Eating & Drinking

Want a true feel for a restaurant before you fork over your dollars? Transparent Kitchen’s modernizing menus

It didn’t take long for Frazer Nagy to become disillusioned with politics.

The idealistic student from the countryside close to Guelph, Ontario, came to study International Economics and Development at the University of Ottawa in 2010, with a view to working for the federal government. Now he’s running an internet start-up.

It sounds so old-school. And that’s the point. Nagy and his team of 10 are determined to drag the fine dining restaurant industry, one stuck in the digital ice age, into the interactive age of live websites and handheld devices.

MeNa. Photo: Transparent Kitchen
MeNa’s fois gras. Photo: Transparent Kitchen

According to Nagy, your old-fashioned website with a static PDF menu just won’t do anymore for any restaurant that aspires to offer the whole supercharged night out experience. From finished food to suppliers, from décor to ambiance, the web experience that Transparent Kitchen aims to provide is all about getting a true feel for the place where you will spend your hard-earned dining dollars — before you book.

James Bratsberg. Photo: Transparent Kitchen
MeNa’s James Bratsberg. Photo: Transparent Kitchen

Nagy, who got his first job in Ottawa as a student at Restaurant Eighteen in the Byward Market, often heard customers complain about the price of their meal. In turn, he heard chefs frequently complain that guests truly don’t understand the value of the food they are eating. And a light bulb went on. “Chefs just weren’t providing the diners with any information,” he explains. “How is a guest supposed to know that they’re eating line-caught halibut or organic, local, pasture-raised beef, if the information isn’t readily available to them?”

Supply and Demand. Photo: Transparent Kitchen
Supply and Demand’s duck. Photo: Transparent Kitchen

Transparent Kitchen’s business model is to increase bookings by making the whole eating out experience much more interactive and much more tempting before you reserve. By posting high quality food photography that ties into seasonal menus, as well as sections featuring chef biographies, ingredient provenance, ambiance, design and even wine lists, Nagy and his team hope to really give a virtual taste of a restaurant. “We are that movie trailer,” he says, “that makes you want to see the rest.”

Olivia Cruickshank. Photo: Transparent Kitchen
Pure Kitchen’s Olivia Cruickshank. Photo: Transparent Kitchen

Transparent Kitchen employs two photographers, has signed on 25 restaurants in Ottawa at rates starting from $200 monthly since it’s 2016 launch, and has clients in six cities across the province. Everything they shoot is saved in a unique digital format that can be used all over the internet and social media. “We want to modernize and digitize,” says Nagy. According to their website, “Transparent Kitchen leverages technology to empower local food entrepreneurs to sell better, so that we can all eat better.” From the Transparent Kitchen perspective, chefs are not trained to be photographers, they are not trained to be marketers and they probably don’t know much code; what they know is food and that knowledge and passion should be conveyed to customers.

Fairouz. Photo: Transparent Kitchen
Fairouz’s scallops. Photo: Transparent Kitchen

The company is also working on capabilities to allow diners to savour their dining out experience longer, by enabling them to buy the bottle of wine they enjoyed at dinner and have it shipped directly to their door, or order a particular recipe and the ingredients to make it, much like Chefs Plate, the meal kit ordering service. They are already sharing supplier information, so that consumers can source ingredients directly if they choose.

Steven Wall. Photo: Transparent Kitchen
Supply & Demand’s Steven Wall. Photo: Transparent Kitchen

Supply and Demand on Wellington Street West recently launched their new website, hosted through the Transparent Kitchen platform. “We like it a lot,” says chef and co-owner Steve Wall. “They took a long time wooing us, but we slowly came to the realization that we have to get with the times! People like to see and know everything about their experience before they try it now.”

 

Supply and Demand. Photo: Transparent Kitchen
Supply & Demand. Photo: Transparent Kitchen

Co-owner Jenn Wall, who handles the marketing and media for the restaurant, really appreciates the high-quality images that the company has produced, combined with the fact that they will re-size and format as needed for use across all media. “That’s a huge bonus,” she says. “They’ll come four times annually and shoot six photos each time, so we will soon have built a good library of images. Another nice thing is their enthusiasm and the fact that they’re very innovative.”

As their website proclaims, Transparent Kitchen is literally “changing the way we see food.”