More than meatballs: The Dining Club by IKEA

IKEA may be famous for their meatballs, but they’ve been working on a food point of view that goes beyond what they serve to hungry shoppers (and bickering families) in store.

The new IKEA Dining Club is a part-café-part-showroom-part-classroom concept, open for two weeks from the 10th September in Shoreditch. Its battle cry is “to celebrate the joy of cooking together,” no matter your confidence or competence in the kitchen.

This pop up experience is focused on food, with all merchandising spelling out trend stories and product innovations relevant to growing, preparing, cooking, eating and hosting.

A central DIY restaurant idea also offers guests the chance to prepare and host their own dinner party on site. After all, IKEA reasons, food is an essential part of ‘the wonderful everyday’ they are trying hard to be a trusted part of.

We went along to a ‘food for thought’ workshop, hosted by IKEA project manager, Tanja Dolphin to hear more about IKEA’s food direction.

Tanja shared recent campaigns that encouraged us to strive for less-than-perfect dinner parties; to stop taking pictures of our food; and to come out of the pantry and share our food confessions with the world (tipping cheap wine into an expensive bottle, anyone?). Essentially, IKEA wants us to stress less, cook more, and spend more time together around the table.

So far, so wholesome. Tanja went on to explain how IKEA wants to fit into this picture. We heard about the impressive ethnographic work the retailer does in-house, visiting 2,000 homes every year to see how people use their kitchens: counting pots and pans, raiding fridges and shifting through cutlery drawers to work out common challenges and opportunities for new products. Unsurprisingly, finding the matching lid to that lunchbox is what drives us mad the most, according to their research.

IKEA uses these insights to develop products that answer real customer challenges. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. For kitchens, that means anything that makes enjoying food together easier, from modular kitchens to mini greenhouses, smart waste disposal to sensible storage and back again. The retailer is also making efforts to ensure all their production lines are as sustainable as possible – even if it means not selling cutlery for three years to ensure factory workers are getting a fair deal and sanitary working conditions.

After the workshop, we went to enjoy lunch at the café (yes, meatballs.) The space is decked out with simple tables and chipboard floors, and supported by a smorgasbord of Swedish favourites, including smoked elk, which we didn’t sample. The café also had a small but tempting stock-cupboard retail offer, which was attracting just as many browsers as the main showroom.

As a pop up concept, IKEA’s Dining Room is a brilliant example of an initiative that works both ways for retailers and consumers. Data capture opportunities (analogue and digital) and workshops help to enrich the retailer’s view of consumers and provides a host of content for future campaigns, as well as shifting IKEA’s territory in the public mind away from “just” flat-pack furniture. As for consumers, did we mention the meatballs?

The Dining Room closes its doors on the 25th September.

Nicole Wilson