By engaging diners in foodservice experiences, brands can keep guests coming back for more.

Restaurant diners no longer see food only as a way to get the nutrients and sustenance their bodies need—they see it as an experience.  Not only do guests want to eat at restaurants to try new flavors and have a delicious meal, but they want to be wowed. And for many diners, it’s almost just as important that the food looks great so that it wows their friends, too.

“Consumers today are seeking experiences—and they want to share these experiences on social media,” says Mike Stern, PepsiCo Foodservice director of culinary and sales. “So if operators can deliver these types of post-worthy dishes that customers crave, they’re in a position to bring in new guests and drive business growth.”

By creating bold, visually appealing dishes, restaurants cannot only capture these diners who like to share their meals on Instagram and other social media, but they can also entice new guests who see what their friends are eating and want a similar experience.

“If you can create a menu item that delivers an experience, you’re more than halfway there,” Stern says. But he cautions that brands trying too hard to create Instagram-worthy menu offerings could risk losing consumers if they lose sight of any of the important elements of a great dining experience. “The food has to first and foremost taste great, be visually appealing and be relatable to the experience a restaurant is trying to deliver,” he says. “Trying too hard to achieve that Instagram moment can lead to negative reactions and perceptions. Remaining genuine and authentic here is the key.”

Yet coming up with authentic, “Instagrammable” food isn’t easy for most restaurants. Not only does it take the creativity of a chef to design these kinds of exciting dishes, but they must also be replicated at scale by a team of often less-skilled kitchen employees. That’s why many restaurants are reliant upon vendor partners with a strong background in creating these types of shareable, unique food experiences.

PepsiCo Foodservice, for example, has a strong background in conceptualizing foods that appeal to customers based on their existing favorites, but elevating them into unique dishes that only restaurants can provide. “With DORITOS Locos Tacos, we created a revolution with one of our most successful fast food innovations of all time,” Stern says. “Mac n’ CHEETOS Breaded Macaroni & Cheese Snacks and DORITOS Loaded Breaded Cheese Snacks quickly followed—each of these are examples of buzzworthy menu items that got consumers excited to try and share with their social networks. For beverages this could look like a Moscow Mule-inspired mocktail made with MTN DEW ICE and Bundaberg Ginger Beer. This takes a familiar flavor profile and puts a twist on it with beloved PepsiCo portfolio brands.”

These products engaged diners and activated a fan base that was willing to speak on the restaurants’ behalf through social media, increasing the demand for these products. And the value of that kind of authentic customer engagement cannot be overvalued in today’s competitive foodservice market. By forging strong partnerships, restaurants can design these types of high-impact offerings without the added challenges of coming up with solutions and figuring out how to replicate them at scale.

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