Gone are the days of booking a getaway without first consulting online reviews. In a space once dominated by experts and travel writers, consumers are increasingly turning to the web to find the experience that suits their budget and lifestyle.
The irony is that as more people demand 'a curated lifestyle,' more online review companies keep popping up, leaving consumers wondering who they can trust and where they can find the best experience.
To shed light on the credibility question, we turn to the latest industry adopting the model of online reviews: the restaurant industry.
With holiday parties on the horizon and Winterlicious taking place in a number of cities across the country, the dining business is all the buzz. Establishments that are best able to satisfy the appetites of review-hungry Canadians are the ones adopting innovative, digital strategies to tell their stories.
View the Vibe, a company founded in Toronto by Nicki Laborie, uses technology to interact with consumers in a unique way. They create high quality, short videos – reminiscent of movie trailers – to convey a restaurant's atmosphere. The videos are then shared on social networks, giving prospective guests a taste of what they can expect.
Ms. Laborie's video-enhanced online review platform was inspired by the realization that few restaurant guides and reviews adequately reflect the essence of what restaurants are all about. This visual preview offers the would-be customer an idea of what to expect before stepping into the restaurant.
Establishing a sense of credibility is crucial as consumers are looking for honest, candid insight: "These days, a video can properly showcase everything from the food, to the ambience, to the type of clientele, to the overall vibe," said Ms. Laborie in an interview.
View the Vibe has chosen a specific niche and gained credibility by staying within it.
As some restaurants capitalize on the opportunities presented by video storytelling, others are creating entirely new digital dining and shopping experiences.
For example, The Richtree Natural Market, a culinary newcomer to the Toronto Eaton Centre, has taken the dining experience to a new level by introducing interactive tables, digital menus and cutting-edge video games to not only entertain and improve the dining experience but integrate.
"From a platform perspective, we connect the digital menus and the self-order kiosks with a centralized point-of-sale system that controls all the inventory and transactions," said Mr. Rabasa. "It also connects with their personalized payment system, allowing customers to pay anywhere with a card on their smartphone."
Personalizing the dining experience using current technology and a revolutionary restaurant design sets Richtree apart from its competitors.
It also enables the company to converge a fully-interactive, experiential dining experience with shopping for natural good foods. Catering to families, the company uses the video walls and projection technologies to bring interactive games to life throughout the restaurant and on the individual tables while the children wait for their meals.
As savvy restaurants continue to innovate, the success of a restaurant will depend on so much more than the cuisine. Convenient, customized and entertaining experiences will soon become the norm.
Without even realizing it, consumers will soon start to expect smart digital technologies to be integrated into the dining experience – before they even leave the house.
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.