Would you like a few sentences with your steak, Sir? Why content shouldn’t stop at the restaurant door
Content is king. It’s always said, widely known and largely true.
Certainly, it’s hard not to see the benefit to a business of great content when it comes to descriptions on a website, tantalising newsletter copy, social media images and video, or powerful marketing materials.
For a restaurant or bar, this content should be an extension of the dining or drinking experience. It should whet appetites, tell stories and evoke a certain atmosphere — be it super-chilled, incredibly luxurious, classic or experimental.
Why, then, would all this stop when customers come through the door?
Sure, no amount of text can replace the know-how of a good waiter, and we’d like to think diners are there to converse with each other rather than a menu. But a few clever, creative touches can still significantly enhance an experience and leave a lasting memory that sets a venue apart.
Take Mayfair’s Sexy Fish, for example. If you pop into the bar for a cocktail, you won’t be given a menu but a magazine.
To show off the season’s fashion-themed drinks list, the team have crafted a glossy of their own, complete with fashion mag-style features on what’s on offer, articles about cocktail ingredients and descriptions of what to drink.
There’s no need to look at it for any longer than you would a normal menu if you simply want a drink, but if you happen to be waiting for someone then it’s a good read. And you can always take it home with you.
Whether you think of it as an elaborate garnish to go with your drink or carefully curated brand extension, the fact you’re thinking about it at all probably means it’s working.
At Soho newcomer Disrepute, creativity has also been poured into the cocktail menu. Here drinks descriptions come in the form of short stories rather than a list of what’s in them. It’s silly, perhaps, but also a laugh. And best of all it’s designed to make a point — cocktails should be about mood, style and circumstance not just ingredients.
It’s not all about words, either. The new menu at The Blind Pig, set above Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred Social Eating House in Soho, uses drawings to add a little extra.
Each cocktail is named after a children’s book — from Peter Pan to Harry Potter — and is described next to a beautiful drawing inspired by the story, by illustrator Masha Karpushina. These add nothing to the flavour of the drinks (which are exemplary, do try them) but add lots to the process of ordering. The drinks list all of a sudden goes beyond the call of duty and conjures a little of the same magic that the books it refers do have done for generations past.
Elsewhere, a sprinkling of sentences, images and inventive fabrication can help set a tasty scene. Think of it like a backdrop in a theatre; it doesn’t distract from the acting but it does complete the experience.
At Dishoom on Carnaby Street, we’re told a tale of a young man who returns to India after studying in London during the 60s, and misses it so much he sets up a cafe in Bombay inspired by its scene. It’s corroborated by family photos and artefacts, and plays into the restaurant’s decor.
Similarly, at the Zetter Townhouses in Clerkenwell and Marylebone we are told the story of Great Aunt Wilhelmina and her Wicked Uncle Seymour to bring to life to the surroundings.
It’s not fundamental, and it really shouldn’t be a focal point, but it is fun. Given the best restaurants and bars go above and beyond to create a stand-out experience for their guests, perhaps content should be a more commonly used ingredient.
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