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Brand love beyond the restaurant: Finding your madeleine moment

Many restaurants have been boxing clever through the pandemic with home delivery kits to satisfy huge customer demand. Even chefs who never imagined shipping anything out of their kitchen have turned their talents to devising dishes that can travel, to be assembled and heated at home. The explosion of restaurant boxes mean it’s now possible to eat food from Michelin-starred restaurants all over the UK. Hame by Adam Handling and Simon Rogan at home are among those set to continue delivering gourmet meals, even when we can dine out again. Meanwhile a growing number of fine-dining-at-home platforms such as Finish and Feast are hosting different chefs, sometimes on a rotation basis.

At Smith&+Village we worked with Dishoom, who saw the opportunity to replicate the magic of the restaurant experience in beautifully designed meal kits. The graphic printed cardboard paying loving homage to the old Irani cafés of Bombay, while sustainable wool insulation keeps everything in place. The at-home cocktail kits were inspired by old art deco architecture, summoning the experience of a genteel aperitif in one of Dishoom’s Permit Room bars.

It makes sense to invest in the packaging of meal kits and gift sets, as those who order them are looking for more than just sustenance. The excitement of a delivery is enhanced by signifiers that tell us we’ve connected with our tribe and are about to indulge in the brand experience, albeit in a different place from its usual venue. Like Proust’s madeleine, the boxes, and what’s inside them, can be a sensory trigger for memories of good times past. And this emotion keeps the brand love alive.

As well as meal kits, the delivery of edible and drinkable gifts have brought many a sensory starved recipient joy in the long, bleak Covid winter of 2020. Longing for our favourite food and drink venues, and unable to book a table, many of us have navigated to the online shop for a hit of the experience we’ve been missing. Until we can enjoy the abundant loveliness of a shared Mediterranean / Middle Eastern feast at Ottolenghi, there are always their hampers, linen and tableware. We may not be able to go to the Wolseley, but we can enjoy their teas at home, perhaps even served in their iconic silverware. But you don’t have to be a huge enterprise to branch out into lifestyle and branded products. All manner of eateries, from bakeries to pizzerias and roasteries, are creating covetable, design-savvy merchandise to please their fans. If chefs are the new rock stars, restaurant merch is the new band t-shirt.

The reorienting of eating and drinking habits around the home has changed the game. Companies that thought of themselves as venues have been compelled to become brands that live beyond their geographical boundaries. It’s sea change in thinking. Before, the experience that a venue offered people was purely through the physical act of coming to that place. And although they might have had a lovely Instagram to keep it tickling along, the venue was where it all happened. But what the last 12 months has shown is that actually, everything now has to be much more holistic. Everybody’s becoming editorial about what it is that they do, and talking on loads of different platforms

With the shifts in behaviour over the last year, and people embracing restaurant brands beyond the venue, a Pandora's box of opportunity has been opened. Even when we can dine out again, many of us may not wait until we’ve at ‘the spot’ to have the experience. Perhaps we’ll be included to enjoy it at home, on the road, or wherever. For restaurants and retail brands in food and drink, this can be a new income stream and a whole new platform to relate to your tribe.

To create objects that really mean something to your brand fans, they need to encapsulate the experience you want to give people in your restaurant or venue. The product needs to be uniquely you, and be something that people relate to you and feel special about. It has to either be useful or be beautiful, or preferably both. Using a distinct aesthetic language, you can trigger ‘madeleine moments’ that inspire brand devotion until the next time you meet.

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