Design in casual dining

Published on host.Milano on 27th November 2015:

Picnic basket

Last month I attended San Sebastian Gastronomika, an annual food conference with a focus on fine dining, ingredients and wine. Each year, the organisers focus on a different theme and this year it was the joint cities of Singapore and Hong Kong.

I had hoped that the conference would give me some insights into the food scene in Singapore and Hong Kong as both are destinations I have yet to visit. Instead however, I got thinking about design.

Let me explain.

Each day, several of the world’s best chefs, both from Spain, where the conference is hosted, and from the guest cities, demonstrate dishes or ideas from their restaurant. To accompany their presentations, the chefs also prepared a little tasting sample for the audience. In most cases, the chefs had fine dining restaurants but for the purpose of the tasting sample, all of the plates, bowls and containers were plastic. So the question is, how to elevate the food even if it’s served in plastic containers?

Luckily for the chefs, there were options besides the straight-up box containers. In fact, the containers were in a myriad of shapes that were designed to mimic fine dining plating. For example, one platter was shaped like an oyster and was perfect for holding a small sample of pickled vegetables. It was something that added to the overall aesthetic of the dish and propelled it from being just something ordinary.

But what does this mean for casual dining? Well the answer is perhaps most applicable to street food vendors where containers are inevitably single use.

What if, by simply using a different shaped container, you could make your casual offering a much more marketable product? What if that product could then be sold for a higher price? It could be the difference between a road-side business and a potentially more lucrative events business.

Yes, no doubt, fancy plating costs more but sometimes it’s as much about the presentation as it is about the food.

China goes super-sized

Published on host. Milano. on 6th November 2015:

crabs in Shanghai

This year, size is everything in China. Or more precisely, it’s all about food going super-sized. The country, it seems, is on a journey to dominate Guinness World Records.

Naturally, bigger is better and the more the merrier. So far this year, China has presented us with the world’s biggest steamed bun, which was studded with smaller buns, and the world’s largest tofu that weighed a staggering eight tons. There was also the most number of people having breakfast at the same time as well as the most number of people cooking at the same time.

Taking part are cities, festivals, restaurants and even hotels, often at great expense. Luckily, the corresponding publicity has been equally large, both domestically and internationally.

Perhaps that’s why the trend seems to be picking up pace. In September this year, three food related record attempts were made in different parts of China in one weekend alone.

Anhui Province in eastern China tried their hand at creating the world’s largest pot of beef soup. Liaoning Province, which borders North Korea, celebrated South Korea Week with the world’s largest bibimbap. Meanwhile, another part of the province welcomed the crab season with the world’s largest pot of steamed crabs, which had to be lifted with a crane.

Is it simply madness?

Many people do find the waste aspect a deterrent, something of an almost inevitable by-product. That said, so far, these stunts have attracted enough visitors to spare the wastage. What’s more, the resulting publicity has often increased tourists and business to the area.

So in today’s busy food market, is a record attempt the key to gaining business? Well, there are certainly enough people that think so. But how sustainable it will be is anyone’s guess.

Wine will never replace baijiu but it can be an occasional substitute

Published on host. Milano. on 11th September 2015:

vineyard in Chile

Earlier this year, Guillaume Deglise, CEO of Vinexpo, expressed what was described as a ‘silver lining’ for winemakers wishing to enter the Chinese wine market. He posited that, in spite of the clamp down on gifting, China is set to be a growing market.

But while wine at the banqueting table is no longer a rare occurrence, neither is it a staple. For the inescapable banquets like birthdays, weddings and funerals, baijiu, the traditional Chinese spirit, is still the drink of choice for toasting. In every day feasting however, grape wine has made steady gains.

In the service industry, those that are catering to an affluent crowd are already serving up a good selection of wines. The recently opened St Regis in Chengdu, for example, has the city’s first wine-only hotel bar. And with an increasingly knowledgeable consumer base, food and beverage mangers are only looking to diversify into other markets.

Bordeaux and Burgundy are still popular. Case in point, new Hong Kong wine magazine Le Pan has chosen to host its launch in Bordeaux. But those wishing to stay ahead of the curve should look to other wine regions.

The new world in particular is vying for the top spots in the tightened premium wine markets.

Chilean pioneers Vina Errazuriz and Vina Montes have both long invested in the Chinese market, including regular brand focused events. Australian cult-wine Penfolds already has a loyal following. And New Zealand’s Marisco Vineyards is still incredibly proud of the fact that they were judged the best wines for Chinese food at the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition, two years ago.

So what does this mean for HORECA?

Well there are some obvious design changes.

As well as allowing space for storage, temperature considerations are important. This is especially true for a country where seasonal temperatures vary greatly but indoor temperature control is not the norm. A second consideration would be display – consumers should be made aware of your product offering and be enticed by it. Finally, you’ll have to think about the details like wine glasses, corkscrews, decanters and maybe even enomatic machines.

Offering wine, and doing it well, will certainly mean greater expense in terms of restaurant design. But it may well pay off in the long run.

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