A couple of weeks ago, I became the godmother of one of my nieces. During the ceremony at the city hall, I got the surprised to be defined, as a food design consultant when the other persons involved in the baptism were all engineers. My sister had written accurately my profession on the administrative form whereas the other ones were all engineers...
Most of the time, when people say “I’m an engineer”, respect comes out and silence follows. No one dares to ask what is behind.
But what is an engineer at the end? And what do they do? If you think about it, they can do so many different types of work.
On the contrary, when I say I’m a consultant (hoping no further details will be asked), people usually want to know what kind of consultant. If I specify food, they even get more confused, expecting probably I would say finance.
I often wondered why some works are clear in the mind of people or trigger at least some expected reactions (like stop making questions) and others not.
I always had this problem if I think about it. When working in the industry I was doing the job of an engineer but I could not said I was an engineer since I have a Master from a Business School. So each time someone was asking me what I was doing for a living, I was coming with something new depending on my work of the moment. Why? Think about the reaction of a Frenchie if I was giving my real title: EMEA Post Sales Escalation Manager, Process Engineer, Special Pricing BU consultant, Reverse Logistics Program Manager, World Wide S&OP Manager. I always thought it was better to come out with something simple...
Recently I tried to think how I could present myself in one sentence? And you know what? Each time someone wants to know what I am doing, it’s still a challenge.
When I want to be short I say that I ‘m an interior designer for bar, restaurants and food retails. But this is only the top of the iceberg. It’s ok if someone is asking me in my private circle, but if I need to present myself for business reason, it’s different, I have to be more accurate.
So sometimes I try to say the simple truth and state: “I’m designing food experiences”. But then people don’t understand what is behind. Actually isn’t the objective of a well designed food experience to make people enjoying their meal without knowing everything has been studied so they could feel well?
And if I try to elaborate, my favorite question usually comes out: but are there people ready to pay for that?
This is the tribute to work in a new discipline / niche.
So let me tell you a story I made out one day during a conversation to explain my design thinking methodology. The example is not sustainable but helps maybe to understand the concept. This is a story that I serve only to people that are really curious about what I do otherwise they would get bored after 2 minutes…
- Let’s say one day a Sicilian comes to me and tells me: “I want to open a restaurant in Milan”.
- I tell him: “fine, but tell me more about it, you know how the market is saturated today, we need to define a concept, be different. “
- He replies: “I want to offer Sicilian food.”
- Immediately, I think about all my Sicilian friends that would tell me that the raw materials in Milan are not good as in the South, that the food is always better when they go back home.
If you’re not Italian maybe you could wonder why. Well besides the fact the local supplies are different, it has been proved scientifically, that emotions and social environment influence perception of the taste, in other words: food taste is perceived better when you are with your family, that’s why most of the people have wonderful records of the food they were eating when kids.
In that way, how can you compete with comfort food? Well, I would say it’s impossible. In the south of Italy mums have the monopoly of the best food, taste is emotional.
- As I could not stop there I asked him: “do you have some cook expertise?”
- He answered: “limited”.
- Me: “Right, in that case you should think about something simple, so you can keep expertise under control”.
- I asked him another couple of questions and understood the budget was limited. So I explained to him that if he wanted to keep the costs under control, he should probably think about a concept with simple raw materials and limit the costs of the service and the rent; that a fast casual concept could be interesting. Fast casuals are those restaurants where the customer participates to the process (ordering, picking food) in order to reduce costs, like a fast food but with food of better quality and a nice interior design.
- Still in my idea to define his food format and invent a story about his restaurant. I asked him: “what would be your favorite food and why?”
- The Sicilian answered he loved arancini (rice and meat balls) because it reminded him when he was a kid and cooking with his grandma, he was playing with the rice to shape balls and had a lot of fun.
- Me to myself: Done. The concept is born. Let’s do a fast casual proposing only arancini.
And, in order not to have uncompetitive comparison with the ones you can find in Sicily, let’s change the format.
What does it mean?
Well if you set a monoconcept restaurant, you take the risk to lose some customers, so you have to diversify the product range.
From the standard arancini, you can play on:
- Temperature: hot vs. cold.
- Shape: round but why not squares? Or pyramids shape?
- Size: why not reducing the size, like bites or skewers? So you can try different tastes or be more cautious about your diet.
- Recipes: why not proposing country theme, for example the Moroccan one with mint with the beef?
- Raw material:
- type of rice : black rice vs. standard rice…
- why not another type of cereals : quinoa, spelt…
So from one product, you can get multiple.
But the work does not stop there, you need to have coherence in the image and invent a story that will create a link between the owner and the customer. So you should invent a name for the restaurant remembering the experience the Sicilian had when he was a kid: I’m inventing a stupid name now just to understand the principle but could be: “Arancini” and below a motto like “I twisted the recipe of grandma” and the shape of a kid face smiling…
The graphics visual on the menu, should remind this little kid playing not with marbles but with arancini.
The interior design could remind the home of a grandma from the south or could be more related to the round shape, and have sphere in the visual language.
As it should remind a kid universe, the presentation of the dish could propose an interaction with the customer, like you can play with your food, make eventually construction and then post photos on Instagram with a # like#myarancinicastle.
Some cooking lessons could be given to kids once a month to continue this tradition.
I came out with this story one day to illustrate my work. I’m not saying the concept is economically sustainable as further research would be required.
But this is what I do, I invent stories that are translated into food experience, the idea is to propose something new, surprising and educating. This is the key nowadays to have a competitive concept on the market.
But you know what? Actually this is not the only thing I do, and I will tell you another time…
So can I sum up my work in one sentence?
I guess I could stick to the “I’m designing food experiences” or for this specific example: “I’m inventing new format of restaurants”.