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May 3, 2023

Add Killer Food & Beverage to Your Haunt

Add Killer Food & Beverage to Your Haunt

Adding Killer Food & Beverage to your haunt is a great way to boost revenue, and these Bar & Restaurant Expo trends will get you started. Subscribe to future episodes of Green Tagged

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Adding Killer Food & Beverage to your haunt is a great way to boost revenue, and these Bar & Restaurant Expo trends will get you started. Subscribe to future episodes of Green Tagged here.


Philip Hernandez: From our studios in Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip, my co-host is Scott Swenson, and Scott, today let's do something special! I thought we would talk about takeaways from the Bar and Restaurant Expo, which happened March in Vegas; March 26th to 29th. I did happen to go there this year, one of my clients paid for me to attend and kind of study what was going on. So, I'm going to give all that value to our listeners for free.

Scott Swenson: Wow, you are a generous human being, Philip.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, I hope the client isn't listening, but I'm sure it's fine.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, I bet they are. I bet they are right now.

Philip Hernandez: Doubtful. So, anyway. 

Scott Swenson: We really appreciate you.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, I won't name names. 

Scott Swenson: So, Philip, what happened at the restaurant show?

Philip Hernandez: I'll talk about some takeaways from the main keynote presentation first. It's not that large of a show and they didn't do too much. They had a main keynote, plus they had some classes and then the exhibit hall, which had food and all sorts of cool stuff, but I thought we'd break it down. I'll talk about some of the information from the keynote, then some of the information from the classes, and then some of the, I think, top products that I found. Something that came up in the keynote a lot is something that you will be familiar with: authenticity. That sounds so familiar, doesn't it?

Scott Swenson: I love it.

Philip Hernandez: So, the keynote speaker, who is a very popular chef who worked on a lot of the stuff in Vegas there, he really talked about how this movement into authenticity. Then he kind of gave a breakdown of some of the food trends. So, not just as in authentic dining experiences. Really, what he was talking about really jived with what the executive chef at SeaWorld talked about in our special that we did, the IAAPA Trade Summit Special, just about representing different cultures in an authentic food palette type of way. That's kind of what he was talking about. Then in terms of his trends, he talked about how vegetables are cool, Korean food is cool, and Asian food is coming into it. But basically, this whole idea that vegetarian options are becoming more mainstream and should be available. 

Philip Hernandez: He also talked about ready-to-drink items becoming more popular, like less stigma. There used to be a stigma about boxed wine, where people kind of thought it was a lesser type of thing. They talked about the ready-to-drink items losing that stigma. He talked also about sustainability, that thing that we have talked about, and how consumers are looking a little bit more for sustainability in terms of not just the less plastic and that type of thing, but also a little bit of sustainability in terms of how they're being served, and less disposable products, less disposable trash if they can help it, and more busing and all that. Which again, reminds me of going to Disney and their quick service stuff being served in the new Docking Bay 7 on actual plates that you return, you don't just don't toss it away. I mean, all these things are here. 

Philip Hernandez: He talked about Birria being this year's big thing, a type of beef and the ways you can do it, but it's a big trending food; which was a menu item at SeaWorld, and the chef did talk about that as well. Then, also, the trend towards non-alcoholic spirits, basically saying this is an emerging trend, but that a lot of the younger generation, they want the same drink but they want it to be non-alcoholic. Which is more complicated than it seems on its surface, because you want it to taste the same without the alcohol, and that's kind of a new technology. I met several booths, actually, trying to specialize in that, to create a spirit that tastes with that tastes and works the same, and it could be added on a one-to-one basis into a drink. So, that's really what we're looking at, not just a virgin XYZ, like a virgin daiquiri where you can't tell because there's so much sugar, but really getting into these virgin drinks, virgin cocktails that have to have an alcohol substitute. 

Philip Hernandez: So, that was the first section, which was the trends and where we are. What do you think of that? I mentioned all the allusions to the previous thing, but what do you think?

Scott Swenson: So, so many of the things that you just mentioned as trends are things that are commonplace here in the UAE. The mocktails, let's start there and we'll work backward. The idea of mocktails is something, mainly because culturally, until just recently, it has been very difficult to get actual alcohol. To this day, liquor stores here are licensed, and there are certain people who are unable to go to them, because of their affiliations, or because of the government's religious feelings on alcohol. Now on Yas Island, there are quite a few bars and restaurants that do serve alcoholic beverages. However, culturally there are a bunch of people who simply don't drink. So, the idea of mocktails, you will go into a bar, half the menu will be mocktails, they will be the faux cocktails, the adult version. So, as you say, not the virgin daiquiri, but truly mocktails that have the same level of mixology involved in order to create something that is unique and flavorful, and worthy of consumption without alcohol.

