Choosing a place to eat in the ever-evolving and expanding food scene of New York City can be a daunting task. There are thousands of choices, many of which are convenient, affordable, and pretty tasty. But for myself and many of my peers, choosing a place to eat is about much more than the taste and price tag – it’s actually about being a part of a thoughtful dining experience. In addition to good food and good service, that experience is a result of good branding.
Creating a memorable dining experience (or any type of physical experience for that matter) is done by making connections; connections between the identity of the brand and the physical space, connections from that brand to the customer. From a restaurant’s mission statement to its décor, right down to the logo and the menu, our expectations have changed, and we want that connection in our day-to-day dining experiences.
There is a scale of breadth and depth at which restaurateurs are using branding to create a unique experience that’ll make them top-of-mind. On the shallow end of the spectrum, the experience may be primarily aesthetic – a restaurant is memorable because of its use of integrated design elements in both the two- and three-dimensional domain. There are a couple of great examples of this tactic just a stone’s throw away from our office.
OXIDO – 23rd & Broadway
Loud and colorful, these guys aren’t taking themselves too seriously – which is what makes for such a memorable spot to grab a bite at lunchtime. The food is tasty, but it’s really the playful logo and menu, tone of voice (“Get sauced!” says too-cool mascot, El Jefe), and unconventional use of interior finishes that make this space a go-to spot for me.
INDIKITCH – 23rd & Broadway (across the street from Oxido!)
This place does something that I’ve been hoping for since the dawn of assembly line style casual dining – it brings Indian cuisine into the mix! And it’s done in a really clever way. Indikitch uses simple illustration-style menus that make it easy for non-experienced diners by making the cuisine approachable. They also use their simple yet bold color palette of white, charcoal grey and red in a meaningful way to create playful queuing paths from the door to the counter.
Beyond the approach of aesthetics, some restaurants use their mission, or reason for being, to drive the design decisions that form your experience. They really make their purpose come to life in the space they live in – using all avenues to be memorable and meaningful. Again, there are some good examples of this right around the corner.
DIG INN – 17th & Broadway (with new shops popping up every few months)
The affordable “farm to counter” premise is not only brought to life in the wholesome food they serve, but also in its environments in many clever ways. One feels as if parts of the farmhouse have been dropped right into the surroundings. Reclaimed wood, country patterns and low lighting levels seem familiar and give you that warm & fuzzy feeling, all while gobbling up a delicious plate of fresh food.
Another lens that some restaurants use to make a connection to their customers is one of discovery – being that “found” neighborhood gem. With so many chain restaurants out there, the local connection can be a really strong one.
PEL’S PIE CO – Rogers Ave & Lincoln Rd, Brooklyn (my hood!)
Serving up fresh pies and quiches daily is what this place is all about, but the charm of the shop and its design is undeniably a large part of why I keep going back, and it’s all related to their unique brand. This shop is located in a relatively sparse block of Brooklyn, and stands out as a one-of-a-kind friendly place to have a cup of coffee and a treat. The décor is that of a familiar country kitchen, but with a fresh color palette that feels bright and modern. A low long counter sits between you and the staff, where you can chat about what’s fresh and take your time choosing which treat to indulge in. The space also leaves one wall exposed to the original crumbling plaster, which brings you back to your urban locale.
And there you have it – a few of this city’s finest examples of thoughtful dining experiences. Bon appétit!