I Missed Eating Out With Friends So Much I Did a Design Exercise to Cope
Can we recreate the magic of communal dining experiences while stuck home?
A Brief Background
I don’t remember what my friends and I were laughing about in that Korean barbecue restaurant back in March, but I remember being happy. The thick scent and crackling sound of sizzling meat is as much a feast for the senses as it is for the belly — and it gets even more satisfying when you grill it for someone else. Samgyeopsal grease may be a better social lubricant than beer, but I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s been around 150 days since I last ate out with friends.
Since the quarantine began, I’ve been living mainly off of home-cooked food and delivery services. Honestly? It really isn’t that bad. Grab (that Singapore-based transport app that provides a bunch of services from ride-hailing to same day deliveries) has been a particularly huge help, given that going around is so much more difficult here in the Philippines.
Two weeks ago, my parents scheduled a video call with their friends over dinnertime. They had Chinese food delivered one evening, which wasn’t at all unusual. That is, until their friends started popping into frame with identical plates of sweet-and-sour pork and honey garlic spare ribs at the table. We ate the same meals with our families over call. It was strangely endearing. Even if there weren’t any titos or titas at our literal dining table, this feeling came pretty close.
I wanted to see if I could bake that feeling into a Grab App feature. How can I recreate the magic of communal dining within the confines of my own home?
Why this could exist
- 🤝 Companionship: Being able to craft a shared dining experience in quarantine could give people a semblance of unity and spark some joy.
- 💵 Value: A shared dining order can provide individuals the same benefits and discounts of available large value meals from a restaurant.
- 💰 Business: Crafting an avenue for people to celebrate meaningful occasions from home can stimulate food businesses that lost work during the pandemic. Catering businesses that were blindsided by the cancellation of most communal events can service online parties instead.
- 🎉 Fun: It’s just fun!
My research consisted of interviews and conversations with family and friends. This led me to three important insights:
- People enjoy gifting food to other people. It’s a great and personal way to make your presence felt in spite of distance.
- Food often accompanies other activities. (E.g. friends often either go out to lunch before catching a movie, or go out to dinner after to talk about it.)
- People who want to eat out for the sake of company prioritize inviting people together before deciding what to eat.
I was able to cobble together an extremely simple task flow diagram that captured most of my interviewees’ thought processes while deciding where or what to eat. One thing I wanted to keep in mind was that the process of forming a group frequently came before deciding on the food itself. Deciding on how to split the bill also happened while initially gathering the group or after settling at the restaurant.
I sketched a user flow for the proposed UI (user interface). I maintained the food selection flow to be mostly identical to the existing Grab Food ordering process to reduce the need for users to learn the flow all over again. On top of that existing process, I created three unique screens: 1.) the new party screen, 2.) the invite list, and 3.) the party tracker.
I incorporated my three insights into a wireframe so I could elaborate on the user flow in a high-fidelity setting. I maintained a lot of the visual elements from the Grab App itself to support the seamless experience that I was going for while leaving room for custom illustrations in order to facilitate a uniquely special experience for the feature. I then proceeded to create a prototype.
The new party screen is the first thing every user will see. It displays all active Grab parties along with an option to make more. It mirrors the user’s natural initial intent to invite friends out before deciding on food and allows different active parties to be displayed and viewed right away.
Upon starting a new party, the user is immediately brought to the party list screen, where they can invite people into the party and customize the party further with an image header and a custom party name. Customizability is key to creating what feels like an intimate and unique experience between friends. To make friend selection even quicker, the add friend button brings up the user’s existing phone contacts, just as the Grab App chat already does.
The only addition to the regular food selection screen that is native to the Grab App itself is the presence of the “Deliver To” checkbox area. This allows individuals to be checked on or off the list of people to deliver to. Constructing the user flow to prioritize food selection and then order customization instead of having custom orders per person is meant to encourage users to each share similar meals from the same place. This simultaneously mirrors the real-life act of eating at the same place while allowing businesses and deliveries to benefit from bulk orders.
The different notification screens are significant in making sure orders all reach people on time, as users may opt to wait until everyone has received their orders before eating, which is already practiced within several households and friend groups.
The completion of the order needed to feel celebratory on top of acting as a springboard for further interaction. After all, food stimulates conversation and community. Therefore, the confirmation success popup has the option to begin a conversation as a group chat, while the delivery success popup immediately leads to a group chat upon completion.
I initially envisioned this to exist simultaneously with a separate messaging app, since I use Messenger and Telegram to communicate with friends. However, I felt this may be a weak and hasty assumption, and I decided to link users to the in-app chat function already existing within the Grab App.
A Small Reflection
Social media tends to get a lot of hate, but I feel like it really does have the power to build bridges and strengthen genuine connections — especially during historical global separation. A lot of platforms attempt to simulate human interaction but fall short. I believe tech can be tailored to encourage meaningful experiences between people beyond the frame of a chat box or video call. Maybe someday tech can be a better social lubricant than beer.
JJ Agcaoili is a Filipino designer and artist who thinks tech needs to be more human. He feels the same about humans, too. When he isn’t playing with his small army of pugs, his tiny persian cat, his chunky labrador, or his super talented writer girlfriend, you can usually find him messing around on www.instagram.com/tuejays. He is also the creative director of a barkada-run studio at www.instagram.com/stokodesign.