How restaurants are serving up entertainment like never before

Eating establishments are adding their own twists to the idea of dinertainment to stand out from the crowd and pull in diners seeking unique experiences.

March 06, 2018

From the jazz quartet belting out crowd-pleasing covers to cabaret performers high-kicking their way across the stage, food and entertainment have long gone hand-in-hand to make for a memorable meal out.

Now a new generation of eating establishments is adding its own twists to the concept of ‘dinertainment’ to stand out from the crowd and pull in diners who want more than just music and cocktails alongside their main course. And they’re expanding quickly in big cities.

Take Swingers, which combines street food with cocktail bars and indoor crazy golf; it’s opening its second site in London.  In Paris, luxury bus-restaurant Bustronome shuttles guests between the city’s top sights as they dine while in Dubai, Inked curates one-off dining experiences from a surrealist Dali-inspired feast to monochromatic meals.

Even cinemas are focusing more on offering higher-end dining options as they look to revitalise the experience of a night at the movies. Cine de Chef, for example, has branches in Seoul, South Korea and Kathmandu, Nepal while Alamo Drafthouse has outlets across the US where movie-goers can order chef-cooked meals while watching a film.

“The genre is being re-invented now that there is more competition in the eating out market and consumers need more to persuade them to leave the house rather than order in,” says Florence Graham-Dixon, Associate Director in JLL’s Foodservice team. “When food collides with art, gaming, theatre or technology, it gives people the opportunity to try something different while socialising with their friends. And of course, these locations make great backdrops for social media posts.”

Technology takes dining to a new level

New technology is offering many different – and novel – ways to spice up the dining experience. “More restaurants are incorporating virtual reality into their operations because it allows them to create unique experiences that people want to be a part of – and then tell their friends about,” says Graham-Dixon. “The most extreme example I’ve heard of is apocalypse-themed restaurant Mad Rex in Philadelphia where diners are given VR headsets to experience an apocalyptic video game while they eat.”

Similarly, several pioneering bars now serve cocktails with VR headsets that take them through the provenance of the drink; order an Origin from the menu at the One Aldwych Hotel in London and the waiter prepares the cocktail as the headset whisks the wearer off to the Scottish Highlands.

“As VR technology is getting cheaper it represents a great way for food service brands to connect with customers in a more profound way,” says Graham-Dixon. “Some of these new concepts are genuinely innovative and exciting, bringing new ways for people to socialise or learn about what they are consuming.”

Big-name brands are also experimenting with their own tech offerings; Starbucks, for example, is launching an in-store Augmented Reality experience for Chinese customers where they can take a virtual tour of the coffee roasting process through the app.

Other restaurants opt for lower-tech but equally creative approaches. French restaurant Le Petit Chef in Berlin, for example, projects a miniature chef cartoon onto diner’s plate who illustrates how the dishes are made before they are presented. Similarly, Tokyo Artist Collective Teamlab created an interactive restaurant interior that takes diners on a journey through the seasons using digital screens on the walls and table, as corresponding seasonal dishes are served.

Location, location

For retailers, the appeal of offering something unique has to be balanced against space and cost requirements. “Tech can easily be installed in smaller spaces to help drive PR and footfall for the restaurants yet there will be a significant initial outlay,” say Graham-Dixon. “Consumers quickly tire of gimmicks so restaurants with dinertainment ambitions need to come up with something quirky and different that still has longevity.”

Other dinertainment set-ups such as Swingers or bar-and-restaurant-meets-ping-pong center, Bounce, need bigger spaces that come with different challenges. “They will only work in specific locations with significant footfall to make up for the higher rents or up-and-coming areas with a gravitational pull that means people are prepared to make the journey,” Graham-Dixon adds.

She believes that brands with a unique selling point could be a good fit for developers looking to build modern genuine lifestyle hubs rather than traditional shopping centers, especially those that appeal to a large target audience.

Yet it’s not just about the entertainment; the food still needs to be good quality and reasonably priced – especially if it’s not included in the entrance price.

While there are plenty of new dinertainment set-ups opening for business in cities around the world, demand for dining with a difference remains strong. “Experiences are the new status signifiers, so concepts that embrace this will do well,” Graham-Dixon says. “Consumers are continuing to spend more on leisure activities than retail – food service brands are well aware of this and so it’s likely we’ll see more growth and more creativity in the dinertainment space. Unexpected, immersive and impressive experiences will capture consumers’ scarcest resource – their attention.”

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