What if your social network opened a restaurant? A trendy new eatery called 4Food launched in Manhattan last month, and has gained wide coverage from CNN, Grub Street and other publications for its novel approach: including social networking as input to its menu selection.
With one venue, located at 286 Madison Avenue, the restaurant claims it wants to “function as a community hub” and encourages patrons to build a burger, name it, promote it via Facebook or Twitter; in return they can earn 4Food dollars if people order that burger.
It’s an interesting concept, so we road-tested it to see what the fuss is about. Admittedly, our road test was only the eating part, since we were not yet registered and much of the site wasn’t yet functional.
As we entered the restaurant, we were confronted by the concrete construction and brightly lit LCD menus overhead. To the left was a table with stools and an iPad at each seat, so that patrons could order instead of standing in line. However, the online ordering system was not working when we were there in mid-September, so the iPads were being used mainly for fun.
The overhead menus were “dynamic,” meaning that their flat screens flashed a perpetual slide show of menu items, orders ready and other information. There was a stream of codes on the “order ready” screen that required a guide, so the board caused some confusion.
And what about the food? Oh yeah. The restaurant’s other novelty is that the burgers are scooped in the middle, so the hole can be filled with scoops of edamame and sea salt, mac and cheese, or even mofo (shorthand for mofongo, a traditional Latin American mash of sweet plantains, bacon, onion and spices). You can add cheese and condiments to your liking as well.
We ordered a burger called the Green Giant, which is a veggie burger and a scoop of spinach and pine nuts, plus a side of coconut rice and a white peach rosehip iced tea. When the bill was printed and handed to us, we noticed that for each individual menu item there was a calorie count. To our surprise, the entire meal was almost 800 calories! That feature got the biggest “wow” from our group.
Watching our intake, however, didn’t turn out to be a problem because we found the Green Giant burger to be flavorless and bland. The coconut rice was sweet, but knowing the calorie count prevented us from having more than two bites (really). Not that we’re weight-obsessed; we just felt like it was too indulgent for a lunchtime meal.
The website says that “advanced, web-based technologies allow us to make personalized recommendations that meet our guest’s nutrition and lifestyle goals,” but we found that must only be if you are registered on the website.
When we checked out the website, we found that much of it wasn’t functional, with messages like “This feature is coming soon. Really soon. Don’t hesitate to check back soon,” which was disappointing.
The restaurant concept, while interesting from a digital marketing perspective, is not off to a strong start. But it is backed by experts such as Ed Winter, Chairman of Omnicom’s “Brand Activation” Agency, and Tracy Locke, an agency touted as “one of the foremost experts on marketing to young people in the US,” among others, which makes it seem like a marketer’s dream project.
Unfortunately for 4Food, right now it’s about the food, and so far, the food is nothing to tweet the world about.