‘Eatertainment’ in all its forms and how to apply it to your restaurant

Wine glasses in front of band

In Kamila Sitwell’s soon to be published ‘Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation’ she discusses ‘eatertainment’ and how you can apply it to your restaurant.

After explaining where ‘eatertainment’ started – that’s right – in the US, Kamila goes on to explain what ‘eatertainment’ means….

Eatertainment is the dining experience that goes the extra mile in order to create a wow factor for guests, making their visit both memorable and shareworthy. In return, customers’ Instagram posts and tweets form an important ‘free’ component of eatertainment venues’ marketing activity.

Market trends in the UK are pointing to the fact that customers are eager for a more meaningful dining experience, and it’s not just the Millennials clamouring for this; it is a trend that’s capturing the attention of anyone who wants something they can’t get when they eat at home with friends. Furthermore, they’re willing to pay more per dish in return for eatertainment than they would for a standard restaurant menu. For a restaurateur or bar owner, eatertainment is a simpler, cleaner option than charging an entrance fee, allowing them to set their menu prices accordingly.

What the eatertainment comprises is basically down to the venue, its target demographic, brand values and how much it wants to spend. It can encompass a wide variety of aspects, from providing live music or comedy acts to a completely immersive theme which wraps around the entire guest experience. Naturally, your food and drink need to be outstanding, too, and remain a central talking point. A poor offering will simply nullify the entertainment experience, and the reverse is also true.

In the crowded hospitality marketplace, eatertainment offers you the opportunity to refresh your venue with an exciting impetus that can reignite your existing customers’ interest, while attracting new ones through your door. The ideas I’ll present will range from the simple (but no less effective) to the luxurious and lavish.

Molecular Gastronomy

Heston Blumenthal is perhaps the chef best known for pioneering molecular gastronomy. In many ways, he is to the restaurant industry what Alexander McQueen was to the fashion industry. Championing new styles that look amazing and cost the earth, Heston continues to amaze and enthral at his famous Fat Duck restaurant with dishes such as ‘the sound of the sea’, a complex creation that not only appeals to the senses of sight, smell and taste, but also hearing as the diner wears headphones while eating. The sensory experience is complete and they are transported to the beach.

Heston continually pushes the boundaries, proving that contemporary cuisine thrives on unexpected flavour combinations, challenging the eater with additional twists and playfulness, and he provides the pinnacle of the molecular gastronomy experience. His theories and practices are now being adopted by others who share his passion.

For example, Adam Melonas, chef at Dubai’s Burj al-Arab hotel, created Octopops – orange flower-shaped lollipops created from octopus. Tom Sellers’s restaurant, Story, offers edible candles made from beef dripping and Oreo-type biscuits made with squid ink and smoked eel mousse. Surprise unites them all as the key ingredient, proving that appearances can be deceptive.

Drinks as the star

The Alchemist in the City of London has elevated the drinks experience so that it aligns completely with its location, theme and design. Here customers are treated to an exotic range of bespoke concoctions, such as a hot and cold expresso mai which is served at two temperatures at the same time, or a vodka cocktail which has ‘magic’ as one of the ingredients. It certainly seems that way as you watch the colours change before your eyes.

Edible magic certainly creates illusions, but the result are real.

Creating an immersive experience

More than ever, guests want to participate actively in their dining experiences, and restauranteurs are finding new ways to immerse them fully with offerings beyond food and drinks. These range from simple one-off themed events to fully integrated design offerings with live performance elements. Eatertainment encompasses anything that will attract customers to a venue and engage them, and many venues have found its popularity regularly attracts repeat custom.

A restaurant could hold a poker night if evidence shows there is enough local community interest in the game. A bar could host a murder mystery event, or hire a local band/musician. Eatertainment works on all levels, so it’s no wonder it’s becoming popular with brands.

‘We are introducing more and more sophisticated live events at our restaurants, for example our music acts at Quaglino’s, as we have found that they really entice new customers, and our regulars are happy too.’

Jean-Baptiste Requien, D&D

Kamila goes on to give examples of high end Eatertainment venues including Bunga Bunga, Maggie’s, Barts and Mr Fogg’s which serve their customers unforgettable moments beyond their food and drinks.  Experiential offerings such as Alcotraz and Dans le Noir go even further in surprising their guests…

Alcotraz places the customer behind jailhouse bars in London’s first immersive prison-theme cocktail venue where each drink is tailored to the customer, depending on their own choice which they are asked to smuggle past the prison guards. Upon arrival, guests are donned in orange jump suits and thrown into their cell where the wardens keep a watchful eye over them as they attempt to hide their contraband. If successful, they are taken to a bespoke cocktail bar where their illicit liquor is mixed into a tailored cocktail, without a menu in sight.

 ‘Dans le Noir” creates an unforgettable experience by inviting guests to dine in complete darkness. On the surface, this might seek like a complicated experience to comprehend. However, it’s designed to heighten its guests ‘senses with the intention of experiencing their food in a different way, through smell, taste and touch, rather than sight. It not only provokes an entirely different way of socialising with fellow guests, it often provokes reflection on how visually impaired people might experience dining out. Sharpening the senses in this way prompts the diner to think about what they are eating in new and challenging ways and this experience is second to none – a concept that is spreading to cities across Europe.

Music ++

Music is well known for its subliminal effect on diners, from the softer sounds that match a slower, more relaxed experience that encourages spending more time at the table (leading to increased customer spend on additional items, notably alcohol) to tracks with high energy beats that encourage diners to eat more quickly, particularly useful for higher-volume venues where they actively want faster customer turnover.

Many restaurants already showcase cabaret acts and live music performances as part of their eatertainment offering. However, some venues are discovering that in raising the bar, they are reaping rewards. For example, Circus in London’s Covent Garden, never advertise what acts might be appearing and so every night is a surprise; Acts vary from aerialists, to contortionists and acrobats, fire-breathers to hula-hoopers, burlesque and drag, all adding that extra drama to an evening out. For opera lovers, Bel Canto brings arias to your aperitifs, whilst Park Chinois delves into the exotic world of burlesque in what it describes as celebrating “the French love affair for the mystique of the Orient resulting in a jaw-dropping interior and an unparalleled dining experience.”

Quaglino’s ‘Q Aperitivos’ evenings are glamourous, reflecting the sultry side of music with a live band at the bar themed to match the cocktails and menu on offer at the time.

How you can adapt

Given the examples I’ve listed above, I understand that eatertainment may seem impossible to implement in your own establishment, taking into account venue size, location and budget. However, I want to inspire you. It’s not impossible to create a bespoke experience for your customers that will set you apart.

There are many small ways you can implement changes that will have a significant impact on your guests. Music is an excellent start as it immediately adds ambience, and if you can include an element of live performance every now and then, your guests will be more likely to offer feedback. Adding entertainment to culinary delight is the best way to ensure that guests’ experiences are truly memorable.

However, live acts only go so far in creating an extra special experience. Through introducing a little magic and theatre to dining rituals, you’ll ensure your venue or brand will resonate even more with your guests. This can then be enhanced using direct interaction with chefs and staff, or customised mood-matching culinary experiences. Integrate these with your social media strategy, and you’ve nailed the new way of doing food business.

The above is a short extract from Kamila Sitwell’s upcoming book “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation” which can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Bespoke will help raise your game in the competitive world of hospitality, providing you with fresh

insights needed to steer a course to your customers’ delight, loyalty and ultimately business success.