How AR is whetting restaurant patrons’ appetites

Startup Kabaq has developed a highly realistic method for presenting food that looks good enough to eat.

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AR hamburger, from Kabaq

AR hamburger, from Kabaq

To some marketers, augmented reality may seem like a solution looking for a problem.

But a New York City-based AR-based firm is finding at least one market that is hungry for this kind of visualization: the food industry.

Founded in 2016, Kabaq has optimized a proprietary way to capture, generate and render 3D models of food that many observers find realistic. CEO Mike Cadoux said in an interview that his company took two years to perfect its proprietary technique because it knew that cuisine “would have a future.”

One file, many platforms. The AR food imagery was launched in the first quarter of last year, on a menu for the Bareburger locations in New York. A dish is photographed in high-resolution from a variety of angles, and then Kabaq optimizes it so that one file, in any of four AR formats, can be distributed to Facebook, Snapchat, any website or app.

Kabaq can handle the shoot, or one of several image-capturing trained subcontractors can, or there are tutorials for do-it-yourself. Cadoux said his platform might be entirely self-service by the end of this year, so his company wouldn’t have to provide any professional services for optimization.

Kabaq has developed a menu application for use on a tablet or phone, where the food imagery can be dropped in. Cadoux said about 15 food establishments are using the tablet menu app, while another five dozen or so restaurants worldwide are employing his company’s imagery, in some way.

“Zoom in, put it down.” Restaurant chain Bareburger is using the Kabaq images in three ways. Snap QR codes on printed menus in the three dozen locations across the country let users see AR imagery of burgers and sides on their smartphones, by pointing their camera at the Snap code while they’re inside their Snapchat app. They are also used in a Bareburger application, which will soon be made available on the company’s web site and in upcoming kiosks.

District Marketing Manager Hadi Rashid said that Bareburger’s customer base takes its Instagram images seriously, and AR imagery is the next step. He said that patrons “eat with their eyes first,” and added that AR imagery boosts the impact when users are ordering outside of the restaurant, such as from home.

Rashid said that, compared to high-res still or even video imagery, AR renditions of the burger and side dishes have a tactile quality. “You can zoom in, [pick it up and] put it down, turn it around,” he said. As a result of the imagery, he said, Bareburger has seen a three percent increase in burgers sold at its restaurants.

“Brings designs to life.” The Kabaq imagery is also used by Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan, to promote its Cake Salon of tiered wedding and other custom cakes.

“We’ve found it a particularly helpful tool when meeting with couples to discuss their wedding cake designs,” VP of Public Relations Sara Gramling said via email, “as the technology brings the designs to life, so to speak.”

Because the use is targeted and not across the full menu, Gramling said there are no stats yet to indicate if Kabaq helps make the sale. Cadoux said that some restaurants have reported a 20 percent boost in sales when desserts are presented in AR images.

He noted that, although 85 percent of the objects his company creates in AR are food dishes, menus are not the most common way in which they are viewed. Rather, they more often show up in ad campaigns on Facebook, Snapchat, and elsewhere.

“Push the boundaries” of pizza. Snapchat has used Kabaq’s AR images in a campaign for Domino’s pizza, which Snapchat Global Head of Creative Strategy Jeff Miller said via email was an effort “to find a way to push the boundaries of how pizza could be ordered.”

He said Kabaq was brought in because they are “known for their incredibly-realistic AR food creations.” Snapchat users could place a Kabaq-created AR pizza in their Snap and send it to a friend, and could tap the image to place an order, which took place inside Domino’s app.

Why you should care. Now supported on both iOS and Android, augmented reality could outgrow its VR sibling, because no special headset is needed and the world is enhanced, not replaced.

While that means AR is less isolating than VR, it doesn’t guarantee the must-have marketing use-cases. If AR imagery presents delicious-looking food, however, that solves a problem menus and websites have had: how to make the product look tempting. Food is notoriously difficult to push through 2D media, which is why food stylists make a good living doing commercials.

Although food may be one killer use, it remains to be seen if making food look tasty via AR is just a novelty, or whether it becomes the essential form of depiction.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Barry Levine
Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.

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