02 April 2017


Gwen restaurant, Los Angeles. Photo by author.
Normally, when we think of a restaurant menu, we picture the list of dishes and drinks. But restaurants may be full of other kinds of menus, which may take unexpected forms. At Gwen in Los Angeles, for example, the food menu gives way, just prior to the service of the meaty main course, to a novel sub-menu: the presentation of a choice of knives. Thus, as the meal progresses, one set of choices yields another.

To be sure, the knife menu at Gwen is a novelty and therefore a conversation piece. As such, it's a neat bit of experiential marketing. Gimmicky, perhaps, but not pretentious because the choice has legitimate weight. Have you ever tried to eat a steak with a knife too light or too dull? If you do, you won't enjoy the steak anywhere near as much as if you'd equipped yourself with a sharp and solid tool. The choice of knife really does matter.

Of course, Gwen could have made this decision for you, providing you with a recommended blade. Why create an unnecessary ritual?

In its defense, I would say that the knife menu isn't just experiential marketing. It's also experiential design. It modifies our experience of the food. By making us mindful of the choice of knife, we become more attentive to the multiple dimensions of artistry behind our culinary pleasure in the restaurant. Even if we don't realize this consciously, we've gained an appreciation for the meal, and the restaurant, as a total work of art. We've picked up on the fact that our experience of the food is affected greatly by the myriad other sensory inputs in its vicinity.

(I wonder, too, whether our awareness of these dynamics makes us more or less or differently affected than we would be if left in the dark. Cognition is powerful, too.)

Those who want to study the effect of our other senses on our sense of taste will enjoy further research into a relatively new field known as gastrophysics. Look into it. Go down the rabbit hole.