Philip Hernandez: That's a really good way to put it, basically, that have the same level of mixology involved. I think that's exactly what he was talking about, where you can't just phone it in. You have to think about creating it so that it tastes the same, and also the experience, again, the authentic experience of mixing it, looks the same.

Scott Swenson: Right. They are beautiful when they come out, you cannot tell the difference as to who is consuming alcohol and who is not, at least not until about the third drink and their behavior changes. So, that is the thing that is already part of the dining entertainment culture here in the UAE, from what I've examined. 

Scott Swenson: As far as sustainability, it's interesting here that in one of the large grocery stores in the Carrefour store here in Abu Dhabi, as you leave, they have a hydroponic garden, which is growing their herbs. So, it's very interesting to see the farm-to-table. Food in general here has significantly fewer preservatives than it does in the United States. You can tell because you can look at the labels of even prepackaged food, and they're significantly shorter here than they are for things that are produced in the States. So, that level of farm-to-table, freshness, sustainability, or however you want to position it, is already very much part of the culture here. 

Scott Swenson: Then when it comes to plastics and one-use items. In the project that I am working on, they have started testing their culinary options and offerings, and one of the restaurants, which is a grab-and-go is utilizing actual plates. They're ceramic plates, actual silverware that is collected, washed, and returned. Then, even in the malls, when you go and get ice cream, it doesn't come in a plastic cup with a plastic spoon. It comes in a cardboard cup with a paper spoon. That has required a great deal of architecture to make it so it doesn't just collapse when you start to eat it. The most fun for me, and I don't know if you saw this at the show or not, but one of the things that I've just started to discover with a couple of vendors here is sugar straws, for things like slushy. They're straws that are literally made of compressed and compacted sugar. So, after you finish your tasty sugary drink, you add your extra shot of sweetness, or bouncing-off-the-wall-ness, by eating the straw. Even if you throw it out, it disintegrates completely shortly after water hits it. Once it's submerged in water for any length of time, it just disintegrates into sugar, or sugar water. 

Scott Swenson: Many of these trends are already in wide-scale implementation here on Yas Island, which again, is what they're hoping to be the next level of the attractions, and not just from a theme park standpoint, but from a resort and vacation standpoint in general. I mean, there's an entire waterside area, there's the Corniche here, there's the I can't remember what it's called, the entertainment zone, which is right along the water and has restaurant after restaurant after restaurant, and all of them are working very hard to implement many of these types of trends and sustainability issues.

Philip Hernandez: Well, on that point, the next bit of the conversation in the keynote kind of had to do with the menu adoption curve, which I had not heard of before. Basically is the same thing as in any industry where there's, like crossing the chasm, there's a book about that, about where anytime there's a new technology or a new thing, there's always the early innovators. There's a chasm basically between the early innovators that have to try it, and it has to be proven before you'll get to the mass adoption, and then it will phase out. So, he talks about the menu adoption curve and how that relates to, I thought it was a cool concept, but how the menu adoption curve basically is unique to each market and it dictates exactly what you're saying. It kind of dictates how far you can push these items, and also whether or not your brand is targeting the people at the very tip, the early innovators, or they're targeting the main people, and just be aware of it in all contexts. 

Philip Hernandez: So, for example, if you are expected to be an innovator, then you need to have more of these ceramic plates, you need to be at the very top of the curve, versus if you're targeting the general public in an area that isn't that far advanced, you're being more led by the innovators. So, it's understanding, are you leading or are you being led? And make sure you're not going to fall behind on where it is. 

Philip Hernandez: I thought that was that kind of explained it very well, and explains exactly what we're talking about, how clearly the UAE, and the area you're in, they're at the upper end of that curve. He's saying trends, and the fact that you're seeing them everywhere, means they're not trends there, they're like the mainstay there. Versus here in the US, I would say that it is a trend, because even looking at the examples I used, Docking Bay 7 has ceramic stuff, and we see that at some of those parks, but not all the restaurants at Disneyland have ceramic, even not all the grab and go, and SeaWorld doesn't, right? So, you see that dichotomy play out. I thought that was such an interesting moment and a big takeaway for all of our listeners, no matter whether you are a theme park or an independent operation, to really sit down and consider where are you on this, are you falling behind, or do you have the opportunity to be a trendsetter?

