Lacey Outten
Lacey Outten

As with many food and beverage industry trends predicted for 2019, experiential dining remains on the rise. Experiential dining is about transcending beyond the traditional hallmarks of what makes a restaurant great. Today’s restaurant patron expects more than just quality food, friendly service and an authentic sense of place. The next generation is looking for a truly unique experience when going out to eat.

As you may have guessed, Millennials—those born between 1982 and 2000—are the generation driving this trend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Millennial generation is estimated to be around 83.1 million, or about one fourth of the U.S. population. A study from found that Millennials together spend roughly $600 billion in the United States each year, and that they spend two thirds the amount that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers spend when it comes to entertainment.

O'Dwyer's Mar. '19 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '19 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

That said, Millennials are the living generation with the most spending power, so they’re worth paying attention to from a business perspective. Furthermore, an Eventbrite survey found that three out of four Millennials prefer to buy an experience over something desirable. Their dining patterns either follow something that’s easy and convenient—think fast casual concepts and delivery services like DoorDash and UberEats—or they’re looking to experience something new and exciting, something beyond just a “cool” menu.

As communicators in this industry, and those in charge of creating brand perception, our role includes helping our clients define and understand their target audiences, and then determining how to reach their desired guests, keeping them interested and engaged, coming back for more. Tapping into the experiential dining trend can lead to profitable success.

Experiential dining doesn’t mean you must go above and beyond to entertain your customers; it can be as simple as adjusting the lighting, music and ambiance. Consider making small, less costly changes to capitalize on the experiential dining trend while staying on brand. Perhaps this means installing an Instagram-worthy photo wall to be shared on social media, or implementing a guest-generated music playlist to make customers feel that they’re part of the experience itself. Or, maybe, the solution is implementing communal seating to make the establishment more approachable.

Off-premise dining opportunities are another way for restaurants to tap into the experiential dining trend. These “pop-ups” can take many forms, and the format options are endless. The venue may welcome a featured guest chef or bartender from outside the restaurant for a complete restaurant “takeover.” Or perhaps the host restaurant will collaborate with the visiting culinary talent to produce a mash-up type menu, available for only a limited time.

During these events, there’s typically a sense of camaraderie between restaurateurs and chefs, which typically spills over into the dining experience itself, further creating an experiential community feel. We’ve done this with several clients, and it helps open you up to a new audience entirely while bringing something fresh to your regulars.

Pop-ups can also help to drive new traffic and boost sales on slower nights. A restaurant or bar may pinpoint certain nights that are slower than others. Chances are their nearby competitors are experiencing similar sales. Instead of competing for guests on these low-traffic nights, look for ways to collaborate to create an attention-grabbing dining experience which will attract new guests and even loyal guests on a night they might not usually dine out.

Well-crafted programming is another area which can enhance the overall restaurant experience. For newer establishments, customized programming targeted to your desired audience can also help drive traffic. Think beyond the traditional happy hour and discounted food and drink specials. Incorporate live music, community games like Bingo and trivia or a monthly fundraising special for a local charity.

Whether making small adjustments or totally reinventing your concept, restaurant brands—and partners servicing them—must employ innovative marketing tactics. To generate more impactful media coverage, new updates and event announcements are both newsworthy but also opportunities to reconnect with writers who have not covered you in some time.

Additionally, social media helps to drive buzz and excitement. The next-generation diner responds well to engaging Instagram posts and Facebook events. Setting up ticket sales for events creates a clear call to action while simultaneously building a sense of urgency as well as a sense of exclusivity.

As with many industries, food follows cyclical trends so the takeaway should be this: restaurant brands who understand their customers—current and future—and invest in opportunities to reach these audiences will enjoy increased dining frequency, satisfaction and loyalty.

As we know, the next-generation customer is technologically savvy, connected and has high expectations. As a result, it’s more important than ever to deliver on these needs in a world controlled by instant photo posting and opinion sharing. And finally, while there’s no set formula for success, good business practices remain the same. Always stay true to your brand. While it’s crucial to remain fresh and relevant, it’s equally important to understand the changing industry climate.


Lacey Outten is Director, Food, Wine & Spirits Division at Hemsworth Communications.