Bland chains watch out – immersive dining is branching out
Immersive dining, we’re all familiar with it, unique foods in beautiful settings, offering visionary experiences (and many a photo-opportunity). Think venues like The Alchemist, Sketch and Sushi Samba. They’ve been must-visit destinations in so many of our cities for so long.
So why are we talking about them now? Well… they’re stepping out of the bright city lights and making waves in suburbia. New and exciting spaces have popped up all over the place – outside of city centres, way out, where the likes of Zara and craft-coffee vans haven’t dared venture.
Perhaps it all started when elevated chain concepts like Bill’s and The Cosy Club, born in vibrant cities like Brighton and Bristol, set up shop in leafy towns. Breaking the monotony of bland pizza chains.
The Cosy Club branches beyond Bristol
Bill’s has over 80 branches outside of London
Then, favourite restaurants started to up their game – ambitious menus and interiors to match – with velvet armchairs and weird and wonderful wall art. You really know you’ve made it when a restaurant in your town offers sensory cocktails or installs a flower wall.
Cocktails make memories in The Old Coffee Tavern, Warwickshire
All the gins of a city bar in a cosy setting at Smoke and Liquor, Rochester
Charming, unique twists on food and décor at Coffee Architects, Leamington Spa
Feel-good vibes and immersive Indian street food at Zindiya, Moseley Village
Chic interiors immerse you at Copper House, Berkhamsted
Flower walls and stained class up the ante in The Abbey, Hertfordshire
Next, we saw an influx of unique twists on favourite concepts. We’ve seen loads just round the corner from our offices, the likes of The Pudding Stop with their Sunday film nights, The Foragers pub countryside walks to forage for your dinner and sensory cocktails from Suckerpunch. There are hundreds more all over the country…
Visionary eateries in leafy locations
Now, we reach an exciting time when truly immersive eateries and bars are launching in suburbia – visionary experiences everywhere! Here are a few of our favourites.
Fun at Indian Brewery in Solihull
Wow moments at The Florist in Watford
The Cliff House in Barton breathes new life into ‘cosy pub’
Immersive theatre at Elder and Wolf in Whitley Bay
Ultimate escape in the garden kitchen at Llys Meddyg, Newport
So what does this mean for highstreet eateries?
Not everyone has to be part of the frenzy to survive. We predict our quest for authenticity will see locals thrive, including those bucking the Insta trend, with relatively simple menus and humble environments. Food and drink to be passionate about, human touches, captivating and inspirational owner stories, proud staff, carefully selected suppliers – very little can compete with that, even a floor to ceiling flower wall.
Following a spell of closures from previously popular dining options (Jamies, Prezzo, Byron and Carluccios) we imagine big chains will continue to struggle. On one hand they miss the mark on beautiful, visionary, Insta-ready experiences and on the other, they fall short on authenticity, real charm and cosiness of local favourites. It’s hard to see how these brands can win either battle; commercially creating incredible experiences for every customer, in every branch requires an eye-watering high investment – and attempts at feeling authentically local can look fake and try hard. Instead, we believe one strategy to win, will be to invest in a few magical touches where it matters most a la Pret. For dining chains the real battle ground will be understanding how to connect through visionary experiences – paired with the sharp business mind to maximise impact, getting the biggest bang for your buck.