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Experiential Dining 101 – Giving Customers Unique Dining Experiences

As discussed in the 2023 Roland Foods Fine Foods Industry Trends & Predictions Guide, the appeal of restaurants has not faded, and in fact, consumers are now craving exciting dining experiences more than ever. In this blog, we’re diving into experiential dining, from immersive concepts to photo-worthy presentations and impressive technology. We’ll cover experiential concepts from QSR all the way to fine dining because providing an exceptional experience is possible for any type of restaurant.

Before we break it down by restaurant concept, let’s explore why experiential dining is so important.

It's Always Been About the Experience 

Restaurant dining has evolved since the first establishments opened their doors centuries ago. While concepts, service, and food have changed since then, the appeal of restaurants remains the same. These establishments provide customers with an experience - from delicious food and exciting ambiance to elegant service, every restaurant has something unique to offer. And experiential dining is just that – the ability to provide guests with a memorable experience at your establishment, which can be as simple as the ambiance or as elaborate as an immersive sensory meal.

People Crave Memorable Moments 

The restaurant industry always faces challenges and uncertainty but navigating it in today’s economic climate is even more of a feat. Consumers are eager to dine out but remain conservative with their spending habits. How can they have it all?

Cultivating memorable moments and unique dining experiences may be just what the customer needs to justify the bill. Datassential, a leading market research organization trusted by 90% of the top food and beverage companies globally, recently released a report on the 2023 restaurant industry trends. They polled consumers on the advice they’d give food industry professionals in the coming year. It’s clear – consumers are hungry for new experiences. Check out some of the responses:

  • “I love trying new foods, so keep creating!”
  • “Food is a way to gather people together. Keep fostering the sense of community in food spaces.”
  • “I want to see more in-restaurant dining. It totally irritates me that most Pizza Huts you can’t dine-in anymore. Pizza Hut is an experience. Without the experience, I won’t pay their prices.”

Dreaming up unique and enticing concepts may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of restaurant planning but is relevant in an ever-evolving and experience-focused world. Even the smallest effort, like a personalized email or improved restaurant ambiance, can help move the needle and attract new guests.

Doing It for the 'Gram 

In an era where just about everything is shared on social media, standing out on platforms like TikTok and Instagram is a must for restaurants to attract attention, especially from target generations like Millennials and Gen Z (and Gen Alpha!)

A report by Kepios stated that there are around 4.76 billion social media users in the world, which represents nearly 60% of the total global population (datareportal). Creating unique and immersive experiences is one great way to stand out among the crowd and reach the massive population of social media users. Interesting and distinctive aspects of service make for the perfect Instagram post or TikTok video! Keep reading to learn more about eye-catching and photo-worthy concepts.

Phone Eats First 

Did you know that a surprising 69% of millennials take a photo of their food before they take a bite (Maru/Matchbox)? The more interesting and appealing the presentation, the more likely a customer is to snap a picture. In fact, in a survey of 2,000 people, nearly 40% of people said they will order a dish with the sole intention of posting a picture of it on social media (TheTakeout)! User-generated content holds power on Instagram – the MGH marketing agency concluded that 45% of U.S diners have tried a restaurant based on social media postings (MGH).

Curious about concepts? Let’s dive into experiential dining for each type of restaurant. We'll cover Fast Casual and QSR, National Chains and Casual Dining, and Fine Dining below.

Experiential Dining | Fast Casual and QSR 

How can restaurant concepts – from fast food classics like McDonalds and Taco Bell, to new elevated QSRs like Cava and Roti – capitalize on experiential dining? Read on.

LTOS (Limited Time Offers)

Limited-time offers have always been a reliable and effective way to boost sales and attraction (Doordash). Recently, there has been an uptick in consumer desire to bring back discontinued items. Many QSR restaurants have hopped on this trend and brought back fan favorites for a limited time, resulting in massive social media attention and increased sales. Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza and the Double Down from KFC are just a few recent successful relaunches.

In the past few months, there has been a large social media movement urging McDonald’s to bring back their snack wraps. While the company has yet to take advantage of this popular LTO, competitors are ready to act. Wendy’s recently announced that they will be adding a new menu item, very similar to the McDonald’s snack wrap (CNN). Consider bringing back fan favorites for a limited time while this trend is still hot!

Roland Foods’ unique selection of globally sourced products can bring authenticity and appeal to your LTO. With a portfolio that spans across 12+ cuisine types, we are here to help you concept exciting culinary fusions to attract new business.

P.S. - LTOs are important for national chains, too!

Convenience is Key 

Efficiency and convenience are other ways to create a lasting impression on your diners. Following the 2019 pandemic, “temporary” drive-thrus and pick-up windows look like they are here to stay! The convenience that drive-thrus offer has boosted sales across the QSR category, and some establishments are choosing to keep them around for the long run.

No-contact drive-thrus are also on the horizon. With the rapid advancements we see in technology every day, it’s no wonder they are making their way into the restaurant industry. Many consumers are looking to reduce contact and person-to-person interaction when ordering their food, and are craving quick and efficient experiences – both of which can be achieved with automated, digital-first ordering systems (Hospitality Technology).

Build Your Own

Allow your customers the opportunity to design their dish just the way they like it. Providing a selection of toppings, sauces, and proteins is an easy way to give consumers the power to customize to their ideal meal. This also gives freedom to those with allergies or dietary restrictions to pick and choose what works for them! According to food service research firm Technomic, 62% of consumers agree that the ability to customize their order is important when visiting a fast-casual restaurant.

Spice up your customizable offerings and include new flavors, global items, and unique toppings. Offering a wide selection of items allows customers to try new items and combinations. The same study concluded that "73% of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers new flavors [and] 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on a meal that features new flavors" (Technomic). Unique, customizable offerings will keep customers coming back, and keep ticket prices up!

Check out Mod Pizza, a fast-casual pizzeria that gives customers the opportunity to build their own personalized pizza! Mod Pizza customers can customize almost every aspect of their order from size to sauce, toppings, and crusts.

Content courtesy of Roland Foods