Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Munich in Germany and whilst there I stopped by one of my favourite Italian-themed restaurants – Vapiano.
Although the German restaurant chain has expanded into other countries (including the UK) over the last few years, I had never encountered Vapiano until I first visited Munich back in 2010. Apart from the great food, atmosphere and location of the Munich restaurant, I also like going to Vapiano because I am intrigued by their innovative customer experience!
What is immediately different from many other restaurants is what you encounter when you first enter the restaurant.
After being greeted by an attendant you’re provided with a chip card which is used to store information on everything you order. This takes away the need for wait staff and allows the customer to order what they want, when they want.
The layout of the restaurant is quite expansive and furnished with tall tables and stools as well as benches for groups to eat and drink together. It’s fairly minimalist and yet has a comfortable, friendly feel to it at the same time.
There is a ‘light’, fun atmosphere to the premises, which is well lit and decorated with black and white photography of Italian style and fashion.
Where the customer experience gets interesting is how you order your food and what happens afterwards.
Behind a long bar that stretches across the entire top floor of the restaurant is a number of cooks standing by waiting to take your order. Once you tell them what you want, they prepare your meal right in front of your eyes!
What I like most about this experience is that the customer can see exactly how their food is being cooked and prepared. All ingredients are fresh, from the pasta to the sauce, and you can tell the cook directly what you want adding or taking away (for example extra chillies, garlic or parmesan cheese).
By cooking someone’s meal right in front of them gives the customer a ‘behind-the-scenes’ feeling and allows them to not only see but smell all the ingredients come together.
Along with the advantages are some notable downsides.
The restaurant can get very busy during peak periods (weekend lunchtimes and evenings especially) and when this happens queues form behind the ordering bar. Because everyone’s meals are individually prepared, there can be a fairly long wait should there be several people in front of you.
Vapiano are also very strict about the chip card and staff can get annoyed should you stray toward the exit if you haven’t paid!
I like Vapiano because it offers something different to anything I’ve experienced in the UK. It helps that I’m a big fan of Italian food but I’m also an advocate for good food, too, and that’s exactly what you get at Vapiano.
I’m also an admirer of interesting customer experiences. Although Vapiano’s doesn’t appeal to everyone, it nevertheless works because it breaks from the norm and gives customers a dining experience that is unique, fun and they won’t find everywhere else.