Experiential Dining Ideas for Restaurants That Want to Rock the World!

February 25, 2007

It’s a natural law. It’s as true as the law of gravity. The more powerful, fun, new, exciting, and out of the ordinary an experience is the faster we humans want to experience it again. Spend time around a 4 year old. Throw him up in the air and catch him on the way down (do this near a low hanging ceiling fan and you’ll get a multiplier effect). It’s so fun for the kid that before his feet hit the ground he’s begging you to do it again and again. I’m not recommending that you offer to throw your customers into the air, but figuratively that’s exactly what I’m saying. And, I highly recommend adding the multiplier effect.

Believe it or not it is possible for a guest to arrive at a restaurant for the first time, enter, eat, pay and leave without having experienced anything new, exciting or out of the ordinary. They won’t be coming back for a while, if ever.


Most concepts are nothing more than a reincarnation of an experience that is going on down the street. Upon arrival they subconsciously think, “this place is like the place down the street.” From that point forward they tune out, turn to the person(s) they arrived with and focus on them for the rest of the night. They are never brought out of their myopia to see, feel, hear, smell and truly experience anything of value.


If you are going to be different you must do things differently. We all know by now the definition of insanity. “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Les Brown, author and speaker said, “If you are going to achieve something you’ve never achieved before you must learn something you’ve never learned before.”


What will you be doing that has NEVER been done before?


Here are a few observations, suggestions and questions that I hope will get you thinking in the right direction and acting with the right intention.


Demand Their Attention!!!!!


Yes, demand it and command it, and not just once. Steal their attention on every front, multiple times, throughout the experience. I don’t mean interrupt their dinner. I do mean make sure each time you have the guest’s attention you make an impact. The most successful restaurants do this with great precision and impact. It begins and ends with each interaction:

Look deep into each point of interaction and ask yourself what you will do to make it memorable, different, better, hotter, cooler, wicked awesome.

Points of interaction for your guest include but are not limited to:


· The sign out front

· The front elevation

· The parking lot/valet guy

· The door

· The door handle/knob

· The entry

· The front-side of the hostess

· The seating system

· The waiting area

· The call to be seated

· The back-side of the hostess (seriously).

· The table presentation

· The cushions

· The menu

· The server

· The beverages

· The food

· The silverware and napkin

· The check


Create a reference point: How will you be remembered?


“Let’s go to that restaurant that has that big……….”

“I want to go to that place with those amazing…..”

“What about the place that’ll do that thing for you….”

“Remember the place that gave us those ……lets go there.”

“What about the place with that funny looking…..”

“Call and book that same booth we had, the one with the ….”

“I want to go to that place that right when you walk in they….”

“How about the place were everyone gets a……as they leave”


How do you differentiate? Write it down.


If you don’t know what your reference point is then you need to survey your customers.

What will you give them to reference?

Here are some ideas that work! Some I’ve observed and some I’ve created. Try them out and let me know how they work out for you.


Show it to sell it…

In the 1980’s there were ZERO restaurants sporting lobster tanks.
Today most seafood places have them.


The idea is “show it to sell it.” Why not plate your nightly special and have a hostess or the server bring it to the table to show it off. Do this instead of forcing the staff to try to memorize it and spend time spouting it off. Let the people see it, smell it, and really want to eat it. It has worked with dessert trays.


Do this with the highest ticket / margin item and you’ll make more money. Start tonight. When the dish starts looking tired just have them re-plate it.

Maybe the server who sells the most gets to eat it at the end of the shift.


Make it in front of them…

Putting on a little show at the table commands the guest’s attention. It may take a little time for your server, but time means value to a customer. Some restaurants make guacamole at the table or toss the salad in front of the customer. You might cut the cheesecake and drizzle the syrup in front of the customer. Adding a little fresh ground black pepper is thoughtful, but take that to the next level. All of these things increase the customers focus on the restaurant, the food, the server and all of the sudden they are having an experience.


Let them prepare it / cook it…


Give them a small sample of it…


Do you have bad-ass bisque? Prepare samples in small espresso cups…everybody gets one. Ever sip lobster bisque out of an espresso cup for free when you’re starving hungry? The first time you do you will be having an experience to remember.

Remember the first time you had escargot? Give a sample snail to every guest. They’ll not forget it! Set just one snail on a plate and put it in front of every guest. Train the staff to give teach people about the way it is prepared and what it really is…whether they eat it or not they’ll tell their friends and that’s cheap advertising. A delicious snail on a plate is a great point of reference. What is yours?

Is there a way to provide a free sample of your most dramatic dish without too much overhead? Try it for 3 nights. Measure the sales of this dish vs. other nights of the week making sure you covered the cost of the samples. I believe you will no only cover your costs, but after 2 months of doing this same store sales will show an increase.


Facilitate Sharing


I saved the best idea for last.

There is a restaurant in the Boston area that asks every lunch guest, “Are you headed back to work?” If the answer is yes they send them on their way with 4 fresh baked muffins in a clamshell to-go container. The container is printed with the restaurant’s logo and phone #. The server is trained to say, “We want you to take these fresh baked muffins back to the office and share them with your colleagues.”

They get a huge response from business people in the area. They all want to be the office hero–the one who brings back the delicious muffins.

What could your restaurant give out to spread more than just butter?


The Sum Total of All Activities Inside Your 4 Walls

Did the sum total of all activity add up to be better than your guest expected. If your guest was a 4 year old boy or girl would they be begging to do that again? If not, try some of the suggestions above and post the results to this sight. I like to know what you think.


One Response to “Experiential Dining Ideas for Restaurants That Want to Rock the World!”

  1. leon Says:

    hi good day mr.keitheddleman, my name is leon, and im a busniess and commerce student from monash university. currently im doing a market research project on experiential dinning in malaysia. However, i am still not sure about the concept of the meaning of experiential dinning and what is it about…can u pls, giv me some idea like, what is experiential dinng about? and mayb.. the factors that contribute to it, or market trend of it

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