Monday, June 14, 2010

Participation Dining – Part 1

It’s OK to Play with your Food.

People love participation. We love getting involved with things. We like choices. We like to make decisions. There’s a great Tom Hanks line in You’ve Got Mail that chalks up Starbucks’ tremendous success to the amount of choices their customers get:

“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self – Tall – Decaf – Cappuccino.”

Of course, Tom Hanks delivered that line 12 years ago. Since then the world has changed, Starbucks has grown to almost unbelievable heights and even your grandmother orders her cappuccino just the way that she likes it. Add that to the boom of digital innovations and the age of the Internet, and we’re going to some places right out of a sci-fi novel. We’re not talking “You’ve got mail” anymore. Today it’s more like – “You’ve got choices.”

People don’t just have a Facebook anymore; they’ve also got a LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. We’re using the web to interact with one another at an almost constant rate, and the impact of that is so big we’re all still trying to work it out. As every industry is trying to figure out how to make the social networking craze work for their businesses, it seems that some restaurants and food brands have taken the notion of participation to such crazy places they just might work.

We all live in the Participation Economy, and if you’re not taking advantage of peoples’ need to be actively involved in every aspect of their lives – you’re missing the boat. Tomorrow I’ll be posting some of the coolest things I’ve seen in the food world that are really ahead of the game.