Towards a digital multi-sensory dining experience

What role can architecture play in the balance between technologies and dining asks Aleksandrina Rizova, Architect/ Director at ALEKSA studio.

For an interactive relationship with the customer, the dining space of the future may need to embrace visually dynamic forms of technology.

As an architect I am fascinated with the way innovation and technology is constantly changing our perception of space. In hospitality, restaurants are embracing new types of digital dining experience and this is having an impact on the environment and the customer. For example, gone are the days when customers complain in person to the manager about the quality of service or general dining experience. New forms of communication have now allowed them to send messages following a meal. Restaurants have also integrated iPads into tables for ordering food and drinks and others project the menu directly onto the table. It does seem we are getting close to a technology driven service.

I’m intrigued by the changes taking place but also puzzled by whether some of these trends are actually of benefit and a good thing. Can the personal interaction between staff and customers be replaced fully by such innovation? Surely, it is an economic way of increasing customer numbers and profit and reducing waste, but at what price?

Unarguably technology can bring great multi-sensory experience to our dining. Innovative restaurants in Shanghai, UK, Spain and Australia are working towards enhancing our five senses. In recent years some of the new techniques we have witnessed are 3D projections, light effects and sound and scent diffusers. Neurogastronomy is the novel science conceived in 2006 that looks at how external factors can affect the way the human brain perceives food and makes people think that something tastes more delicious than it is.

There is extensive research on new design interfaces that allow the simulation of unexplored sensory inputs (digital smell) and interfaces that looks at the integration of taste and smell into flavour. There are also digital methods for simulating taste sensations; immediate environment humidity and even temperature. The experimental results indicate that sourness and saltiness are the main sensations that could be evoked while the sweet and bitter sensations are more difficult.

Matching music with food or drinks or combining virtual reality with a specific cuisine for instance are some of the ways to enhance a dining experience. The question is – how much is too much?

Matching music with food or drinks or combining virtual reality with a specific cuisine for instance are some of the ways to enhance a dining experience. The question is – how much is too much?

I believe architecture may play a more vital role in creating a balance between these new types of technology and simple old-fashioned food. It is possible to conceal technology with the architecture of a space and so the integration takes place within the interior. This is more effective than adding on some forms of technology once the space has been completed. By seamlessly combining it should allow for a greater customer experience and therefore add further value.

The role that architecture can play is showcased in a recent project ALEKSA studio completed a project at the Natural History Museum, London in collaboration with EP and Artisan Collective. We worked closely with the Museum to create a new vibrant dinosaur-themed restaurant environment with playful graphics and 3D props. Due to the Grade I listing it was important to be sensitive to the fabric heritage of the building but also to bring in new forms of technology to add value. One’s first encounter in the restaurant is with two animatronic dinosaurs followed by being immersed into a narrative forest-like environment created by an array of large trees and dynamic mirror graphics. This digital fabrication technique creates an interaction between the audience and space and the T-Rex dinosaurs appear to be coming out of the walls. Alongside with sound and abstract imagery it creates a lively and dynamic spatial experience.

This is just one example of how architecture can seamlessly enhance an experience and embrace new technology within its design. In the future many restaurants will rely on multi-sensory experiences to the point where it may become common practice.