Scott Swenson: Well, I think the interesting thing here is, two things you have to take into consideration, if you're looking at this as a continuum, why this area in this particular way is ahead of the curve back in the States. There's two things to consider, number one, the UAE is only 51 years old, so it's a very young country and they didn't have to unlearn much. They were able to say, "Oh, OK, well, as we develop this, here's where the states are starting to trend in, Europe is starting to trend in, or Asia is starting to trend in, and we can just start there so we don't have to waste our time to unlearn the clamshell burger holders. We can just automatically go to a cardboard cup with a much smaller plastic lid, or a paper lid that goes on top of it." So, unlearning was not something they had to deal with.

Scott Swenson: Secondly, again, coming from a cultural difference, there's a huge vegetarian option. You mentioned earlier about vegetables trending, and vegetarian options being essential. Here, because the UAE is such a multicultural base, when it comes to population, there are people who, because of their cultural or religious backgrounds, are innately vegetarian. So, there are vegan and vegetarian options everywhere here on Yas Island, everywhere. It is unique to find someplace that doesn't. 

Scott Swenson: Plus, again, pork is not available in most places. Buying pork is sort of like, it used to be when you were buying drugs, you'd go into a back corner, the special little cordoned-off section of the butcher shop. It does have pork. You can get it, but in order to be culturally sensitive to those people who find pork offensive, they have made it a separate entity. You will rarely see pork on the menu in restaurants. For example, where I'm living, I have a breakfast buffet every morning, the sausage and the bacon, it's turkey bacon and chicken sausage. So, already there is a trend towards healthier food products because of the cultural elements that combine here in the UAE. There's always beans, there's always vegetables, there's always cheeses. So, vegetarian and/or vegan, and even some of the cheeses are vegan, are things that are commonplace because of the cultures that come together here. So, when we say trends in food, although not every trend that is coming to be in the US is already implemented here, but in these particular cases, because of the cultural jumpstart, they're already here. So I think that's great.

Philip Hernandez: Well, the final section from the keynote, really, was about marketing food. I'm going to combine this with the classes I went to because I went to all the marketing classes since that's kind of what I was there to do because I do marketing for my clients. So, that's what I went to. I think I could basically break it down into three elements that were echoed not just in the classes, but in the keynote. Element number one, remember that, as Scott does say, we are creatures that are most moved by stories, and you tell a much better story with images than you do with text. So, understand that when you communicate your food and your brand, you need to be able to communicate it with only images and then you can text from there, but image-centric is where we are. Number two is the first impressions, also as Scott has talked about, the first moment and the last moment of your dining is the thing that they're going to remember. The first impressions matter, and you need to put thought into crafting a first impression, not just of the experience as a whole, but of the food moment, the reveal. So, if it's a cocktail, it's when the cocktail is placed down to the customer, or when it's being crafted and given to them, or when it's the plating, this whole idea of the first impression is very important, and the impression they leave with it. 

Philip Hernandez: The third element is the focus that social media is not going anywhere. Understanding how your food translates into social media is critical for your success, and understanding working with influencers, working with vloggers, food tasters, and all those people, that's all part of this whole idea of, it's no longer only about the reviews on Yelp, it's expanded into people being able to share your food on social media, and influencers being able to talk about it. I think those elements were also echoed in the previous trade summit we went to with that, just some of those concepts about the images and whatnot. I think those are, again, going to take away for listeners, things that there's a lot of improvement that can be made with everyone across the board, from your haunts to your independent attractions, all the way up to your theme parks. Even just thinking about how important the imagery is, how important it is to sell the experiences when it comes to the food. 

Philip Hernandez: It's hard, especially with parks. I was just thinking about this, because at this point everyone does a food festival, right? You just think about when you're serving it to the person, it's usually on those cardboard boats, right? That experience is so far removed from the trailer for the food festival where it's a gorgeous background and everything looks so cool. So, I do think that there's some of this disconnect with the parks, also potentially with the restaurants. If somebody sets a dish in front of me that has a smudge on this on the rim I will clean it and then take a picture of it, I'm just saying.

Scott Swenson: That's because you're kind, Philip, not everybody will, and there are those people who will actually take a picture of the smudge.

Philip Hernandez: Yes, and zoom in on the smudge and be like, "UH!"

