How Themed Dining Establishments Use Design to Evoke Multiple Senses

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Haptic juice packaging - themed dining design

What do you look for when you’re thinking about themed dining experiences?

The themed dining category covers multiple frontiers: spaces designed to evoke a certain movie world, menus built around a type of cultural cuisine, and experiential dining a la pop-up dinners, for example. But innovative designers are approaching themed dining with a goal of invoking all the senses to elevate the experience to a different level. A new type of restaurant is focusing on using presentation and the deliberate evocation of smell and taste to draw diners further into the experience. This type of sensorial design is emerging as designers find new ways to collaborate with chefs and food companies.

The Porthole Infuser

There are numerous small innovations that have been created over the years to connect food with senses other than taste. Consider wine glasses that are designed to both aerate the wine so that it tastes better, while also enhancing the drinker’s ability to smell its underlying bouquet. It’s a small touch, surely, but for true wine lovers it helps open up the experience on entirely new levels.

One example of innovative firms doing work in this field is Crucial Detail. Crucial Detail is a design firm that specializes, in part, in creating touches that add to the experience of high quality dining. For example, in their work with The Aviary they created something known as the Porthole Infusor. It has been described as, “a round vessel that presents the ingredients of a patron’s cocktail between two flat panes of glass, emphasizing the transformative action of the steeping process and building anticipation for the cocktail’s taste.” Mixology engages multiple senses and elevates drinking alcohol to an artisanal pastime. At an experience design level, what stands out about this is its simplicity. It plays a practical role in creating drinks that people will love, but it also stimulates a visual response, scent-based reactions, and most importantly, the imagination.

themed dining - haptic packaging design Kiwi

Haptic Juice Skin has been another interesting example of sensory innovation around food, designed by Naoto Fukasawa. The Japanese designer set out to push back against the homogenous, uninventive design of most modern food packaging. He used haptic skin technologies to create packaging for different juice boxes that emulated the look and – most interestingly – the texture of the juices within. As a result, individuals drinking strawberry juice would be holding a box that had the fleshy, pitted feeling of a strawberry itself. From here, one assumes it would have been a small step to add a bit of scent to draw in the user even further, beyond the visual, tactile, and taste.

What these different elements show is that themed dining venues can use even the smallest details to build the story of the world that they are creating through food. It’s not just about the service, the setting, or how the menu is derived. What small touches can help involve guests on a more sensory level? Whether it’s tactile packaging or multi-sensory presentation, it’s important to remember that successfully transporting guests to another world involves attention to the smallest details. We’re excited to see the direction that these types of innovations continue to take, and how the intersection of the senses, science, and experience will impact themed dining in the years to come.

 Images sourced courtesy of The Porthole Infuser, Spoon & Tomago, Naoto Fukasawa

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