Experiential Analysis: Soul Gastrolounge

On a recent visit to Soul Gastrolounge in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood to meet a friend for dinner and discussion, I immediately took note of the restaurant’s seating arrangement – a combination of booths and tables, some artfully arranged into seating groups, others within mere inches of another patron’s table.

Close tables encourage conversation across diners.

Close tables encourage conversation across diners.


A comfortable furniture grouping promotes relaxation and conversation.

While initially curious as to whether we’d be able to engage in conversation without either inadvertently including the table next to us or their conversation’s volume dominating our own, I noticed the conversations were, as defined by Ray Oldenburg, “lively, scintillating, colorful and engaging” (Oldenburg, 1999). He describes conversation as the detail that cannot more clearly indicate a third place.

The couple seated next to us appeared to be in their late 60s or early 70s. As the proximity of our table would determine, we quickly engaged in conversation and learned the couple frequented Soul throughout the week, making it their third place beyond home and church. They offered suggestions as to what to order from the restaurant’s famed and expansive menu as well as set our expectations – the pork belly tacos would be served with giant cubes of watermelon nestled on top – and otherwise engaged in friendly, interesting conversation throughout the duration of our meals.

While difficult to state with certainty based solely on my observations, it appeared as if strangers were willing to become friends at Soul, actively engaging in conversation and banter either when seated at the bar, a table or a living room-esque grouping. Encouragement of dialogue through proxemics helps shape Soul as a third place for patrons, permitting open, spirited dialogue with diners who may just turn into newfound friends.

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Experiential Analysis: Cowfish

After a tough week of preparing for and executing a 5 page paper within two hours as part of our Comm 680 comprehensive exam, I was ravenous. Perhaps the act of writing fast and furiously had stoked an appetite or my need to gorge was tied to consuming breakfast on the go and in bar form. Either way, The Cowfish sushi and burger bar, located in south Charlotte, was calling my name.

Digital tools shape the user experience

We were struck by the restaurant’s use of digital tools to streamline and enhance the user experience immediately upon entering the restaurant. The hostess asked for our name and number of people in our party; when sharing this information, she quickly typed it into an iPad running Nextable, a recently implemented restaurant reservation system application.


The Nextable system sends a text to let you know when your table is ready.

Nextable captured our name, mobile phone number and number of people in our party, eliminating the need for a traditional paper and pen reservation system. Once our table was ready, Nextable sent a text to the phone number we provided to inform us of our awaiting table and impending deliciousness.

Automating the reservation process not only helps Cowfish staff manage the volume of diners quickly and efficiently, but as one of the numerous diners awaiting a table, I appreciated the quick response and the freedom to roam about the shopping center while we waited for our table. With more traditional reservation systems, the sensors provided to awaiting guests only work within a certain range of the restaurant, tying guests to the waiting area lest they miss the victorious buzzing of the sensor alerting them of their table’s availability. 

Social media tools create engagement

The text also encourages the patrons to share their Cowfish experience via Twitter. Upbeat and fun, Cowfish creates a positive and friendly voice when communicating with patrons, as noted in the language used in the text and to encourage our engagement with the restaurant’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. Intrigued, I tweeted an Instagram of the heaping plate of fried pickles we ordered and commented on the bounty of deliciousness. Within minutes, Cowfish favorited the tweet; a response that helps create or strengthen rapport between the restaurant and its patrons.

Also active on Facebook, Cowfish posts frequent status updates, photos and upcoming events.  With 7,153 “likes,” Cowfish uses Facebook to extend its personality to the digital space, encouraging user-generated content while creating a place for patrons to share recommendations or learn when the next cooking class will take place with one of the restaurant’s chefs.

Use of digital tools such as Nextable can greatly streamline operations and enhance the patron’s experience – less harried hosts and hostesses can serve in different capacities on staff and guests’ expectations are set and mitigated. Encouragement of social media participation serves as an additional platform to share the restaurant’s fun and upbeat voice, in turn creating a positive affinity toward the restaurant that may likely result in repeat business or increased patronage from those wanting to see for themselves what all the digital fuss was about.

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