Rowanne Fleck

The Future of Dining Practices

RforWebRowanne Fleck is a researcher/lecturer in human computer interaction. Her research involves conducting qualitative studies to understand how people use new and emerging technologies in real world settings in order to reveal and design for the future. Current research interests include considering reflection as a mechanism to promote sustainable behaviour, looking at family interactions around technology and considering people’s sharing behaviours around and through technology. 

Two concepts in particular caught my imagination over the course of the workshop. The first is the idea that sound/what you listen to can change your perception of what you’re eating. Not just through association and evoking memories of past experiences, but also how different tones of sound can actually cause us to experience flavours as more bitter or sweet. This suggests we should consider again the music soundtrack that accompanies a meal in a restaurant or your own home. The Fat Duck has already plunged into this space with their dish “Sound of the Sea” which requires the diner to plug in earphones from an iPod hidden in a conch shell and served with the dish to take them to the sea as they eat. But there are issues with this: if eating with friends you are in your own soundscape and somewhat separated from each other when one of the pleasures of eating in company is that company and sharing the experience with them. Perhaps there might be a future for performance dining – where the meal and soundtrack are carefully composed together to produce the overall eating experience, changing the flavour of a course mid eating simply through the sounds played. The form this performance dining might take in a restaurant, the home or even a concert venue will have implications for the way we can use technology to support it.

Unbenannt2The second concept was the potential to add layers of information to any dining experience with the coupling of menus and personal devices. We saw the machine-readable patterns for menus and crockery designed by researchers at Nottingham University that look to us like attractive designs but can take your smart-phone to a web address. This could allow restaurants to provide customised information to diners without providing anyone more than they need or information they don’t want. For example, some restaurants (e.g. our local Morrison’s café!) already provide calorie information about the meals they sell. If I’m watching my weight, perhaps this information is useful, but if I want to enjoy my fried breakfast, I might not want to know! Other information people might like is information about whether specific allergens are in the meal, which meals are vegetarian, how far the ingredients have travelled, if they are organic, or even the cooking processes used or where I can source the ingredients myself. This could be provided through a traditional web interface, or alternatively, personal devices could run a compatible ap that allows diners to pre-program what information about a meal they are interested in and have this represented in a visually meaningful or useful way without intruding on the aesthetic of the menu or revealing information that’s less appealing to other diners.