I’m grateful for the opportunity to have recently vacationed in Europe again, returning to spend time in two favorite cities and also checking out a new destination. As a food lover and marketer, of course much of my travel enjoyment was punctuated by dining experiences – and in hindsight, several of those culinary moments were good reminders of trends and lessons happening in the world of marketing communications.
1. The Tapas Bar. In the beautiful old city center of Seville, I made a point to take in as much Moorish architecture, flamenco guitar music and tapas as I could in three days. Tapas are great for sharing, but the small plates format is also great for solo dining at a bar. The prawns were fantastic and the artichoke transcendent, but the surprise star of the show at La Brunilda was the beverage in the glass. Sangria? No way. I heeded advice to avoid the insipid “made for tourists” punch and tried what the locals enjoy, especially during the sunny middle of the afternoon: vermouth. Many of us Americans have probably only heard of vermouth in the context of the drop of flavoring in a martini. However, this herbal fortified wine deserves lots more attention as a certified sipper on the rocks. My marketing thoughts here are on the subject of authenticity and regionalism. It’s wise to remember that consumers are becoming more educated as restaurants and food products in the U.S. showcase specific regional variations of cuisines from within a given country, rather than lumping the entire diverse experience into one clichéd cultural summary. And as diners get smarter about what those variations mean, they are less willing to accept inauthentic stories and flavors.
2. The Bistro. Paris is amazing and a bit overwhelming when it comes to eating options. There truly is a proliferation of café culture, both high end and casual, and unless you’re gullible enough to opt for souvenir snacks hawked to Eiffel Tower visitors, most of the food is good. The basic go-to spot for both locals and tourists is the bistro, which is a casual place for simple home-style dishes: omelettes, steak frites and the like. And by “the like” at Le Comptoir I mean things like blood sausage. Boudin noir. Nope, I had never tried that delicacy before. It’s pork BLOOD, for crying out loud. Turns out, it wasn’t half bad, and well-heeled brunchers on the patio at this rive gauche bistro were shelling out good Euros for it. This reminds me that American chefs are teaching diners more about nose-to-tail and root-to-leaf eating, and in doing so, they are sometimes inadvertently creating pricey hipster versions of dishes that were previously “poor people’s food” ($16 ramen or banh mi, anyone?) As marketers, let’s not forget the originals that inspired the riffs, and let’s not pretend that some CIA-trained gourmand discovered offal and made it trendy. The simple source material often makes for much more compelling storytelling.
3. The Fine Dining Restaurant. Thankfully, English gastronomy is no longer just about meat pies, bland boiled things and fish & chips. There’s some seriously amazing high-end cookery going on in London, my final vacation stop. At The Ledbury, I tucked in my linen napkin, curiously regarded the small, gnarled log placed just-so as tabletop decoration, and closed my eyes to the price in British pounds sterling that the menu listed: here came five courses of really interesting stuff! Before the meal proper arrived three amuse-bouches: foie gras mousse with mead gelée, some kind of “deer puffs” and … seaweed crackers. The latter appeared as a pile of black striated material riding aboard a white rock, and to be embarrassingly honest, it was hard to tell what you were supposed to eat. In fact, I tried to crunch on the hard, dry leaves that were (I was later told) just the backdrop for the edible bits. Note to selves here: watch the pretentiousness in our promotional communications and be mindful, rather than pedantic, about consumers’ curiosity and unfamiliarity with new foodstuffs.
That’s my latest tri-country adventure in eating – and what a delicious prompt about the necessity of finding purpose behind the plate.
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