It’s been a year full of tinned fish, dirty soda and pickle-flavored products. But one trend we didn’t see coming was experiential dining, which Yelp reports was on the rise in 2022—and it looks like it’ll continue to gain traction through the new year. Searches for “underwater restaurants” were up 263 percent and searches for “dinner theaters” were up 109 percent, but there are plenty of other experiential restaurant and bar trends to get in on in 2023. Read on for details, plus some of our favorite spots to add to your foodie bucket list.
What Is Experiential Dining?
You know the order of events when you go out to dinner, from being seated to paying the bill. But experiential dining is when a restaurant goes beyond the traditional style to offer their customers a unique “experience.” Sometimes it’s the environment (like dining on a Ferris wheel or in the dark), sometimes it’s live entertainment (like a violinist, belly dancers or a live show at your table) and other times it’s the dishes themselves. It may seem like a nebulous concept, but you know experiential dining when you, um, experience it.
According to Sam Bakhshandehpouri, co-owner of The Electric Jane in Nashville, Tennessee, experiential dining of all types is going to blow up next year. “Dinner theatre is going to be it—live music, tableside service, other forms of entertainment or a show—whether on your plate or on the stage, it’s going to be the key in 2023.”
Read on for a few popular types of experiential dining that you should keep an eye out for.
6 Types of Experiential Dining to Try in 2023
1. Dinner Theaters
Dinner and a show is arguably the most quintessential outing of all time. Dinner theater can mean solving a whodunnit at a murder mystery performance (New Yorkers are big fans of The Dinner Detective), taking in a play (Sylver Spoon in New Braunfels, Texas and Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania are great for musicals and off-Broadway shows), crooning along to live music (take in tunes at The Barn in Greensboro, North Carolina, the longest running dinner theater in the U.S.) or hauling the kids to Medieval Times.
We’ll also note that the word “theater” is subjective and can also refer to movie theaters rather than live theatrical performances. Once Covid hit, drive-in movie theaters made an impressive comeback. Now, fancy dine-in movie theaters are the buzzy way to take in a flick with supper. Search for the closest AMC, iPic or Cinépolis to you, or visit nationally renowned spots like NYC’s Nitehawk Cinema, The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, or The Commodore Theatre in Portsmouth, Virginia.
2. Underwater Restaurants
Is there room for a school of fish at your table? You’ll have no choice but to dine with plenty of sea critters at an underwater restaurant. Some are built inside aquariums, while others take you beneath ocean waters to a subaquatic eatery.
Internationally, underwater fine dining isn’t all that new. There are tons of venues that have likely crossed your For You page, like Under in Norway, Ithaa Undersea Restaurant in the Maldives, Koral Restaurant in Indonesia and Ossiano Underwater Restaurant & Bar in China. But there are also some stateside options to explore as well. EPCOT’s Coral Reef Restaurant is home to more than 2,000 sea creatures and SeaWorld Orlando’s Sharks Underwater Grill and Bar houses a ton of iconic predators. If you’re not visiting those parks, try Aquarium: An Underwater Dining Experience, which has locations in Colorado, Tennessee and Texas.
3. Tableside Service
“Tableside service is a necessary step of fine dining, and we will continue to see that grow in the industry—whether it be tableside carvings, shaving truffles or setting a dessert in flames,” predicts chef Steven DeVillis of E3 Chophouse in Nashville, Tennessee.
Think Brazilian rodizio spots where gauchos carve a myriad of meats right onto your plate, Mexican restaurants that prepare your guacamole at the table and your favorite local hibachi spot (we call catching the broccoli in our mouth). If you can see your food being made without leering into the kitchen or if your server makes a spectacle out of your dinner order, that’s tableside service.
TikTokkers are fans of Sebastián Pintxos Bar in Atlanta, Georgia (the tableside sangria is a must) Timpano in Tampa, Florida (order the Parm-to-Table Experience and you’ll get pesto bucatini for two, prepared tableside in a wheel of Parmesan cheese), ONE Steakhouse in Las Vegas, Nevada (think Tomahawk steak, carved to perfection right in front of you) and Oretta in Toronto, Canada (hi there, tableside cacio e pepe).
4. Multisensory Dining
You may think that taste is the only sense you need to enjoy dinner, but we actually eat with our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands as well. Multisensory dining capitalizes on this, helping your senses work together to maximize your eating experience. Take Shanghai’s Ultraviolet, which surrounds diners with 360-degree wall projections, UV lights, sounds and scent diffusers to elevate their taste buds, or Sublimotion in Ibiza, which uses wall-to-wall projections, live performances, virtual reality and over-the-top food styling and plating to shock and please their guests.
If you want to play with sight, dining in the dark is arguably the O.G. concept to try. (Consider Opaque in L.A. and Abigail’s Kitchen in New York for blindfolded gastronomy.) But nowadays, there are restaurants out there that emphasize the gift of sight with hyper-modern cuisine and breathtaking settings instead of depriving you of it. For instance, Alinea Restaurant in Chicago is famous for its edible dessert balloon, made from green apple taffy and helium. Dinner in the Sky takes guests 50 meters (that’s about 165 feet) up in the air to dine at new heights. And Le Petit Chef is an immersive dinner show, starring a tiny chef who (virtually) walks on your table and explains the dishes to you with video, projections and sound.
5. Game and Arcade Restaurants
You’re likely familiar with concepts like Topgolf and Bowlero, which combine food, drinks and sports for a fun twist on dinner. But have you been to a restaurant that supplies you with video games and arcade machines? We’re not talking your run-of-the-mill Dave & Busters. Take Action Burger in Brooklyn, a sci-fi bar with a comic book-inspired theme and more than 50,000 free retro video games. Or maybe Scum & Villainy Cantina in L.A. is more your speed, a self-proclaimed “geek bar,” complete with intergalactic décor, that serves cocktails inspired by Game of Thrones, Batman, Black Panther, Star Wars and more. And if you’re ever in Sydney, Australia, make the trip to ESC, which is sort of like an escape room crossed with a speakeasy and an arcade. Speaking of speakeasys…
6. Speakeasy Bars
Nothing makes us feel like VIPs quite like an exclusive bar—especially one we need to know about to get in. Speakeasy bars were once the best-kept secrets of the Prohibition era. If you wanted to get your hands on some booze, you needed to know someone who knows someone to find out the top-secret party location. Speakeasys made a comeback in the early aughts, and TBH, we’re still not immune to their allure. (Chalk it up to FOMO, we guess.)
Many are totally inconspicuous, like Red Phone Booth in Nashville, Tennessee, a lounge that can only be entered by dialing a secret number in an antique London phone booth to reveal a hidden entrance. Dirty Laundry in Fort Worth, Texas looks like a laundromat on the outside, but if you walk in and pull on the “Out of Order” washing machine’s handle, you’ll find a swanky bar hidden in the back. Keys & Heels in NYC looks like a key maker and shoe repair shop on the outside, but it’s in fact a cozy lounge complete with a disco ball.
On your way to the restroom at Washington, D.C.’s Chicken + Whiskey, you’ll notice a bulky metal freezer door at the back of the restaurant. Give it a pull and you’ll find yourself in a casual bar equipped with dozens (and dozens) of whiskeys to sip on.
Taryn Pire is PureWow’s associate food editor. A former bartender and barista, she’s been writing about all things delicious since 2016, developing recipes, reviewing restaurants and investigating food trends at Food52, New Jersey Family Magazine and Taste Talks. When she isn’t testing TikTok’s latest viral recipe, she’s having popcorn for dinner and posting about it on Instagram @cookingwithpire.