Posts Tagged ‘Otarian’

The world’s first low carbon restaurant

January 16, 2011

Being a sucker for all things green and someone who does a lot of work with restaurant brands, when hungry in Soho yesterday I decided to try Otarian, ‘the world’s first low carbon restaurant’, which I read a bit about when it opened recently. There are two in London and two in Manhattan.

otarian restaurant

 It’s totally veggie, because of the massive environmental impact of the livestock industry. Fair enough. And the food was really tasty – I had the Tex Mex burger and sweet potato fries and they tasted very fresh, handmade and high quality.

But it just didn’t quite work for me. The restaurant interior was very basic and ‘fast food’ yet my meal was £8.  There was no soul to it at all, and I don’t think that was just because they are quieter on the weekends. It feels like it’s trying too hard to make a point, and has failed to deliver the vital enjoyable atmosphere that makes you want to be there, and which is necessary to offset their worthiness.

They have lots of collateral explaining their point of view – for example:

 

I think the claims about how much carbon is saved if you just ate one Otarian meal a week, or if everyone switched to the Otarian version of a meat dish just once, are the right way to go: being realistic about how often people might go and not assuming our eating habits are about to suddenly transform. However there are also more extreme claims in their animated film along the lines of ‘if every American gave up meat the grain saved would feed Africa’. Well possibly but I think that strays into implying the brand is a too dark green for even the more enlightened lunch buyer.

I’m not sure they need to go as far as talking about how wheat-free they are or that their bouillon only contains natural ingredients. Or to have this kind of bollocksy stuff on their website as their vision:

“Otarian is based on my passion for, and dream of, a sustainable planet, and this vision is paramount to the concept and implementation of the Otarian philosophy. It is the tangible display of my hope in the intelligence of human kind to understand, accept and adapt to a more sustainable way.”
“We know that to save one life is to save a world entire; that one seed holds within the possibility of regenerating all the world’s forests.”

Plus as far as I understand it’s incredibly difficult to measure the carbon footprint of individual products so I feel rather sceptical about how they know the carbon footprint of my burger is 1.72kg which saves 0.83kg versus ‘a Tex Mex burger’ – presumably a meat one but which? 

Like so many brands I think Otarian has obsessed about the rational and the tangible and failed to understand the emotions of brand personality and the intangibles of brand experience. And has slightly disappeared up its own arse, which also often happens with owner-entrepreneurs.

Which is a shame because the food is good and their intentions undeniably laudable.  It feels like there’s an opportunity for a charming veggie version of Leon, with a total commitment to sustainability throughout their business and brand but without making offputting claims about being  ‘the world’s first low carbon restaurant’ or product-specific carbon savings. Perspective required.