It’s hard not to be impressed by Bao, which started off as a food stall and has spiralled out to encompass several restaurants across London, a cookbook published by Phaidon, an online convenience store, and now an app. At each of these stages, Bao has shown a genuine commitment to design and creativity, and it’s no different for its latest venture.
Hato has now collaborated with the business to create the Baoverse app, set in a tiny, yet bustling, pixel city – drawn by Marcelo Colmenero – which includes recreations of all of Bao’s restaurants. Users earn digital currency, called Baocoin, for money spent with Bao, unlocking digital rewards as well as real-life ones such as the ability to skip the queue or enjoy a free cocktail.
A press release released by the food business describes it as an attempt to bridge the gap between online and offline, with co-founder Shin Tat Chung saying the ultimate ambition is for users to have real-life purchases echoed in their pixel city – meaning a T-shirt bought at a Bao restaurant would also mean a digital version for your app avatar.
There’s shades of Animal Crossing to the experience, which does a good job of feeling playful rather than a chore. An introductory email from Tom, ‘the Secretary of State for Transport at Bao’, describes how to use the app, explaining that everyone starts as a Tourist and gradually levels up to Resident, Citizen, and finally Family, depending on how many Bao destinations they’ve been to.
The Baoverse app is equally charming, letting users do the all-important job of reserving a place at a restaurant, as well as the less practical stuff (a Baodex includes menu items that are presumably unlocked as they’re ordered). Connecting real-life purchases to the app just needs a receipt code.
It’s the first venture from Not In Game, a new hospitality tech platform created by Hato founder Ken Kirton and Chung, with Kirton saying it’s designed to “disrupt the loyalty app industry by creating experiences that are more relatable to both customer and restaurant”. CR recently interviewed him for a piece discussing why food brands needed to create more playful digital experiences for their consumers, and he’s putting his ideas into practice here.