A Meal to Remember: Experiential Dining a Hit for Restaurants

In a world of fast food and delivery, people are looking something a little more special

The antithesis of casual and fast-food, experiential dining, also known as destination dining or experimental dining, is one of the most exciting ways to eat in 2023. The trend is not necessarily new – Medieval Times and Benihana could technically be considered experiential given their unique ways of food delivery and accompanying entertainment – but it is on the rise. It is, simple, an experience: It is a dynamic dinner focused on sight and sound as much as taste and smell. It is a themed menus and decor in unique and memorable spaces. It is something to tell your friends about, to remind you why it’s exciting to leave the house for a meal.

Let’s break down what exactly experimental dining is, why customers love it, and how restaurants are evolving to accommodate the trend.

Experiential Dining: More Than Just a Quick Bite

According to the annual Yelp report outlining the top trends for the year, 2023 is the year of the experience: Searches for underwater restaurants were up 263% – think Under in Norway – while searches for dinner theaters were up 109%. Many restaurants, also looking for a post-pandemic boost, are creating new destination dining options with unique and picture-worthy views, added activities or entertainment, while still focusing on quality food and service.

From dining in the dark to Prohibition-style speakeasies, location is one of the easiest ways to make a night out more memorable. Menu items are another (easier and cheaper) way to add value to the meal – top picks include slushies, pickle-flavored anything and everything, and uncommon ingredients like oxtail – to make for new and exciting meals. Added features like tableside service are making a comeback as well.

While it certainly doesn’t have to be anything too crazy to get people in the door, some of the most visited themes for a destination dinner include:

  • Dinner Theater: A classic way to be entertained while you dine, dinner theater can mean solving a murder mystery, being swept away in a musical, or laughing between bites at a comedy show. It can also refer to a cinema experience, with the food no longer treated as an afterthought.
  • Dinner underwater, or in the sky: Enjoying a meal as a school of fish passes your window? Why not? Underwater restaurants have been growing in popularity around the world for some time. Conversely, restaurants situated high in the sky, like the aptly named Dinner in the Sky are also showing up on people’s bucket lists.
  • Game themed or arcade restaurants: More than just familiar gaming concepts like Topgolfand Bowlero which combine food, drinks and sports for a fun twist on dinner, there is a growing number of restaurants offering video games and arcade machines to enjoy before, during, or after you eat.
  • A multisensory dinner experience: Multisensory dining understands dining is about more than simple taste, utilizing each of your sense, whether individually or all at once, to boost your dining experience. Ultraviolet in Shanghai, for example, uses wall projections, UV lights, sounds and scent to give the meal a boost. Ibiza’s Sublimotionemploys live performances, virtual reality experiences, and ostentatious food styling and plating that never fails to impress.

Why are Experiential Restaurants Trending?

We have an idea now of everything experiential dining has to offer. But what is the driving force behind this new push for destination dining? Why are people so enamored with it?

There are a couple reasons: With a seemingly infinite number of food delivery options now available, a simple meal in and of itself is not always reason enough to leave the house. The flipside of this, however, is that after the pandemic shutdowns that led to the ubiquity of delivery and fast food, people are also eager to get out of the house. And eager as well to embrace new and exciting experiences when they do.

Social media also plays a role. The more photogenic the food, the more dynamic the event, the more memorable the experience, the more people are going to share it on their social media platforms. This compounds the excitement people have when planning a night out. It is also a form of free advertising for a restaurant that ultimately leads to a boost in recognition and (when done right) respect.

Is your restaurant looking to offer a destination dining experience? NCCO Order Pads are just the thing to help guests enjoy their night out. Whether it’s to enhance tableside service, cater to special requests or offer special items, or simply ensure your guests are fully immersed in their experience without any problems for the front or back of the house.

Find the right size and style for you as well as several other products designed specifically to give your restaurant a boost. Take a look: https://www.ncco.com/products/guest-checks-accessories/