Envision walking into a restaurant today— hearing the store’s soundtrack, watching video footage on a wall-mounted LCD screen, perhaps even playing a video game while waiting for your food.
Now envision doing all of that without ever having to set foot inside the store. Welcome to the future.
In 20 years, quick-serve entertainment will be limitless. Or at least wall-less. Since customers will increasingly place orders, pay, and get their food without ever entering the restaurant, stores will invest money and efforts in bringing the in-store experience to the customers, says Brian McKinley, vice president of marketing for DMX.
He envisions a world where customers hear a live feed of the music playing in the restaurant when they access its Web site from their cars or homes.
“It’s a virtual experience of being in a restaurant when you’re driving there,” he says. “I think when you’re in there, it’s going to be a lot more about the personalization of that experience for you.”
Tables will have jukebox-like music and video players that allow customers to play a song or watch a video shown at only their table. If they hear a song in the store that they like, they will be able to download it instantly to their phones.
“The brand isn’t necessarily what you want your brand to be. The brand is what people want your brand to be and how they perceive it,” McKinley says. “By allowing people to shape that experience, you’re allowing people to create that connection.”
TV screens also will be utilized more, but restaurants will put more thought into the content shown on them.
“[Right now] I see more TVs going up and people just showing TV content or network content,” McKinley says. “A lot of time it’s the news. If you’re going and getting a quick meal with your family, you don’t always want to see the news.”
He thinks visual entertainment will become more ambient. For example, a Mexican restaurant might have an entire wall devoted to a TV screen that shows a live video feed from a beach in Baja.
But moving images won’t be limited to what is traditionally thought of as a screen.
Anil Selby, vice-president of Nth Degree Technologies, says that in 20 years the technology will exist to put television screens on paper—paper cups, paper tray liners, paper table tents. The possibilities are endless.
“It’ll be very inexpensive, it’s recyclable, it’s disposable,” he says. That means that all the more opportunities for personalization exist. “Based on that same technology, you can address different stores with different messages based on the demographic as well as psycho graphic as well as the store location.”
The paper-thin televisions will be able to show streaming content or offer interactive games and media for customers. And when a video showing on a tray liner strikes a chord with a customer, he or she can easily take it home to show to others or watch again.
“There are different ways of getting them excited about it,” Selby says. As for the operators, “It will be more exciting for them because the audience will be more excited. … They will have a store environment where people are going to have a better experience.”
Garth Chouteau, senior director of public relations for PopCap Games, points to uWink, a social-entertainment restaurant founded by Nolan Bushnell, the same innovator who came up with the Chuck E. Cheese concept, as an indicator of where quick-serves might be headed in the future.
“He provided an experience that went way beyond the food,” Chouteau says. “I think you’ll see more of that. The food is still absolutely fundamental to the experience, but these other things start to come into play.”
In the future, Chouteau sees the quick-serve-entertainment experience being similar to the virtual world Second Life.
“In that environment you will be doing everything from walking (via your avatar) up to the virtual counter at which you place your order and at the same time experiencing various types of video games,” he says. “You might want to join people at another table in their virtual adventure, or you might want to challenge someone at your table to a match of virtual tennis or football.”
Customers will buy virtual currency to pay for their orders, and hands-free technology built into special goggles will display the virtual experiences.
“The games themselves could be controlled by anything from eye movements to voice commands, but in that scenario it would not require your hands because you’re going to be eating with those,” Chouteau says.
Since customers will be placing their orders virtually, they won’t need to wait in line. There will be no need for a counter in the front of the store.
“You’re going to need that room for all the servers it’s going to take to provide this entertainment,” Chouteau says, “and by servers, I don’t mean waitresses.”
Frequent customers will want to own their goggles so they can continue their virtual adventures at home.
“There will be this kind of persistent presence,” Chouteau says. “If you want it, it’s always there.” — Robin Hilmantel