Once upon a time, going out to eat was considered a form of entertainment. Today, many customers think it’s a hassle. After all, with apps like Grubhub or DoorDash, they can get a restaurant meal delivered to their doorstep.
That’s why restaurants are looking beyond the plate – and focusing on fun. Restaurant entertainment gives customers a reason to get out of their comfort zone, and into your business for a memorable experience they can’t get at home. So take a closer look at what’s trending in restaurant entertainment…
1. Play, With Your Food
Why so serious? Dining out doesn’t have to be a stuffy affair. In fact, many of the best restaurants in the world embrace fun through food presentation. Who can forget the Salt Bae? The 2017 viral sensation became famous for sprinkling salt onto steaks with a signature move. At Alinea, a 3-Michelin-Star spot in Chicago, edible taffy balloons end each meal.
In the Detroit area, restaurant entertainment takes centerstage with the opening of Imaginate. Chef Omar Mitchell’s goal is dining with a “streak of cheerfulness.” So large steaks come with 3 foot forks, chicken wings and beans are served on mini charcoal grills, and Caesar salad arrives in a small statue complete with a Roman helmet for the diner to wear.
To try this food-focused restaurant entertainment strategy, offer at least one menu item that has an interactive element. Go retro-cool with a chocolate fondue dessert. Or, put saganaki (Greek flaming cheese) on your appetizer menu. As an added bonus, these quirky experiences can quickly turn into Instagram gold as customers capture and share memorable moments.
2. Welcome to the Club…the Social Club
Another way to elevate your restaurant entertainment is by enhancing your social scene. A lively, upbeat atmosphere – where everyone is mingling – isn’t something customers can get at home without throwing their own party.
That may explain why so many “social clubs” are opening nationwide: from Western Social in Boise, Idaho to Pinewood Social in Nashville, Tennessee. These venues offer food, drinks, indoor and outdoor lounge areas, and plenty of diversions like 3-lane bowling alleys, shuffle board courts, and other social sports.
There’s no need to reinvent your concept (or remodel your restaurant) to tap into this restaurant entertainment trend. Seek out ways to bring customers together through social fun like live restaurant trivia events and bar game competitions like cornhole or darts.
3. School Your Customers in Fun
Learning is fun again, at least that’s what recent restaurant entertainment trends suggest. Many restaurants are now letting guests in on their secrets, and hosting cooking classes like the Bastion Restaurant in Dallas, Texas. The only drawback to cooking classes is that they are time-consuming and “steal” your chef away from their main work.
A more lowkey option for restaurant entertainment could be mini, 15-minute bartending demos during happy hour. Feature a specific cocktail like the vesper, have the bartender share some interesting history about it (it was created by the author of the James Bond books), and then show guests how it’s made. At 87 Main Street Spirits in Cocoa Beach, Florida, the owner is so passionate about tequila, she runs a free weekly cocktail class that includes tastings.
You can even outsource your restaurant entertainment: hire a dance instructor to run ballroom dancing lessons on your slowest night.
4. Get Crafty with Your Restaurant Entertainment
In line with educational restaurant entertainment is…arts and crafts. Yes, for midweek social fun, friends are gathering at their local restaurant for instructor-led workshops. It could be a “paint and sip night” where guests indulge in wine and appetizers while the instructor guides them in painting a masterpiece to take home. Other popular crafty restaurant entertainment events include potting a terrarium, decorating coffee mugs or pint glasses, and even creating your own beauty treatments. No worries, you don’t need to be crafty yourself. Just bring in a company like Yaymaker, which claims that 80% of guests who attend their events are brand new to the restaurant.
5. Cater to the Kids
Think parents call the shots when it comes to dining out? Nope. An astounding 43% of parents let their kids decide where to dine according to the Technomic Generational Report. So now is the time to craft restaurant entertainment experiences that kids will love.
Start by expanding the definition of “coloring” for kids – beyond just crayons and a placemat. Take a cue from Blue Owl in Lansing, Michigan where kids and adults alike can contribute to a giant wall mural.
A chalkboard wall or sidewalk chalk set out on your patio would achieve the same goal: kids can play Picasso while their parents catch up at the table. Instead of Picasso, kids at Pastabilities Restaurant in Syracuse, New York are channeling Shakespeare as they rearrange words to create poetry on metallic boards at each table.
You could also host a weekly family night, featuring special guest restaurant entertainment. One night it could be a magician who does tricks tableside. Another evening it could be a family sing-a-long.
Finally, put fun right on the kid’s menu with a “pizza kit” where kids select toppings for their own pizza. Or, try a DIY sundae kit for dessert where kids can assemble their sundae from a small tray of goodies. Get creative, and when in doubt…run a survey asking kids themselves what restaurant entertainment they want!
As you read through this list of restaurant entertainment, you probably noticed there wasn’t any live music. That’s because while music is enjoyable, it’s not often a truly exciting experience – unless it’s a really popular local band or DJ. Live music is often a nice addition but ask yourself this question: would it get you off the sofa and into a local restaurant? Ultimately, the goal of your restaurant entertainment should be to add value to every customer’s visit…making it more social, memorable, and fun. Get started with these 5 ideas today!