From the awareness of the essential role played by all stimuli coming from the environment, we understand – from an applicative point of view – how neuroscientific theory and design approach meet in order to enhance the gastronomic experience to the maximum.
As in every activity that is part of our daily life, the built environment represents a “frame” with a high potential that can enhance and accompany users’ needs (neurophysiological, cognitive, emotional, etc.), rather than hindering them.
Thanks to the well-known power of food as a stimulus with an overwhelming potential for human beings, we appreciate how, in the gastronomy field, this “interference” of the environment plays an even more substantial role.
How does this assumption translate into practice?
Restaurants, or any structure devoted to the experience of eating, provide a dense series of information that interfere on several levels, both on our initial expectations and on our final evaluations. Indeed, the importance of this premise lies in the fact that this information, which lies very far from our awareness levels, contaminates our perception of the entire experience, extending to the elaboration of stimuli that have nothing to do with the space itself (for example, the chef’s culinary choices).
What are the information arising from space which condition the quality of our overall evaluation of the dining experience to such an extent?
Starting with our first encounter with the exterior of the facility, a dialogue is initiated between what we are looking for and what the experience offers us. This correspondence extends to the entire duration of the activity: therefore, from the entrance inside the restaurant, to the actual eating process, to its conclusion and final leave. Each of the spatial sections that we pass through, until we reach the table, resonates with our bodies, which is the designated vehicle of our expectations. In these perceptual islands, whilst exploring the archipelago, our sensory system searches for a sensation of warmth, or energy, wonder, balance, or relaxation. Each island requires a different architectural and stylistic combination, right down to the definition of the mise en place.
At the perceptual level, the stimuli that contribute to this pattern come from all sensory channels: visual, tactile, thermal, olfactory, auditory, and vestibular. All of our sensors register information that, assembled at an implicit level, evoke an emotion. Thus, a musical atmosphere can, for example, interfere with our walking time inside the restaurant. The chromatic and luminous choice of interior design can influence the economic investment we are willing to make. The type of mise en place can make us perceive a dish as more or less qualitative. What matters the most is the creation of a coherent relationship between the different perceptual islands, so that the process of consolidation of the emotional system produces, first of all, the creation of an identity, and finally, that social ballet capable of making the experience memorable.
The space can contribute, with the quality of the culinary offering and the wait staff, to celebrate the customer along with the restaurant. Indeed, today, thanks to neuroscience we can measure the fragility produced by the lack of harmony between the emotional expectations and the interweaving of the real sensations experienced.
Written by Veronica Giannini and Davide Ruzzon
Cover: image from “Babette’s Feast” directed by Grabriel Axel in 1987