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The Metaverse: disrupting foodservice for good

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Amelia Levin explores the Metaverse and weighs up its potential uses within the foodservice sector

Slide on the VR headset, hook your hands to the controllers and in an instant, you’re looking down to see  your own digital “hands,” you’re hearing the voices of others and walking into a digital world with a bunch of avatars chatting and flying around. You can shoot hoops with someone from a country far away, or simply grab a group of co-workers and hang out in a “park.” It’s strange at first; slightly dizzying, even, but kind of cool.

“The Metaverse is interesting; there’s a lot of hype but the applications so far are mostly through games,” says Jay Bandy FCSI, president, Goliath Consulting Group. “From what I’ve learned, we are three to five years out for the Metaverse to be a marketing and sales tool for restaurants. The big brands have the money to begin the work now, and you’ll see Chipotle and others starting to explore this new marketing channel.”

According to a study from a Paytronix and PYMNTS Report (The Digital Divide: Technology, The Metaverse and the Future of Dining Out), 20% of restaurant consumers are familiar with the Metaverse, and 34% of Millennials and 27% of Gen Zs have already participated in it. In addition, the report said, 38% of consumers who already participate in the Metaverse would be willing to integrate restaurant purchases into this environment.

Changing the landscape

Virtual reality worlds are nothing new; devices launched as far back as 2014 have allowed users to experience an alternative reality while playing video games or chatting with friends online. But the metaverse isn’t your basic virtual reality experience. Goliath’s Lisa Springer described in a blog post, “Metaverse is the next evolution of social media, virtual reality, and the virtual world.”

Indeed, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has said he has big plans for the Metaverse (even renaming Facebook “Meta”) “intends for it to be a 3D, virtual space in which people can socialize, learn, and collaborate with one another,” Springer wrote.

While pop sensation Ariana Grande and others have hosted virtual concerts and some retailers let you virtually try on clothes, Chipotle has become one of the first hospitality companies to venture into the Metaverse by creating a virtual restaurant inside the online game platform Roblox. During one promo, gamers in Roblox could enter the restaurant virtually and get codes for a free burrito. “Virtual reality will change the landscape for many restaurants in this generation of quick, evolving technology,” Springer says. Outside of 2D Instagram and Facebook, “restaurants can now interact with their customers online using the Metaverse.

Springer points out that at Ibiza’s Sublimotion, the famed restaurant helmed by Michelin-starred chef Paco Roncero, diners can use Samsung Gear VR headsets to feel as though they’re dining at the bottom of the ocean or in space. At Tokyo restaurant Tree by Naked, diners wear virtual reality headsets to journey through a farm to see where their food is coming from or watch virtually as chefs prepare their dishes.

Connecting with customers

Of course, you can’t physically “eat” in the Metaverse, and that’s where critics and die-hard hospitality traditionalists draw the line. But the Metaverse offers hospitality brands a unique platform to connect more closely with their fans and customers by providing more immersive, imaginative experiences.

In addition to allowing Metaverse users to order food for delivery and then enjoy a virtual meal with friends or even a virtual date, it can also be used to show how chefs prepare their food through virtual cooking classes and demos. On the operational side, it could be used to help train cooks and other foodservice employees.

From the foodservice design perspective, while many consultants and architects have already fully embraced 3D design the metaverse could expand on that to enable professionals to virtually tour construction sites and collaborate with project players in a way that exceeds the days of expensive travel and post- pandemic Zoom calls and walk-throughs.

Now that’s food for thought.

Amelia Levin