Your menu's stars, have you experienced them?
Yes, experienced them – not just eaten them. Smelled them, studied them on your fork, taken them carefully into your mouth, and examined their texture and taste like it was completely new to you?
This is mindful eating; the practice challenges you to 'eat' with all of your senses, enjoying the experience of interacting fully with what's on your plate or in your cup, down to the last crumb or drop.
Being more present and dipping those proverbial toes in mindfulness tends to find itself at the top of people's resolution lists this time of year. As a restaurant professional, mindfulness can help you be a more productive and tuned in team member. Mindful eating, specifically, will unlock insights and improvements that will take both your menu and your overall guest experience to the next level.
First, you may be wondering – what’s mindfulness?
Mindful Eating: An Introduction
In Mindful Magazine, professor Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Unfortunately, as with ordinary things we do every day, people often eat mindlessly. The essence of mindful eating is experiencing the food fully: tuning in to the experience of eating with no pre-conceived notions, biases or expectations. It is noticing the food and your experience of eating it consciously, with all of your senses.
Mindful eating is a great practice for customers when dining at your restaurant, but restaurant owners, managers, and staff can all also benefit from mindful eating practices. It's really a way to better evaluate and iterate on the experience you are providing to your guests – that careful combination of hospitality, ambiance, and food and drink – so you can keep them coming back again and again.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating For Restaurants
A large body of scientific and social research points to the benefits of mindfulness.The physical and emotional benefits are proven to lead to greater focus and productivity in the workplace, especially in restaurants.
Mindful eating, when used as a professional development tool for your team, can unlock it's own specific benefits, including ones like:
- Mindful eating helps enhance your customer experience
Mindful eating is a deep experience of the key value that customers pay for. So the more each person involved in the business has their own deep experience, the greater likelihood everyone will be pushing to optimize the customer experience.
- Mindful eating provides feedback on operational changes
When you make an improvement to the menu or any other aspect of the restaurant, it’s important to really understand all aspects of the impact. Mindful eating both before and after a change can deliver the feedback you need to gauge likely success. Mindful eating might also be the impetus for recipe or menu changes.
- Mindful eating helps your staff better guide guests
If the staff has fully experienced the various items on the menu, they are better able to guide guests. The specificity with which you can describe the difference between similar dishes or beverages is key to this – and mindfulness helps those nuances come through.
- Mindful eating helps you appreciate more
When everyone tries the 'Savor the Story' approach (keep reading to find out what I'm talking about), they often become more attuned to the important roles others play in the dining experience. This helps build harmony within your team, and encourages customers to appreciate their experience more fully. You can tell diners the story behind the ingredients, talk about the cook who made the food, and share where the inspiration for the dish came from. This will help guests be more engaged as they eat.
- Mindful eating gives you purpose
A restaurant is ultimately about the customers’ experience of the food. Mindful eating exercises can support a feeling of purpose for your team and it's also a useful tool to use when deciding on your restaurant's core values and mission statement.
In truth, mindfulness can be applied to every aspect of the restaurant, from the color of the walls to the presentation of your entrees. Do the Beginner’s Mind exercise – outlined below – as you enter your restaurant: Notice the décor, the lighting, the people, the atmosphere. Use all your senses. How do they strike you? What do you notice?
Mindful Eating Practices To Try At Your Restaurant
And now for some mindful eating practices to, well, practice at your restaurant.
Try incorporating one mindful eating exercise once a week with your staff at a pre-shift meal of your choosing. You'll quickly notice the benefits: your staff will have a deeper understanding of your menu, be able to upsell easier than ever, use the time saved on asking the kitchen to build relationships with your guests, and hear their honest feedback about how you're doing and ways you could make your guest experience even better.
After you complete an exercise, jot down some notes about what you experienced, what stood out, and what surprised you.
Here are three mindful eating practices to incorporate into your restaurants operations:
Practice #1: Beginner’s Mind
Purpose: To strip away expectations to sample the food like it’s the first time.
How to do it:
Pretend you have never seen this substance before, like an alien who just arrived on earth.
Use all of your senses to explore. Carefully take it in from different angles, note the colors and textures. Close your eyes and smell it. Touch it with utensils or even pick it up with your fingers, giving it a squeeze. Even when you put it in your mouth, see if you can pretend it’s the first time you’ve ever tasted anything like it.
What do you experience? Note it with as much detail as you can, and what aspects strike you as positive, negative or neutral.
Practice #2: One Bite
Purpose: Try focusing on one single morsel, giving yourself plenty of time to savor the experience.
How to do it:
Begin with the food on a plate. Separate out one bite. As in the Beginner’s Mind exercise, use all your senses prior to putting it in your mouth.
Notice your anticipation of the bite and the flavor. When you do put it in your mouth, do not bite or chew – Just roll it around in your mouth a little. Notice the texture, whether you can taste it, and what happened to your anticipation, if anything.
Then, bite down or chew slowly. Are you enjoying it? Notice every sensation – changes in what you taste, moving muscles of the jaw, whether you usually chew that long. As you swallow, notice the bite as long as you can, moving into your digestive system. Do this with as many bites of your food as you’d like.
Practice #3: Savor the Story:
Purpose: Bringing awareness to the full storyline of food on our plates can help us appreciate it more. Use this in conjunction with the others, or on its own.
How to do it:
With a meal before you, consider the story behind what's on your plate.
How did you select these items to put on the plate? Each of those probably has a back story. How do you feel about those selections now? Would you change anything on further consideration?
Then consider how the food got to its current form on your plate. You may know the hands that prepared each element of it in the kitchen, the person who ordered the ingredients, and those who take the food out to the diners. Notice any thoughts and emotions that arise about those people. Working back from that, there are people who worked at the suppliers’ sites and farmers. Each meal has many participants and preparers.
Notice your reaction to this as you eat the meal. Do you feel gratitude, interest, community?
Have You Experience Your Menu Lately?
What makes your restaurant great?
Experience it for your yourself through mindful eating. Make an improvement in a dish – or the lighting, music, staff, or menu – and try one of the above exercises with the new version. How does it make you feel?
You'll come to identify and appreciate the nuances that make your restaurant unique. Use what you find to market your restaurant and stand out from the fold to your target customer.