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Magic on the menu: transforming the F&B experience

The right technology can turn food & beverage at attractions into immersive experiences

Bodmin Jail

By Steven Swaby, Sarner International

Can immersive technology transform the F&B experience for guests and make it a must-see part of their visit? Sarner says yes.

Attractions are in the business of providing unique experiences. They invest heavily in creating seamlessly themed, narrative-driven visitor journeys. Yet all too often when it comes to retail and F&B areas, this is abandoned. Food halls are an essential part of a visit. But they frequently end up as just functional, generic spaces. Opportunities are missed, theming is lost and the spell is broken.

Disneyland-themed-food-pancake F&B experiences
Image courtesy of Disneyland Resort

Once upon a time venues could get away with it. However, today’s visitors often want more. They don’t just crave a meal, they want entertainment.

The F&B experience

Experiential elements can and do add value to attraction F&B areas, making a visit an even more memorable occasion. This isn’t news, it’s been acknowledged for years. London’s Rainforest Café was an early adopter, upping the ante to make themed F&B a destination in its own right.

Sarner has a long track record in this area, too. Some of the past projects have included sports-themed restaurants in the UK and an immersive nature-themed restaurant in Antalya, Turkey.

DJ-R3X at Oga's Cantina F&B experience
DJ-R3X at Oga’s Cantina

Other restaurants have taken note and evolved. Inamo, for instance, pioneered an interactive table ordering system as part of the brand’s USP, with menus projected onto the table surface. Today, themed menus, multisensory dining experiences and interactive dinners are all popular immersive restaurant and F&B experiences.

You can experience theatre with a meal, drink Butterbeer at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, or dine in China’s first fully automated robot restaurant at Foodom in Guangzhou. Visitors to Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge can dine at Oga’s Cantina, alongside a host of intergalactic ne’er-do-wells.

The importance of storytelling

But what is still often missing from themed F&B halls is one essential ingredient: narrative. Add some story with relevance and purpose and suddenly the space takes on a new, enriched identity that connects more deeply with the surrounding attraction.

Take, for example, Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England. This is a place steeped in history and folklore. For centuries it’s been associated with romantic tales of smugglers, pirates, miners and ghosts – and the legend of the Beast of Bodmin, a huge black feline said to roam the moorland at night.

bodmin Jail corridor
Bodmin Jail

At the newly-renovated Bodmin Jail Attraction, Sarner transformed a popular but dated regional historical site into a world-class visitor destination using immersive design and technology married with authentic storytelling. That same creative approach and flair for foregrounding narrative now extends to revisioning the destination’s F&B experience at the adjacent Bodmin Jail Hotel.

Diners will soon be able to enjoy their meals beneath an enchanted ceiling. The elemental experience of Bodmin’s wild, windswept moorland is embedded in the restaurant experience. Not as a gimmicky add-on, but as part of the core site narrative. It enhances and reinforces a unique, powerful sense of place.

Using new tech to enhance the F&B experience

Increasingly sophisticated technology such as AR, projection mapping and HD screens means all elements of a dining space can be up for grabs. From ceilings and floors to walls, windows and unique architectural elements.

Restaurant table projection mapping has huge potential. Not just for playful and engaging F&B experiences but also to communicate messages in a (pun intended) digestible way. From brand and IP communications to sustainability and food health messaging, there is a vast scope of applications that will have appeal to a broad range of visitors and really enhance the IP through F&B.

At the Bodmin Jail Hotel, smart glass in the restaurant’s window panes allows for an additional degree of immersion. By day, natural light comes in. Then, as the evening draws in, smart glass provides an opaque surface to project onto.

This is particularly effective for seasonal dining experiences. Visit the restaurant at Bodmin Jail Hotel on Halloween and you might also glimpse a ghost, vampire or the Beast of Bodmin on the prowl outside.

The right ingredients

It’s not hard to appreciate the benefits. Dining is no longer simply a functional retail transaction – it becomes more of an event. A memorable F&B experience adds value to any visit. It’s clear to see the appeal for families, and kids of all ages, but it also offers the transformational power to reinvent the very nature of food and beverage spaces.

By creating talking-point experiences as part of their restaurant and café areas, venues can not only drive greater footfall and revenue spend, but also communicate messages and their brand identity, and enhance the overall visitor experience.

ABQ breaking bad themed eating eatertainment F&B experience
A Breaking Bad immersive experience at ABQ cocktail bar in London

With imagination, the possibilities are endless. But another key consideration is balance. Part of getting it right is not bombarding guests with effects and messages when they also need a little downtime from their activities or engagements with exhibits. Eating as a social activity should be supported, not hijacked.

Ultimately, true success comes with the meld of technology and story. Together they become an eatertainment experience that people can connect with emotionally, and an F&B experience that has real substance, not just superficial gimmickry.

A playful, thoughtful and magical backdrop to meals? It could be the best thing on the menu.

Top image, Bodmin Jail

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Steven Swaby Sarner International

Steven Swaby

A freelance writer who works closely with Sarner International, Steven specialises in narrative creation and development – shaping themes and stories, and writing powerful, engaging content for a variety of audiences. A former Head of Interpretation at London's Natural History Museum, he has more than 20 years of experience creating visitor attractions.

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