March 2012 sees the launch of the unique online reservations experience for The Fat Duck. Guests dining at Heston Blumenthal’s renowned restaurant in Bray, will be sent an invitation in anticipation of their visit, allowing them to enter a secret location to view an exclusive animated world of The Fat Duck. The tour ends with a trip to a make-believe sweetshop. Actor John Hurt narrates as the shopkeeper, as listeners journey through The Fat Duck imaginary sweetshop, evoking the guests own childhood memories of excitement, discovery and expectation.
‘The Fat Duck is the type of restaurant you may only ever eat in once’, explains Heston, ‘and I wanted to create that almost childlike feeling of anticipation beforehand. In order to achieve this, I needed to push the dining experience beyond the traditional time we spend inside the restaurant at the table. If I could use a metaphor to explain the feeling I hoped to create for my guests, it would be ‘like a kid in a sweetshop’. So with that in mind an idea started to develop’.
The concept has actually been in development for some years, as Heston wanted to counterbalance the extremely busy reservation process. The Fat Duck has 15 tables seating 42 guests but can receive over 30,000 calls a day. Guests can book on line or by phone and bookings are available three months in advance, however, in many cases it can still be a frustrating experience. Now, once the reservation is made the fun can immediately begin. Some diners may have already experienced the Sweetshop Bag element of the menu; containing caramels with edible wrappers, the smell of a sweetshop, aerated chocolate, coconut tobacco and Alice in Wonderland edible Queen of Hearts playing cards. Now the whole project has finally come together.
Working with The Neighbourhood – a Manchester based creative studio – Heston’s idea was to create an Alice in Wonderland fantasy animation world, reminiscent of ‘falling down the rabbit hole’. The creative team at The Neighbourhood worked closely with him over the last few years to develop the sounds and visuals of the animation. The Neighbourhood also worked with Zelig Sound – a sonic branding house – to create the cutting-edge binaural element that brings the sweetshop sounds to life and adds a depth and reality to the voice of John Hurt. Although not necessary to hear the narration, the use of headphones by the listener increases the full impact of the experience. John Hurt’s narration, written by Dave Bevan from Manchester’s LOVE, is to be enjoyed at the end of the animation when the screen goes to black. The experience is then in the mind of the diner.
Approximately one month before arriving at the restaurant, guests will be sent an email invitation offering them access to the animation. This links into the restaurant’s reservation system and was created and built by LOVE. Of course viewing the animation is not compulsory and is only offered to guests; however, access must be used wisely, as the link only allows a total of four visits. The suggestion is to use some before and some after.
The film then takes the viewer through a fantasy world of dishes they will experience when they arrive in Bray. Once at the restaurant, subtle reference will be made to the sweetshop during the meal, triggering once more the emotions of excitement. This culminates at the end of the menu when a pink and white, candy-striped sweetshop bag from the animation is served. The bags contains The Fat Duck version of some iconic sweets and is also referenced by John Hurt in his narration. For a link to an example of the animations and intro please click here: