The consumer search for more is ever-present, a demand that’s turning hospitality on its head. People don’t want to just dine out; they want an experience that transcends good food and drinks. In 2024, expect operators to dig even deeper to entice people off the sofa and to leave Netflix behind.
Operators making inroads are trying everything from interactive dining to transportive decor and innovative throwback cocktails. And maybe a disco ball or two.
What is Experiential Dining?
Experiential dining doesn’t mean relinquishing quality. Chefs and beverage directors have found new ways of matching adventure with aesthetics, hitting the right balance between form, vibe and substance.
The possibilities are endless: Late-night caviar service while aerialists dance above the room; modern teppanyaki with cauliflower steaks, Wagyu and elaborate tableside cooking; cocktails that harken back to simpler times while still embracing contemporary mixology; and bar menus that go way beyond burgers and beer.
Equally important is capturing the attention of diners who can drive social media engagement. The TikTok generation loves a good hook and a good show, but they can also suss out what’s genuine and what’s not. Delivering an epic good time and a great meal is paramount.
Create a Vibe
Creating a full dining experience is more than a caliber menu. The space is as important as the food, whether it’s the new generation of theme restaurants or simply turning a former Cuban café into a rollicking Vietnamese party spot, such as the escapism of Miami’s Tâm Tâm. That’s where the funky ’70s-style aesthetic – wood paneling, “Barbarella” posters and karaoke in the bathroom – goes hand in hand with its diverse and exceptional menu.
Restaurants Making Themselves Destinations
Teppanyaki revived for a new generation of diners, with tables centered by flat top grills and chefs doing fiery antics and fancy knife work
From Executive Chef Joshua Gil of Maison Kasai in Los Angeles
’70s Island theme with corresponding food and drink, along with a weekend DJ, contests and dancing; painstakingly sourced art and artifacts round out the vibe
From Belles Beach House in Venice, California
“It’s more important now than ever not because it’s trendy, but because it’s what we all need,” Belles Beach House General Manager Chris Newcomer says. “We need to take a moment to put down our cell phones and computers, and just live.”
Old Hollywood with gleaming neon, a reel-to-reel tape recorder and menus that look like vintage newspapers
The Bar Next Door in West Hollywood, California
Coastal Mexican cuisine with a late-night DJ and dancing replete with fog-emanating dance floor
From Costera Cocina in Chicago
Steakhouse supper club with luxe protein add-ons and giant cuts of meat, such as the 40-ounce prime tomahawk steak wrapped in edible 24-carat gold
From Executive Chef Brandon Truesdale of Supper Club on Belcourt in Nashville
Parisian supper club embodying an elegant atmosphere with Parisian art and decor, as well as late-night live music, such as a six-piece Japanese band called the Konichiwas
From ADKT (Art, Drinks, Kitchen, Tunes) in West Hollywood, California
Elevate Your Late-Night Offerings
Bars have upped the ante on what to eat while drinking. It’s not just restaurants with great bar menus, which proliferate across the country. It’s bars and lounges with kitchens turning out dishes that go far beyond wings and pizza.
An aerialist dangling above the room is just one highlight at Mr. Wanderlust, a vast jazz bar and piano lounge at the Tower 8 restaurant development in Downtown Los Angeles. Executive Chef Richard Archuleta keeps the cocktail menu in mind when creating small bites, such as caviar toad in the hole and braised Wagyu beef “cigarettes” with shishito and umeboshi. The goal is to take guests on a journey, whether it’s the escapist theme or a few globe-trotting snacks, well into the night.
Upscale After-Hours Offerings
Osetra caviar with banana johnnycakes and Boston Sling cocktails, a riff on the Singapore Sling made at the original Long Bar in Singapore
From the Long Bar & Terrace, Raffles Hotel in Boston
Wagyu skewers with black olive butter and pine nut crumbs
From Dahlia, Proper Hotel in Los Angeles
Serve Up Nostalgic Drinks
What fueled the 1970s – disco, funky patterns, olive green, Burt Reynolds and Harvey Wallbangers – is back in a big way. It’s not just the decor of the Me Decade inspiring restaurants and bars; cocktails also bring an element of nostalgia and fun to menus. And it’s attracting everyone from Gen Zers to Boomers (who loved them the first time around).
What people were drinking in the ’70s – layered cocktails with lots of fruit juices, simple high balls, inexpensive regional beers and Riunite on ice – was easy, breezy, all about the party and come as you are. People were trying to stay upbeat during a time of cultural, economic and political upheaval, which resonates today. The food, however, is still bar food, like wings, but with modern flavors such as the miso with furikake lollipop wings at Pins and Needles in Lakewood, Ohio.
Drinks With a Story Behind Them
The Donna Summer Dress, a “fruity yet dry paloma”
From The Let’s Go, an Italian Disco and Cocktail Club in Los Angeles
The Dirty Ashtray, a loaded Miller High Life topped with hot sauce, salt, pepper and a crushed lime, with a sidecar of Malort.
From Good Night John Boy in Chicago and Cleveland