This Chinese bakery psychoanalises why we share food photos on social media

With some auteur restaurants chiding users for engaging in phone use, a high-end dessert bar in China takes its cue from immersive theatre in order to provide a visual, touchable experience that goes beyond what Weibo can offer.

Shenzhen – Instead of decrying the large amount of diners who insist on photographing their food before eating it, to the detriment of the hospitality experience, the team behind Waterfrom Design embraced and one-upped this tendency. ‘We can see that people long for a sense of achievement that they get from putting real-life materials on virtual platforms,’ explained the firm’s design director, Nic Lee. ‘They convert the accolade they get in the digital world into self-confidence in the real world.’ So, capitalizing on this psychological insight, the team turned a commission for a dessert bar in Shenzhen into a physical food lab that feels like a virtual photograph of itself.

Doko Bar is, therefore, an immersive theatre of sorts where experiences are pre-framed to look like scenes displayed on a social media screen. When other designers respond to the consumer thirst for Weibo-friendly dining spaces, they do so with a nearly cynical buffet of shapes, colours and materials that effectively pop when looked through a lens. Waterfrom, instead, has earnestly created a live image that allows for diners to be observed and admired in real time.

Their inspiration came from New York City’s Fuerzabruta, an immersive theatre experience where the audience stands within – or sometimes under – a dancing troupe that defies physics to the sound of Argentinean drums. So here the ground floor revolves around a chef bar, but the first floor acts like the floor-cum-stage of Fuerzabruta, where guests become part of the show: instead of booths and walls, diners are separated by 10,000 nylon threads that form a semi-transparent shield, with music linked to the serving of desserts during a choreographed food show.

The result? ‘During this show, [we’ve seen that] everyone finds a creative role to play,’ said Lee. ‘The unceasing play of living and eating becomes a reality: people in the theatre are interpreting their food.’

Photographing food for social media purposes has been known to create sensorial detachment from the dining experience itself. Doko shows a way in which purpose and direct interaction can be brought back to the process, while still conserving its photogenic qualities.

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