As the cost-of-living crisis triggers a dip in ‘dine out’ budgets, restaurants are reconfiguring kitchens into gastro-laboratories and innovating fresh ‘at home’ offerings. From freezer-friendly dinner dumplings and finish-at-home ramen bowls to tins of chai and pouches of ‘pour over’ curries, familiar favourites and iconic establishments alike are dishing out an expansive range of supermarket shelf-stockers, hoping to bring the high street into homes.

Culinary Craftsmanship

‘Dining in’ can lack an epicurean flair without the warmth of a chef-prepared meal. So how have restaurants communicated the chef’s touch in their ‘dine at home’ offerings?

For Zizzi at Home, a selection of frozen favourites from the Italian-inspired restaurant chain, packs are anchored by the imperfect oblong of its logo and crooked lines of the navy banners, subtly reinforcing the ‘hand-stretched’ quality of Zizzi’s pizza bases. Opting out of polished visuals, consumers are instead greeted with pack-wide photography amplifying the honest imperfections of these handcrafted pizzas, coding a chef-made artisanship that challenges dominant consumer perceptions and sets them apart from other factory-produced frozen pizzas.

Similarly, New York ramen bar Momofuku has employed scribbles of Sharpie-style lettering and painter’s tape-inspired labels to complete the bottles of its kombu-steeped soy sauce and chilli crunch jars. Taking inspiration from quart containers of finishing oils and herb dressings, often found on stainless-steel counters of restaurant kitchens, the packs convey restaurant-grade quality with small-batch craft, empowering consumers to ‘become the chef’ and replicate the restaurant dishes at home.  

Uncompromising Consistency

Though building distinctiveness may seem daunting for restaurants hoping to break into the crowded FMCG space, casual dining restaurants such as itsu and YO! Sushi have successfully leveraged their high street iconography, adapting their already culturally resonant symbols to new formats.

Earmarked with its signature pink and yellow butterfly, itsu [grocery] takes the restaurant’s classics to supermarkets around the country. The white packs are paired with the brand’s rounded, sans serif, and lowercase lettering and stylised with its identifiable apostrophes (rice’noodles, umami’meatballs, miso’easy) – demonstrating continuity with the design and taste of its restaurants’ menus. While Japanese kanji and kana scripts and ‘Ukiyo-e’-style illustrations furnish new formats like pot noodles and boxed broths, promising consumers the same light and healthful Asian-inspired flavours that have been tailored for home cooking ease.

YO! Sushi has also built on its existing brand assets in the pack designs of its ‘at home’ sauces and marinades, the kaleidoscopic hues and textured brushstrokes of its pouches an ode to the rainbow-coloured plates and placemats at its restaurants, while also lending as visual metaphors for the bold, complex flavours packed within. Punctuated with top-down shots of prepared dishes and straight-talking language such as ‘coat & cook’ and ‘pour over’, the packs communicate a plain, no-frills simplicity fit for the home chef.

Expansive Storytelling

Still, others have leveraged their product lines as an opportunity to extend their ‘worlds’, in the next chapter of their brand storytelling.

Indian restaurant Dishoom has developed a range including bottled cocktail mixes, tin-boxfuls of masala chai, and jars of chutneys and jams, all wrapped in dusty shades of blues and oranges and an eclectic mix of calligraphic typefaces, capitalised serif styles, and botanical drawings. Evoking the old-school Irani cafes of colonial-era Bombay that the establishment has taken inspiration from, the pack designs transport consumers to the heady record-playing, incense-filled dining halls that the institution has become synonymous with.

Likewise, in a nod to the convenience store, Taiwanese diner Bao has launched its ‘Convni’ online shop. Featuring a selection of ‘Emergency Noodles’, ‘Cocktail Rescues’, and hot sauce-filled squeezy bottles, the playfully named products and pack formats draw on cultural meanings associated with the corner shop (e.g. midnight snacks and last-minute booze runs), and leans further into the restaurant’s ‘grab and go’-led menu.

3 key takeouts for brands:

  1. Adopting codes of craftsmanship on ‘dine at home’ packs can assure consumers of a culinary warmth and signal premiumness.
  2. Leaning into distinctive brand equity indicates consistent quality, a sign to consumers no compromise in taste and experience whether dining at your restaurant or by way of supermarket shelves.
  3. Recognise your ‘dine in’ range as a chance to explore and expand your brand world, and an opportunity to reinforce your brand’s cultural relevance.

Aaron Chan, Semiotician

Doorstep Dinners: How restaurants are reinventing ‘dine at home’ experiences