Scott Swenson: Well, and again, all of this goes back to many of the concepts that were part of fine dining. If you are sitting in a fine dining restaurant, when they set the plate in front of you they will then turn it one quarter so it faces you. That is a sense of presentation. That creates, not only a good look for the food, but also a first impression, and a first impression even for each course. When it comes to first impressions, one of the things that I experienced here for the very first time, is a smoked cocktail, I've never been through this. I know this goes on in the US as well, so this is nothing unique to this part of the world. It was served under a glass dome, and the dome was filled with smoke, which was pumped in with a gun, and then you lift it off, the smoke billows out, and there's this lovely cocktail sitting in the middle. So, that sense of arrival, we used to jokingly refer to it as, a vec show, so it's with a presentation flourish. That is super important, but it's something that's been around in fine dining forever, it's just getting more and more important now because the taste of food is important, but equally as important, I would say, is the experience of dining. That is true, not just of fine dining, but also of, I won't call it grab and go, but I will to a certain extent. 

Scott Swenson: One of the recent experiences here that I've noticed, and it's kind of frustrating, but I understand why it happens, everywhere from the mall to the mall food court to the theme park, if you walk up to a counter, all of the menu boards have been replaced with video monitors. They scroll through the menu with pictures of the food, not a list, but pictures thereof, and then they reinforce that with the printed menu that you can look at, if you choose to, so you don't have to wait for everything to scroll around and watch it again. So, the visuals are clearly something that are coming into their own forefront here, you've got to make the food look good. Then it has to carry through, going back to the story that you're telling, it has to carry through, "that's what I ordered up on the video monitor to here's what is delivered to me." You don't want it looking like it's on fine china with the sauce swirl, and then it gets handed to you on a paper napkin, that's a disconnect and it's going to disappoint your guests. So, I think that's important to recognize, and it's one of those things that I think continues to be, obviously from this keynote and from all of these classes, something that is incredibly important.

Scott Swenson: Finally, Instagram food porn is a real thing. People take pictures of their food and post it on their social media, even old guys like me who didn't grow up with social media. I did it just recently. I was in Vienna, I had Wiener Schnitzel for the first time in Vienna, I've had it before, but for the first time in Vienna. I was sitting in Cafe Mozart, and like you, Philip, I positioned my photo so you could see the sidewalk cafe ambiance in the background, and my Aperol Spritz sitting there and the Wiener Schnitzel. I had more people say, "oh, my gosh, it looks so good," and it was. But the fact that it looked so good, and then tasted so good, is what really made it impactful. So, I agree with all of these things 100%, and I've seen them just recently in my daily life.

Philip Hernandez: When I was in culinary school, as a chef's apprentice, my chef would always tell me, "you eat with your eyes." It's kind of like, there's a baseline, as in it needs to taste good, but most people's pallets are not refined enough to really pick up that. So, it's kind of like, the baseline needs to be, is it good? But does it look incredible? That will make up for the rest. That's always what we were trained on. That's why we were trained that it was so important to plate things properly and to make sure that the servers are putting something down with the presentation flourish. But I think you can carry that through, again, takeaways to our listeners, to the way that we're presenting food at our establishments. 

Philip Hernandez: I think the other big takeaway that I had, and here's where it jumps into me and my takeaways versus the summary of the presentation. My takeaway in this is that a huge opportunity exists here for attractions to create novel dining experiences. We talked about this when we talked about all of the food and how Universal Horror Nights now has all of these pop-up places and everyone makes a big deal about all the food. But, you know, it's because I think the opportunity is there to create something novel, and I think it's that intersection. I'm sure Scott can speak about this, but where is the intersection between making something novel and operationally effective? I think that is growing. I think that it is possible for, even a haunt, to do a cocktail, a smoked cocktail. I think that's possible. I think that if you spun it in a Halloween way, then not only would it sell, but you could charge a premium for it, but also, then again, it's about the marketing. Again, people want to share novel experiences. So, if they have the world's biggest scone kind of thing, or the biggest chocolate cookie, the cookie the size of your head, for a Christmas experience, these are the things that people want to talk about and they just want to show off. I think that's a big opportunity that we have going forward. 

Philip Hernandez: To that point, there were a few products, I think the top products if I were to give a list from the Expo floor, all have to do with this theme, and I thought there were four of them out of the entire show floor. First is Cookie Shots. There is a company selling Cookie Shots. So, they are shot glasses that are cookies. You can customize them to be any decoration, you can fill them with hot or cold beverages and you can ice it, whatever. But essentially, you're just ordering these blank cookies and you can decorate them or customize them how you want. That's portable, it's stores easy, it's an easy thing you can do almost anywhere. 

