If you have managed to avoid the pandemic Pokémon Go craze this summer, then you are not at least two things: 1. paying attention, or 2. a business savvy opportunist. Since the virtual creatures began popping up everywhere from the fountain on the North Lawn of the White House to the toilet bowl of an office loo, restaurants and other businesses have been clamouring to get in on the action.
This isn’t merely adults trying to escape to an augmented, virtual world of their childhood. When considering that literally thousands of people descended on Central Park in New York when a rare Pokémon called ‘Vaporeon’ materialised (an aquatic dragon-like creature to the uninitiated), the potential of the game in driving footfall is huge. Restaurants world over have been buying in, purchasing ‘lures’ to attract Pokémon to their sites. And, as the saying goes, ‘If you build it, they will come’. Come they do, the phone-wielding hordes drawn like magnets, battling away until they realise all this action is making them hungry and – oh look! – they’re conveniently in a tasty burger joint.
Technology has played a huge part in the evolution of the restaurant industry. As well as acting as a catalyst to crazes, social media has enabled restaurants to create an online presence with potentially global reach whilst retaining their own unique personality. This is not to mention the ability to show off their masterful creations with the very best lighting and angles.
The Michelin starred chef, Paco Perez, is one of the more progressive culinary individuals pushing the technological envelope. He has been creating beautiful food using a special 3D printer, a machine capable of making dozens of identical, intricately designed dishes. Perez commented that ‘It’s very interesting what today’s technology is contributing to gastronomy… Creativity is shaped by what technology can do.’
The modern mind absorbs an increasingly huge volume of media at an incredible pace. The flavour for immediacy and temporality has never been stronger; much of the appeal of Pop Up food stalls lies in their impermanence. Crazes give consumers the feeling of being part of an exciting new movement that is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. The restaurant industry particularly seems to have the capacity to entertain hundreds of these trends and crazes at any one time – health food, sustainability, smoothies, shakes, foraging, supper clubs, chef residencies, superfoods, hybrid foods, fusion foods – and technology provides an environment in which they can thrive.
Creativity, gastronomy and technology are natural bedfellows that will only get stronger. Whether that’s in a Pokegym or on a plate, we’ll have to wait and see.