Wagamama: The Power of a Placemat

Wagamama customers are creatures of habit, tending to order the same thing over and over again. To address this, ad agency 101 came up with a simple and clever solution: a series of paper placemats featuring striking imagery designed to entice diners into ordering something new…

101 was working on a radio ad brief for Wagamama when the team noticed a startling fact. “Despite having a long menu, customers were only ordering a handful of the dishes on a regular basis,” explains Mark Elwood, partner and ECD at 101.

“We thought there was a huge opportunity there,” he continues. “If you only think of a restaurant for a tried and tested favourite, you’re only going to go when you’re in the mood for that. So if we could get people to be a bit more adventurous and try something new, we thought we could get everyone to visit a bit more often.”



The restaurant already used placemats, but only for doodling or to promote competitions. Elwood saw an opportunity to use them instead to highlight the various dishes on the menu. The new placemats, which have appeared in the restaurants since the end of last year, feature copy but most importantly, beautiful images of the food, shot by photographer Gareth Sambidge. The style is of the ‘food porn’ variety favoured by brands from Lurpak to M&S, but as well as looking appealing, most importantly the images show what is actually within each meal.

“The Japanese have a saying, ‘you eat with your eyes first’,” continues Elwood. “We realised that customers weren’t confident they knew what they were actually getting when they ordered something different. Did they really know what a ‘donburi’ or a ‘ramen’ was? Why risk getting something you don’t like when you know there’s something you’ve had before that you do. We thought, why not help people out a bit and show them the world beyond their favourites. And don’t do it through advertising, do it right when they’re trying to make a decision.”



The placemats highlight the best-looking dishes on the menu, but particularly ones that are under-performing compared to their potential. The also show drinks options. Since they’ve been used in the restaurants, customers have begun to order different dishes, but also share the images on social media such as Instagram. “It’s been one of our most effective communication channels and the beauty of it is that it’s absolutely free,” says Elwood.

This might be a modest campaign in advertising terms, but it’s proof that ideas don’t necessarily need to be epic to capture customers’ imagination, and that applying creative thinking to all aspects of a business can have an impact. “I think everyone’s seeing that the most effective creative ideas now can be a world away from a TV ad,” agrees Elwood.