The sixth sense - from a gastronomic perspective
What makes an exceptional gastronomic experience and how do we in the industry invoke the spirit we wish to share with our guests?
A restaurant or a bar is a physical space where hospitality is provided to paying customers. The products offered are simply gastronomy and service combined. It’s a place where you take a break from “real life”, where you can exhale and forget about obligations for a moment, and as such a place, it plays an important role in society.
Being a bartender is to be a craftsman and an entertainer but most importantly a communicator. What we communicate is the message of the establishment we’re working in - if the message is strong, and I’m able to make it accessible through the service I provide - magic can happen!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the key to a successful bar-concept and I believe it is to provide a balanced stimuli of our five senses; sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. With the right service on top, the synergy manifests as a contact with our “sixth sense” and this contact represents the very essence, or the spirit, of the experience. When we manage to tap in to this frequency in the bar, guests and staff together, I often get goosebumps. I see that it’s my job to help our guests to get there; to simply indulge in a “here and now” experience they’ll remember and most likely want to come back to again and again.
The empiricist says all valid knowledge of reality must be based on experience, or a posteriori, which means that through our senses we incorporate knowledge of the world that we interpret and then, in retrospect, form the base upon which we build our perception of reality. It is our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin that process the information around us, and we who work in gastronomy must claim all these sensory organs (not just the nose and mouth), because any restaurant or bar wants to provide its guests with a good overall-impression, or in other words: a well balanced view of reality.
I want you to get an insight into my reasoning when it comes to the five senses in relation to the restaurant/bar. Here is my thought process…
How is the restaurant decorated? Is the venue designed in Scandinavian minimalism or have you ended up in a Mexican taqueria? What’s the actual look on the bar itself? Is the back bar (the space along the wall) arranged on shelves with bottles on display, or is it a low back bar where they’ve used the wall above to show artwork, for example? How is the room and the bar itself illuminated? Is the venue clean?
What kind of music is being played and does it fit the place? What’s the tone and general volume in the room? A "fine dining tone" on the taqueria, is not very likely or suitable. Or is it? Does the kitchen make a lot of noise? Do the staff speak or scream at one another? Are you afraid to talk or laugh too loudly? What sounds do you pick up from the bar?
All rooms have a scent. How does it smell inside the restaurant? Does it smell from the kitchen? Is there any fragrances of fresh citrus from the bar? Does it smell of smoke or any other unpleasant scents?
How does the products of the establishment taste? This applies to everything from the water to the food and beverages. Is there a theme? Is there a bar-snack menu with a representative selection which also suits the drinks?
How is the temperature in the room? Is there a drag from the windows? Are the radiators on maximal heating? Are the chairs comfortable to sit in? What’s the texture of the table tops and the bar counter? How heavy is the cutlery and how pleasant are the glasses to drink from?
To look closer at the actual bartending: how does it sound when the bartender works? What sound does his or her shaking/stirring make? The sound when the glass is placed on the bar counter, does it appeal to you? How does the bartender appear when they work and what are the tools they use? Is there fire involved? Is ice being carved? What’s the look of the drink placed in front of you? What’s the color if it, the garnish (decoration) and what type of glass has been chosen? How does the drink smell? Can you pick up orange, lemon or other citrus? Does it smell of mint, basil, coriander or other fresh herbs? What kind of spicy elements can you detect? How does the glass feel? Is it well chilled? What’s the flavour-profile of the drink and is it well balanced? Is the fruit juice fresh or from concentrate? Does the flavour expand or change in any way from when the liquid first touches your taste buds? Does the flavour decrease over time, or does the drink keep the same quality all the way through? And most importantly: do you enjoy it?
We are a collection of our past experiences, and the aestheticism that the bar and/or restaurant provides in terms of a concept, gastronomy and service, basically tickles our imagination. Stimulating the five senses in order to reach our sixth sense is about getting in touch with a world that you can relate to where phenomena such as nostalgia, cultural association, expectation, surprise, pleasure and various emotions of different character may run freely. It invokes our collective consciousness - the realm of spirits. It is precisely this contact, these crucial factors I just mentioned, that enable us to feel we are “here and now” experiencing gastronomic pleasure at its highest - and that’s what we all strive for.
Every time I step into a restaurant or a bar, my sensory organs are put on high tension. I judge, and at the same time, I let myself be swept along. I know the hard work required of restaurant owners and staff for making the whole thing work so I am diplomatic in mediating between my senses and the machinery of the business, and I urge you also to be. Come with open minds, have a little patience, but feel free to indulge and take what’s yours, because you know what? The vast majority of us who work in gastronomy take pleasure in serving others. The bottom line is: we wish to look after your needs. We want to make you happy!
Text by Tina Shine
Photography by Fan Wu