Eye on Experience: Kellogg's NYC Cafe
Kellogg’s NYC Cafe is the latest entry in brand-led culinary experiences in a city that is always on the hunt for the most novel and noteworthy ways to eat. Our team was curious how story, space and service and spectacle come together to deliver — or not — a surprising take on their iconic brands.
While we understood the gist of the experience — taking your cereal bowl to the next level — other details are pretty scarce so we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. Social media is filled with posts from actual customers, which is a nice way to to feel like the enthusiasm is bubbling up in real-time. But we were skeptical that the cafe would be much more than sugar-coated nostalgia.
The cafe is pretty heavy-handed in its mission to advertise, and yet details like whimsical custom upholstery and strategic modern touches make for an eclectic but homey brand experience. The Instagram station really speaks to the mindset that food is becoming first and foremost a social prop in the lives we wish to broadcast, and becomes a way to tell our own stories.
Bright and welcoming, iconic and memorable. Murals combine product branding and NYC references to greet you. Seating is offered either at long communal tables, conversational areas that double as branded “living rooms,” or comfy swings facing Union Square. A child-friendly play area is tucked away in the back, and the Instagram station and other photo-friendly areas act as adult-friendly play areas. The space is so cavernous and some of the finishes so cold the a lack of energy was noted. The design of the space can definitely work against itself in this way, and all the features could potentially feel like lame gestures instead of moments of engagement.
It was unclear if one goes to the bar area or counter first, if orders are in some way like a cereal version of Chipotle, or self-served the entire process. The signature bowl ingredients are listed so if wasn’t obvious if they are made by the staff or if they were helpful suggestions and we were in charge. The staff is accommodating, but this is a moment that should be the high point of the experience as you consider your perfect bowl of cereal, not one of the low points. Abundant choice can be paralyzing, and a roaming concierge or smart signage could solve this easily.
The cafe has come along in the middle of a food trend we call “Frankenfooding” where lots of components pile on — whether they belong together or not — for one gloriously gluttonous creation that begs for the photo caption, “can you believe I’m about to eat this?!” Your own creation is rightfully the highlight of this experience.
The lack of expected energy, the frustration of not being quite sure how the experience should work, and feeling momentarily paralyzed by choice starts the experience on a down note. it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the journey to recover from this moment so people will consider a repeat visit. If the low point is the most memorable, then the brand has lost.
The high points correspond to the time between creating the bowls and sitting down to enjoy them. The living room spaces are the perfect setting to eat and talk. Gathering around a table is one of the most familiar — and familial — acts we share as humans and Kellogg’s Cafe does this part very well, while enjoying something exciting of our own making.
Overall, the experience successfully balances and plays with memory and branded spectacle, and does it well. The seating areas do a great job of facilitating a sense of togetherness, and playful areas highlight the customer’s creativity for all to enjoy. However — there’s always a however! — none of us rushed to tell others to go there immediately even though we all agreed we would be back. The most social media savvy amongst us has yet to post about it despite a whole piece of the journey focusing solely on that activity.
And this is ultimately where Kellogg’s NYC falls short. It’s a really good experience, a repeatable one, but it has yet to find a way to be become irresistibly contagious.