June 14, 2018 Dinner as a Show: The 10 Most Entertaining, Crazy, and Unique Restaurant Themes
A great restaurant concept can make your business one in a million. With over a million restaurants in the U.S. today, unique restaurant themes intrigue customers – and draw media attention.
Whether you’re starting a new restaurant, or reinventing your concept, these 10 unique restaurant themes will inspire your creativity…
Why Consider a Themed Restaurant?
Because it’s more than a meal. It’s an experience.
According to a study by Eventbrite and Harris Interactive, customer spending on experiences has increased by 70% since 1987. The study also shows that 78% of millennials would rather purchase an experience than an item or product.
You could argue that dinner itself is an experience. But unique restaurant themes go the extra mile by adding entertainment.
Some experts believe guests are craving experiences because they want to share stories and photos on social media. Unique restaurant themes give people something to brag about, promoting your restaurant in the process.
It’s an Instagram picture in a hospital gown while at the Heart Attack Grill in Vegas (see #8).
Or, it’s sipping a craft beer…with a cat at Koneko in NYC (see #4).
While these 10 unique restaurant themes go all out, you don’t have to. A little entertainment goes a long way in giving guests a memorable experience. From live trivia events to theme nights, try these 7 tips for cultivating a more entertaining vibe at your place.
You’ve Got the Write Idea: Unique Restaurant Themes Based on Books
1) The Hobbit Cafe
Love “Lord of the Rings”? Check out this hobbit hangout in Houston.
Since 1973, The Hobbit Cafe, has been a go-to spot for big fans of Tolkien. When the Hobbit Café first opened, they offered a vegetarian menu crafted around a traditional hobbit diet.
Now, the cozy café is known for a great craft beer selection and more varied dining options (all named after Tolkien characters, of course). The Smaug’s Delight and Bilbo Magnificent are fan favorites.
Takeaway: Create unique restaurant themes based on your favorite work of fiction. But be smart: The owners are careful not use “Lord of the Rings” in their actual branding (it’s trademarked).
2) Poe’s Tavern
Some of the best unique restaurant themes combine literature with local history. Take Poe’s Tavern, located in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, for example.
In the 1800’s, the famous poet Edgar Allan Poe was stationed in Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. This inspired the owners to name the quaint burger joint in the author’s honor.
The walls are adorned with quotes from the elusive poet, along with portraits and articles of the restaurant’s namesake. Menu items are also monikered based on Poe’s most famous pieces, with burgers named after the “Gold Bug,” “Raven,” and “Tell-Tale Heart.”
Takeaway: Build unique restaurant themes around famous local authors or other historical figures who once haunted your town. As an added bonus, historical works of fiction are often in the public domain – so trademark is less of an issue. When in doubt, check the U.S. Patent Office’s searchable online database.
Unique Restaurant Themes with Animals
3) Doggy Style Deli
Unique restaurant themes have gone to the dogs…literally. This Canadian deli offers a menu specifically for the pups. It includes items like duck sausage rolls and lamb stroganoff for four-legged guests to enjoy. They even offer doggie birthday parties.
But food isn’t all they do. Doggy Style Deli also has a novelty shop with products for pooches, like leashes and collars.
Takeaway: You don’t have to implement unique restaurant themes exclusively for dogs. But many restaurants and bars are now offering dog-friendly outdoor seating (just check with your local health and zoning departments to ensure it’s legal). Like Doggy Style Deli, you could also create an on-site gift shop as an added revenue stream.
Felines and food? Yes, you can pet a cat and eat a snack at Koneko in Manhattan.
Touted as America’s first cat cafe and sake bar, this eatery was inspired by one of the most unique restaurant themes in Japan…dining with cats (koneko means “kitten” in Japanese).
At Koneko, you can enjoy traditional Japanese fare with a glass of wine, beer, or sake. About 20 cats roam freely at your feet.
Unique restaurant themes can also be aligned with a strong mission. Guests can adopt any of the furry friends that join them for a meal at Koneko.