Philip Hernandez: The next thing is Spiked Whipped Cream. So, basically whipped cream that has vodka in it, or some sort of alcohol in it. So again, you could add that to the cookie, you could add it to almost anything that you could have whipped cream on, and suddenly it's alcoholic. Here's a piece of pie, now it has alcohol. Here's a regular cocktail, now it has alcohol. It's a really easy way to add that Spiked Whipped Cream. 

Scott Swenson: Here's hot cocoa, now it has alcohol.

Philip Hernandez: Yes, exactly, and it looks great. Again, that's the thing, you can see this spiked whipped cream on it and you can put some flavor sprinkles on it, and it looks great. The third item is a Flavor Blaster, which is actually a derivative of the smoked cocktail, Scott. It's like a Flavor Blaster as in you can put bubbles of fog on top of a cocktail that don't pop until the customer pokes them. So, in this instance, you're giving the agency to the customer. So, the bartender puts the bubble on there with a little mini bubble machine, and they can have scents as well, so it can explode in a scented mist, basically.

Scott Swenson: Love that, that's great.

Philip Hernandez: The last thing is robots. I saw a lot of robots, delivery robots, robots that shake your martinis, and that make your smoothies. Right now it's a novelty, but I think it's also an efficiency thing. I ate at a restaurant in Little Tokyo here in Los Angeles, and my curry was delivered by a robot, and I was taking pictures of the robot and not the curry.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, it's interesting because I was, just not too long ago, at Global Village in Dubai, and they had a robot ice cream machine. So, in essence, and yes, it was 100% novelty, but it had a line. It was a vending machine with a line. Instead of just plopping out a prepackaged ice cream cone, the robot actually assembled the ice cream in front of you, and it was soft serve so it was real easy, but it was a robot that assembled it and served it to you. Obviously, it was the experience of the delivery method that made it so interesting, and the ice cream was good. I mean, it was frozen custard, so it was good, but it was the delivery method that created the line. Which I thought was absolutely, wonderfully brilliant. 

Scott Swenson: It's funny, the cookie shots, I think it's the next generation of the taco salad bowl, it's now the dessert version of the taco salad bowl. The one that hit me the most, and again, just recently experienced something very similar to it, is when you said gives agency to the dining person with the flavor blasters. I recently went to a, what I'm believing to be is a pop-up dining experience, called Seven Paintings in Dubai. The concept was brilliant, the execution was good, but the things that really stuck out in my mind were not necessarily the conceptual things that involve the media, because it was all about projections they were projecting on your dining surface. So, each course was based on a different famous painting, and you learn a little bit from the screen at the end, which was a talking Mona Lisa painting, and then from a little tiny artist who appeared on your table via projection, and then they would project on your placemat, on your food, on creating a table runner. So, the entire look of the table changed from course to course to course, which was really cool. 

Scott Swenson: The things that stuck with me the most were the interactive food moments. For example, our salad was celebrating the work of Pollock, so very abstract. We were given a clean, white, sort of silicone placemat, three different colored dressings, and paintbrushes. We were told to do the Sydney Pollock painting on the white placemat, and then they delivered, basically, a bouquet of greens that we would then pick up, dip into our painting, and eat them. So, it was very, very interactive. The dessert, though, was Salvador Dali-inspired, which I totally was impressed with. You were delivered a box, and inside the box was a potato. This is going to sound bizarre, but it was a potato which was sliced and then had a caramelized brulee on top, and you were told, it was all about the beach, to take the tears of the woman on the beach, which was actually a mister of olive oil, and spray that across, then mix in the foam from the sea, and the foam was actually a whipped cream or a custard, that you mixed into the potato with the brulee and the olive oil, and then sprinkle it with the sand from the beach, which was crystallized sugar. So, you created your own sort of custard, potato, dessert, thing, but it was all very interactive, and it was sort of like the escape room version of dining. So, the idea of putting everything together and making it so that the diner does that last assembly and has that last bit of control, it's not just you eat with your eyes, it's you eat with your whole experience. I thought that was really cool. So, anything you can do to do that is, I think, really beneficial. 

Scott Swenson: What is also beneficial is if I look at my timer and I realize that we have already gone over our 30 minutes. Sorry, I kind of commandeered that, but it was a really fun experience. If you have the opportunity to do Seven Paintings, check it out, because it will be fun. So, on behalf of Philip and myself, Scott Swenson, this has been Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. Please make sure that you find us, we are now living on our own independent feed on pretty much every network out there, especially YouTube, and if you want to try to find us, just go to and there are links that will take you to everywhere we now appear. Once again, thanks for listening another week and we will see you next week.


Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.