When Food Goes Virtual

Restaurants have been closed for long periods during the pandemic. How has the catering sector innovated to survive?

par Mark Tungate , Adforum

Depending on where you are in the world, you may have recently dined at a restaurant for the first time in months – or you may be still dreaming of that future treat. The pandemic has of course been a disaster for restaurants, but some have used ingenious methods to stay on the radar.

Of course, the fast food chains – whose service, let’s face it, was never far from virtual – have been among the most prominent. One innovation you may well have heard of, from McDonald’s and German agency Track, used just two words to invite customers to its drive-through stores. The case study tells the story in an equally concise way.

On the subject of food order apps, KFC and Ogilvy Sydney got everyone talking about certain menu items – by keeping them a secret.

By the way, did it occur to you that KFC has the least appropriate slogan in the world right now? It certainly occurred to the brand and its UK agency Mother, resulting in a simple but blockbusting PR idea.

Meanwhile, it didn’t take Burger King long to start creating virtual environments for its fans. Here’s an example all the way from Chile, where BK teamed up with Wena Los Cauro, a group of Chilean video game modders (as in “modifiers”), to build a replica Burger King inside the car chase video game GTA San Andreas.

This next example from Burger King became an instant classic. How do you allow people to enjoy your iconic burger when they’re stuck at home? You share your recipe – and ingredients they can buy from the local supermarket.

Here’s an equally generous idea from Burger King in Peru. When its staff tentatively returned to work after lockdown, it kept them fed every day – by ordering lunch from other restaurants whose business had suffered.

Are you the kind of person who likes to grab a hot-dog at the big game? With football stadiums shut in Brazil, beer brand Brahma and its agency Africa found a way of helping the vendors who are normally part of the fan experience – and depend on them for a living.

Moving beyond fast food, what happens when regular restaurants re-open? Will the pandemic impact restaurant design for good? It’s certainly possible: for a fascinating overview, check out this ten-minute video from Wired and retail architect Sterling Plenert. Bon appetit!