Four years ago, there were only 200K active virtual reality users. Flash forward to 2018, that number is forecasted to reach 171 million. Primed for extraordinary growth, virtual reality will reach a wide range of industries from fashion to education to art – even the food we eat.

From gamified food-safety training to simulated portals to Mexico, virtual reality is becoming a reality for the foodservice industry.Click To Tweet

Below are three ways VR technology is impacting restaurants from their staff down to your very own dining experience:

MENU APPEAL

  1. Bareburger – Are consumers’ eyes bigger than their stomachs? Bareburger may be the first to know. The NYC burger chain is rolling out a new 3D Augmented Reality Menu, with plans to replace all printed menus soon. Consumers can now see their 3-D burger and size it up before ordering. But did you truly eat a 3D burger if you didn’t snap it? Don’t worry – Bareburger enhanced the experience by adding social sharing so diners can share their VR dining experience with friends and family in real time via Snapchat.

2. Magnolia Bakery – What’s the best way for a baker to please the worst of bridezillas? You guessed it – a virtual reality cake. The renowned NYC bakery is leveraging this smart technology so their guests (and bridezillas alike) can peruse their catering menu through projected virtual replicas via their mobile device. With a flick of a finger, guests can rotate, zoom in and out of the virtual caking sitting on the table in front of them. If only you could taste test virtually!

EMPLOYEE TRAINING

  1. Honeygrow – Starting a new job at this fast-casual chain? Expect a five-part VR training as your new employee orientation. From food safety to customer service, the VR headset provide a solid training across the board. Honeygrow’s chief brand officer Jen Denis says, “We feel people will retain information much better if they’re able to engage and interact in a meaningful way.” Thus, certain parts of the virtual training tool may look similar to a VR video game for efficacy sake – for examples, employees may be tasked to (virtually) place vegetables and raw meats on the correct shelf in the kitchen in order to drive home food safety practices.
  2. Kentucky Fried Chicken – If Chicken Mastery Certification is on your bucket list, you must first pass KFC’s multi-step interactive training platform for employees and franchisees. Set up as a virtual escape room, the training simulation details the five steps of chicken-frying through mini games and surprises led by Colonel Sanders himself. For consumers pining for the Colonel’s chicken frying secrets, KFC made the educational (and entertaining) experience available for free download on Oculus Rift.

While KFC is “teaching its cooks how to make its world-famous chicken better,” the fast food chain has also benefited from the marketing hype surrounding the new VR technology – as displayed in its mysterious and somewhat disturbing trailer.

UNIQUE DINING EXPERIENCE

  1. The Patrón Experience – Tequila tour? Why not. Patrón’s augmented reality platform opens a portal to their tequila distillery. Upon entering the portal, a bartender vignette will guide consumers through a line-up of Patrón’s tequilas, including tasting notes, unique characteristics and barrel-aging process. Patrón’s global chief marketing officer Lee Applbaum states, “Our goal with any technology we develop is to further elevate the way consumers interact with Patrón. With this project specifically, we wanted to break down the barriers of physical space between consumers and the Patrón Hacienda, and also offer a transparent window into our products – from the way we harvest agave to how we craft the liquid in each bottle.”
  2. Project Nourished – Enjoy the pleasures of food without the calories – wait, what? Yes, this gastronomical virtual reality experience is promising the impossible. During the dining experience, you eat and drink in a whole new way by hacking vision, gustation, olfaction, audition and touch—with or without caloric intake. In Project Nourished’s words, “a meal relies upon different sensory input derived from the visuals, flavors, scents, textures, consistency and auditory feedback of what we eat. By isolating various flavor compounds and recreating their taste and textural profiles — coupled with virtual reality, aromatic diffusion and auditory sensation — we can mimic a surprising amount of eating experience.”

Simply grab your aromatic diffuser, virtual reality headset, bone conduction transducer, gyroscopic utensil, virtual cocktail glass and 3D printed food – and you’re ready for a virtual feast! Stretchy pants optional.

It’s funny to look back and think TV dinners were once thought of to be the end of family dinners and togetherness at the table. Now we can have screens stuck to our faces. Will we ever experience eye contact over a meal again? Will we even care?

What are your thoughts? Is virtual reality the new reality of our food? Or is all the hype simply an illusion that will soon fade?

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