Takeaway: Ok, you’re probably not going to let cats go wild in your place. But you could dedicate a beer tap handle to a local animal shelter – and donate the proceeds from every pour. Or, run a live trivia night between animal shelters in your community. The winning team gets a donation from your restaurant.
Pop-Cultured Inspired Unique Restaurant Themes
5) Zombie Burger
Get weird with your unique restaurant themes.
Des Moines, Idaho is ground zero for this post-apocalyptic burger joint. Zombie Burger has now spread to 3 additional locations where fans of the undead can dine during a (simulated) zombie outbreak.
Described as a 1970s roadside burger joint with a zombie twist, the Zombie Burger Joint + Shake Lab immerses guests in another time and place. Guests can devour self-proclaimed “GOREmet” menu items, like the “Walking Ched” and the “Undead Elvis.”
Takeaway: Look to popular TV franchises for unique restaurant themes. Remember, don’t use the actual show name (in this case, the Walking Dead).
6) Saved by the Max
It’s truly a TV dinner at Saved by the Max. This popup immerses guests in unique restaurant themes from a favorite 1990s sitcom…Saved by the Bell.
Guests dine like the gang in Belding’s office for dinner or brunch, while Michelin star chef Brian Fisher delivers entrees named after the famous characters – like “AC’s Sliders” or “Mac & Screech.”
Takeaway: A pop restaurant can give you a chance to explore unique restaurant themes. Try a pop-up dinner event with a unique theme to see how guests react.
How to Run a Promotion for Maximum ROI
The ultimate guide for owners & managers.
Wayyyy Out-of-the-Box Unique Restaurant Themes
When it comes to unique restaurant themes, Opaque is in the dark.
Guests eat their meals in complete darkness. After placing orders in a lit room, diners are guided to a pitch-black dining room to enjoy their meals.
Takeaway: Pick one of the five senses and run with it when exploring unique restaurant themes. That could mean offering a variety of culinary textures for touch or an aroma bar for smell.
8) Heart Attack Grill
Some unique restaurant themes break all the rules. The Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas offers the greasiest, highest calorie burgers you can find.
The worst nightmare for vegetarians and the health-conscious crowd is a dream come true for those who want to indulge.
The Heart Attack Grill is set up like a hospital (oh, the irony). Guests are referred to as “patients,” servers are dressed and addressed as “nurses,” and orders are considered “prescriptions.”
With items like the Triple Bypass Burger®, the Heart Attack Grill has come under scrutiny for taking their gimmick too far. (They even offer free food to diners weighing over 350 pounds). Still, the grill has been serving burgers and making headlines since 2005.
Takeaway: Explore unexpected concepts as unique restaurant themes. While some say that all press is good press, be prepared for some negative attention.
Unique Restaurant Themes That Get Diners Involved
9) Safe House
One of the most unique restaurant themes to try is giving guests a role to play. At Safe House, diners double as international spies.
Located in discrete buildings labeled as “International Exports Ltd.” in Milwaukee and Chicago, guests enter by providing a password. If they don’t say the right word, guests must perform (often embarrassing) “missions.” These missions are broadcast via surveillance cameras to the diners inside.
Once “spies” infiltrate the dining area, they’re treated as covert operators on a mission for fun and food.
Takeaway: Find unique restaurant themes that get your guests involved as participants rather than bystanders. Another option is bringing in a murder mystery theater group that invites patrons to solve the case from their tables.
10) JBJ Soul Kitchen
JBJ Soul Kitchen sends guests on an actual mission – to donate or volunteer as payment for their meals. There are no set prices at the 2 JBJ Soul Kitchen restaurants in New Jersey. The goal of these unique restaurant themes is to help those in-need and to fight world hunger. With over 84,000 meals served as of May 2018, this restaurant is fulfilling their mission.
Takeaway: JBJ stands for Jon Bon Jovi. This community restaurant is run by his foundation. Look to local celebrities or charities to see if you can partner up for unique restaurant themes.
The ultimate takeaway is this: unique restaurant themes can be silly, serious, immersive, or even controversial. But one thing each restaurant has in common? They give guests an entertaining, memorable experience that goes beyond the plate.