Restaurant Innovation Summit

Virtual Reality Offers a Far-out Future for Restaurants

Virtual- and augmented-reality technologies can help change the guest experience, says the National Restaurant Association Restaurant Innovation Summit speaker.

National Restaurant Association

What if you could create a restaurant experience in virtual reality and then apply what you learn to a real-life restaurant? Jinsoo An is trying to do just that.

An, the founder and CEO of startup company Project Nourished, is experimenting with using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to try to alter a consumer’s eating and drinking experience.

He explained his theory in detail at our recent Restaurant Innovation Summit, held Nov. 7-8 in Dallas.

An has had a fascination with the restaurant experience from the time he first learned about American food by collecting U.S. soldiers’ MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat) rations as a child growing up in South Korea. After immigrating to Topeka, Kan., and working as a hibachi cook, he learned the entertainment aspect of dining -- and that food can be anything from efficient fuel to a magical experience.

At Project Nourished, An and his team are experimenting with how to use augmented reality to change the perception of food and the restaurant experience. As examples:

  • Create a virtual world on top of actual food, using animated jungle animals to play a game that interests diners in eating their broccoli.
  • Use variations like movement, color and changing shapes to change the pleasure we get from eating, and even the perception of flavor.
  • Help alleviate food shortages by enhancing less expensive, more plentiful ingredients to ”create” a more satisfying meal.
  • Enhance a bare-bones interior space with AR to recreate a French café or industrial coffee shop, or become an ever-changing concept.

The most important ingredient, he says, is collecting the data to understand what individual diners are looking at and tasting – and how they are feeling about it. By doing this, a restaurant operator could potentially learn which attributes to adjust to create the biggest impact. By collecting the right information data, restaurants could use the data to develop new concepts, he said.

“Take the technology and reduce the time to test,” he said. “You can get feedback about the food, environment‑‑ every part of the experience, without building it first.”

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