This article originally appeared in the Rhode Island School of Design’s Int|AR Journal, volume 6.
If the basic function of a restaurant is to provide sustenance, its higher calling is to create social and cultural experiences. A dining experience is not only the result of the quality of the food and drink, it is choreographed by a cadre of workers—chefs, wait staff, dishwashers, hostesses, wine directors—and by the space itself.
In The Experience Economy, an article published in The Harvard Business Review in 1998, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore note that the most successful companies need four things in order to create an experience for their customers: active participation, passive participation, immersion, and absorption. Restaurants easily hit all of these areas, and the most successful ones understand that the best guest experiences are by design.
One of the things that make restaurants an interesting demonstration of the experience economy is that the other “stages of economic value” that came before have also shaped the restaurant industry; without the industrial economy and the service economy, the idea of a restaurant as we know it would exist in a very different capacity.
This timeline is my effort to understand how the subtle and era-defining disruptions in society, economy, and technology shaped the experience of dining and working in restaurants.