Industry News

Guide to Experiential Dining for Restaurants

Experiential dining is one of the restaurant industry’s hottest trends for 2023. Learn how to enhance your business’s dining experience today.
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There’s nothing quite like a great dining experience. The soft sound of music, the delicate aroma of cooking, the… intrigue of an aquarium? The action of an arcade machine!? The terror of a murder mystery!? A new trend is taking the restaurant industry by storm, and it’s providing eaters with an experience they won’t soon forget. Experiential dining is the culinary world’s latest obsession, becoming a hit with its most profitable customer base. But what is experiential dining, and why should restaurant owners care about it? Otter has the answer!

Experiential dining is the next stage in the evolution of full-service restaurants. It provides passionate customers with great food, a unique atmosphere, and lifelong memories. As an industry-disrupting innovation, the new approach to dining is also driving massive profits for restaurateurs across the globe. Below, we’ll walk you through this craze’s inception, top players, and strategies for success. Your experience begins now!

What is “Experiential Dining”?

Put simply: it’s dinner and a show! Experiential dining provides eaters with more than just top-notch food and service. It’s about engaging environments, styles, activities, and, well… experiences! This new form of dining places emphasis on making customers feel more involved with the restaurant and each other. Offering thrilling sensations and events satisfies eaters’ cravings for entertainment and great food. Dinner theater is hardly new, but experiential dining brings it to the next level for modern consumers. 

Industry experts recognized the rise of experiential dining in the 2010s, but the trend achieved mainstream success in 2023. After years of lockdowns hurt restaurant-eater relationships, experiential dining helps both parties connect and have fun. It encourages real-world interaction, face-to-face communication, and live entertainment through something that brings us all together: food!

Why do eaters want experiential dining?

Today’s restaurant customers have incredibly high expectations for the businesses they patronize. In a time of rampant inflation, digital connectivity, and shifting demographics, satisfying everyone with traditional restaurant experiences isn’t feasible. Interest in standard fine dining seems to be waning, and modern eaters have a variety of niche desires. Experiential dining aims to satisfy the individual tastes of these audiences, capitalizing on service and atmosphere that goes beyond food. 

In the 2020s, consumers – especially from Millennial and Gen Z age demographics – want to feel validated, recognized, and spoken to. They want to be engaged at all times, and to showcase the fun they’re having on social media. These audiences no longer feel satisfied by old-fashioned restaurant atmospheres, so they aren’t interested in paying for them. Experiential dining restaurants respond to these demands, capturing a growing consumer base's minds – and orders.

Is experiential dining profitable?

Yes! Experiential dining businesses have existed and succeeded for several decades across the globe. Take Dave & Buster’s, which lets guests play arcade games with their food and drink. During 2022, the chain added 52 new locations, and increased revenue by over 51%. Check out restaurants like Esther’s Kitchen or Mayfair Supper Club in Las Vegas for single-location enterprises. Both of these eateries indulge customers in vintage speakeasy-style atmospheres, and have expanded significantly over the past year.  

Industry experts describe experiential dining as recession-proof. As the trend has boomed during a time of heavy inflation, it’s hard to disagree. Eaters are glad to pay more for a unique dining experience, and a growing number of restaurateurs are recognizing that. Consider also the complementary value of experiential dining. Customers that post about restaurant experiences on social media aren’t just recording memories – they’re showcasing these businesses’ best assets! Experiential dining makes financial sense for any enterprise.

Strategies for Experiential Dining

Getting into experiential dining doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. As we’ve mentioned, it’s about filling a niche, which can be done by highlighting your business’s distinct attributes. Review your restaurant’s unique selling points, and think about how to use them to enhance your dining experience. Ask yourself:

  • Where is your restaurant located? 
  • What kind of cuisine do you serve? 
  • How do you serve it? 

Using these questions as a guide will help you consider every element of customer engagement with your brand. 

Put plenty of thought into what kind of niche you’re looking to serve with your dining experience. Gain a firm understanding of your eater demographics’ preferences for atmosphere and service, and craft ways to satisfy them. A major element of experiential dining involves building sincere connections with consumers. If you aren’t able to clearly broadcast those emotions through your dining experience, customers won’t be interested. Think of it as an extension of your marketing: What will make customers want to dine with you specifically?

Experiential Dining Resources

Like any part of the modern restaurant, experiential dining requires time, effort, and labor to succeed with. Unfortunately, it’s these key ingredients that most restaurants don’t usually have on-hand. To keep your staff organized and productive during a unique dining experience, use software that’s designed for strong in-house service. Solutions like Otter’s Digital Dine-In offer a variety of resources that you can use to enhance experiential dining. These tools keep your atmosphere steady, your servers efficient, and your experience special. 

The best in-house dining software enhances regular restaurant experiences and activities. Features like QR menus, customer data collection, and flexible payment options ensure that eaters’ demands are always met, strengthening engagement. Your staff benefits from these solutions, too – they streamline every step of the service process, eliminating order errors and delays. By using software that offers these resources – like Digital Dine-In – experiential dining becomes quick, effective, and powerful.

Give your eaters an experience to remember!

Now that you know what experiential dining is, why it’s important, and how to succeed with it, you can make it your own. Focus on the best parts of your dining experience, and give customers a reason to crave your atmosphere and service. If you do, you’ll have access to a timely, profitable trend – and be in a great position for future restaurant innovation. Equip your restaurant with the tools it needs to leverage experiential dining, and make every meal one to remember!

Book a demo with Otter today and check out Digital Dine-in to enhance your dining experience!

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