It has often been said we “eat with our eyes.”
Increasingly, though, and especially for younger restaurant consumers, diners are buying with their eyes.
From the pull of social media to digital menu boards and exhibition-style kitchens, restaurant operators are playing to our visual senses. And those tactics are guiding our purchasing decisions.
Millennials and Gen Zers practically emerged from the womb with a bias toward receiving visual information. They’ve had access to 24-hour cable TV and the youngest generation has never known life without portable technology that bombards them with pictures and videos virtually every waking moment.
And savvy chains are capitalizing on this generation’s affection for visual consumption. A few recent examples:
Bojangles’ newest units feature a Biscuit Theater, a window behind the front counter that allows guests to watch workers knead fresh batches of biscuits several times each hour. (Plus, remodeled dining rooms offer free Wi-Fi and charging stations, all the better to keep the digital information flowing.)
The new Bottlefish concept, from the restauranteurs behind CPK, includes an open kitchen with a mouth-watering view of the raw bar.
Up-and-coming fast-casual concept Honeygrow employs vibrant self-serve kiosks that one publication likened to “interactive art galleries.” Customers scroll past photos of area neighborhoods while selecting eye-catching ingredients to add to their build-your-own meals.
Independent chefs and chains across the country have taken to Instagram to highlight visually engaging ingredients or dishes. Some have racked up tens of thousands of followers.
So, why go to the bother of designing an open kitchen or curating an Instagram feed when restaurant operators already have mile-long to-do lists? The bottom line, of course.
Engaging with customers, especially young ones, is a winning business strategy in today’s super-competitive restaurant economy. Zagat’s National Dining Trends Survey, for example, found that 75% of diners who look at food photos chose a dining destination based on social media.
Beyond social media, visuals inside the restaurant can also drive business. For example, Panera’s kiosks offer dessert or drink nudges at check-out, providing an automated upsell opportunity for the popular chain. And digital signage can increase dwell times (and, in turn, bump up check averages) at quick-service and fast-casual establishments.
To grow business and engage new customers, restaurant operators must remember that today’s consumers not only eat with their eyes – they buy with their eyes, too.