its own celebrity and media ecosystem and the highest level of human interest and engagement than at any other time in history. As a restaurant owner, the vital question you must answer is a riff on the Jimi Hendrix album title: “Am I an experience?”

The businesses that are winning today are the ones that have figured out either the most efficient model (and often the least expensive) or the ones delivering truly unique and dimensional experiences. The experience economy. You’ve heard of it, right? It’s real, and it’s growing fast. In fact, sales of experiences — from out-of-home dining and travel to entertainment — are now growing at twice the rate of the sales of goods. That’s a big wave to ride.

So how do you ride it fully? First, as always, decide which customers you’re for, what they care deeply about and how you can offer them something meaningfully unique. Secondly, decide what you are all about as a brand, are you different from everyone else? These decisions are fundamental to success, but oh so vital to make and stick with.

Next, decide how to be great in every detail. Worthy of coming back for. Worthy of telling friends about. Worthy of social media amplification. Worthy of yours and your customers’ time. Everything speaks, and you want it to say “I’m different.” Making something special and relevant is the best business plan.

I mention relevance as it is helpful to be in the moment, to be a part of things people broadly care about. There are many big shifts afoot today. Here are three that I believe every food experience business should have on their radar:

1 A societal want for connection

Whether face-to-face, online or other, how can you facilitate opportunities to foster community, human connections and new relationships?

Food experience

2 A new definition of space

No longer defined by four walls, food experience can happen anywhere and in many ways. Enabled by technology, the emergence of virtual restaurants and delivery models is changing the way people eat. How does this shift in thinking change the way you can create and deliver experience to your customers?

3 People first

Authentic commitment to people-first practices is more important than ever. This is manifesting in everything from built-in  social contribution (think Warby Parker) and tipless restaurants (guaranteeing staff are well compensated) to a greater focus on  healthier food for human well-being. What does (or could) this mean to you?

Knowing your customers and the times you live in — knowing yourself — is always the right compass to guide you to success. As you pursue improvements to your business, I encourage you to think about how you can create and deliver an “insanely great” customer experience. There is no better time to do so.