Food Trends | Trend Feast

Experiential Dining Proving to Be More Than a Fad

Mar 02, 2020

Experiential Dining Proving to Be More Than a Fad

Remember the good old days, when having great food, great service and appealing décor were enough for a successful restaurant?

Today, the stakes are higher. The basic elements are still important, but they’re being eclipsed by patrons’ never-ending search for the next new and exciting dining “experience.”  Not just Mexican…the whole enchilada of fun and food!

Experiential dining takes many forms

It can be a one-time menu, movable location, last-minute surprise, quirky service, or one-on-one time with the chef. It can be a:

  • Pop-up
  • Secret menu/location/guest chef, with a last-minute reveal at the event
  • Breakfast or brunch
  • Spirit or mixology event (whiskey is leading the pack!)
  • Physical change in décor, including multi-sensory

The ways entrepreneurs are creating these events in new and unique locations, or in renovations of existing restaurants’ environments or service seem limitless:

  • Be insulted. “Servin’ up sass since 1985,” Dick’s Last Resort in Dallas, Texas, it’s “food and drinks served with a side of sarcasm.”
  • Pretend you’re in jail. In Tinjin, China, Prison Feng Yin is a converted prison that shackles patrons who get to dine in a crowded cell, enjoying local authentic dishes.
  • Try out a new language. In Toronto, Canada, patrons and servers all interact in American Sign Language.
  • Paint your next masterpiece. In Columbia, South Carolina, Studio Cellar pairs patron painting events with wine, beer and food from another local restaurant.
  • Is food just as delicious when you can’t see it? In Montreal, Canada, patrons eat in complete darkness at Onoir.
  • Soak in the sounds. In Oakland, California, Oliveto teamed up with Meyer Sound for a state-of-the-art acoustic system employing a “unique acoustic management technology to transform the dining experience”1

Demand is high, pocketbooks are open

Patrons on the lookout for the new and exciting, the experience that creates memories, they’re willing to pay extra and they really want to plan on attending!  Check out this survey data:2

  • 75% of people believe unique dining experiences are worth paying more for
  • 50% of people would pay more for the exact same menu if it had a chef interaction
  • 59% of people say cost doesn’t impact their attendance (menu, uniqueness, and location do)
  • 80% of people would rather buy tickets in advance

But it’s more than a location or décor

It’s more…a lot more.  A lot more choices, options, opportunities and chances to make your patrons eager for their next experience at your restaurant.  Here are some trends that show just how varied experiential dining is growing: 3

  • Pop-Up dining events—up 82%
    • Pop-ups use chef interaction, a one-time unique location (a temporary restaurant!), or a distinct one-time menu to create a single event
    • Patrons like them because it seems like a party, a one-time experience
  • Communal dining events—up 76%
    • Long tables are set up and it’s first-come, first served
    • Patrons like them as an opportunity to chat with potentially very interesting strangers
  • Breakfast & brunch events— up 65%
    • That fusion of breakfast and lunch we all love
    • Patrons enjoy that elevation of the lowly breakfast into an array of food that has no limit
  • Spirits & mixology events—up 62%
    • Testing, tasting, creating new pairings in a party atmosphere
    • Patrons like the fun atmosphere of sharing new cocktails
  • Local or organic events—up 50%
    • Feature all-organic, or go local/farm-to-table in a one-time meal event, or pop-up
    • Patrons like feeling good about local and organic food, a well-established trend in itself

Promotion is key

What can you do to spark new interest in your restaurant?  Your chef?  Your out-of-house capabilities in a pop-up?  Experiential diners are waiting!

But only if they know about it.  So, get your social media popping with Instagram, Twitter, website info, Facebook teasers.  Email your patrons (now is the time to get going on that patron email list, if you haven’t started it yet!). 

And of course, the paper flyer at your restaurant, the sign out front, and, if you have the budget, some standard advertising in a local newspaper or radio station.  Interestingly if billboard space is available, sometimes it can be had for a modest amount of money.


1 Meyer Sound News, December 3, 2014,

2 EventBrite, The Rise of Pop-Up Dining Events and the Experiential Diner, November 21, 2016,

3 EventBrite, May 6, 2018: