12 restaurant entertainment ideas to keep guests coming back

Editorial Team

9 min read
Female chef teaching a cooking class

Restaurant entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes, but there’s one consistent element that creates a common thread: excitement. Bringing entertainment into your eatery gives guests a reason — other than your top-notch food and hospitality, of course — to visit.

Whether you’re looking to increase revenue or amp up brand awareness, entertainment can be a way for all types of restaurants to make a much-needed impression.

Benefits to your bottom line

Live music and wine nights are fun, but do they really offer as much value to restaurant owners and operators as some other entertainment events could potentially provide?

While it’s true that fun restaurant entertainment ideas can come with some expense, depending on your game plan, it’s a definite case of spending money to make money. That’s because special events can be a boost for your bottom line. Here’s why:

  • Entertainment helps you differentiate your restaurant from the competition. Maybe you have similar menus and price points, but your live band on Taco Tuesdays helps score you extra points — and extra reservations.
  • It’s pure ambience. The energy and excitement that comes with entertainment can be contagious in the very best way. Guests will come back time and time again because they want to be a part of that vibe.
  • It can help disguise other pain points. Slow service doesn’t seem so slow when guests have something besides the wait time to focus on.
  • It may help with upsells. If you host a wine tasting, guests have an opportunity to become more educated about wine, potentially purchasing bottles to take home or upgrading from a glass to a bottle of their new favorite the next time they visit.
  • Entertainment can also increase visits from new and loyal customers. Maybe someone typically comes by once a month, but now wants to drop by every Saturday for trivia night. Changing up what’s on offer, be it food or entertainment, creates more reasons for guests to visit.

1. Craft workshops

Wine and paint nights and pottery pop-ups have rapidly gained popularity in recent years, which makes craft nights a decidedly on-trend restaurant event idea. You can host the evening yourself, getting a staff member who’s crafty to set up the event, or partner with a craft business in your community for a mutually beneficial cross-promotional opportunity.

Ideas include:

  • Paint parties
  • Soap or candle making
  • Jewelry making
  • Seasonal crafts, such as creating holiday cards
  • Painting or etching coffee cups or beer mugs
  • Wine cork art

2. Live music

Music and restaurant dining go hand in hand. You likely already have tunes of some sort piped through your dining room, but upgrading to live music — even if it’s just once or twice a week — can be a smart move.

Live music can include anything from soft, background tunes played by a talented pianist to a full rock band to get the post-happy hour crowd on their feet on Friday night. You might have a jazz band for Sunday brunch, classical music nights, or even an open mic night if you run a café or bistro that supports a more casual approach.

3. Themed menu nights

Themed menus can open the door for culinary creativity. Your chefs get to experiment with ingredients while honoring a specific theme. Meanwhile, you have a specific hook to encourage guests to come in and dine.

Alliteration seems to be common with theme nights, with Taco Tuesday, Meatless Monday, and Thirsty Thursday (think a menu brimming with drink specials) among the most common picks. But, you’re really only limited by your imagination and the parameters set forth by your branding. You probably don’t want to have a vegan night at your steakhouse (although that could definitely generate some buzz), but a Cowboy Cookout menu could be right on par.

Consider mining pop culture for ideas, too. A theme menu that coincides with a Hollywood awards ceremony could bring in people eager for a touch of A-lister glitz and glam, or you could honor a highly streamed TV show with a menu that matches the characters or on-screen cuisine.

4. Wine & whiskey tastings

Wine and whiskey are two products that appeal to large audiences, but sales can suffer when guests are uncertain as to which label or type they should order. Hosting a tasting marries entertainment and education, empowering guests in the process.

To throw one of your own:

  1. Contact your local distributor/vendor — they likely have educators on staff or can otherwise connect you with reps from vineyards and distilleries who would be more than happy to lead the tasting.
  2. Work with the rep to choose which products to highlight, hopefully including products that range in style and price tag so there’s something for everyone.
  3. Make the event fun! People don’t love being preached to, but they do love prizes for blind tasting a wine correctly or picking the right food pairing for a whiskey they just sampled for the first time.

5. Games & puzzles

Not all restaurant activities have to be formal or cost a lot of money on the front end. If you tend to cater to a younger crowd or lots of families, keep a collection of board games and puzzles handy. You can have a single morning or afternoon dedicated to games or have them available for after-dinner most nights.

You can even host tournaments to promote your gaming activities. It can be a smart way to get the community in on an all-ages activity.

READ: Should your business have an alter ego? 5 ideas for how to make passive income

6. Trivia nights

Do you know the middle name of the fifth president of the United States? What year did Marlon Brando win his Oscar? How many ingredients go into a bearnaise sauce? Trivia nights are immensely popular with guests because they stir up a sense of competition and give friends, families, and coworkers a chance to show off their smarts while hanging out with their besties.

For restaurants and bars, trivia nights draw a captive audience that is bound to eat and drink as they answer questions and wait to see who comes out on top.

7. Chef & bartender demonstrations

What better way to shine a spotlight on your in-house talent than hosting a class in your restaurant or bar? As guests are wowed by mixology or a sushi-making class, they’re also witnessing firsthand how wonderfully able your team truly is.

Add in some taste testing and interactivity (maybe someone can volunteer to decorate their own mini cake alongside your head baker), and you have a recipe for a memorable experience.

This type of restaurant entertainment carries other benefits, too, and can be used as a springboard for additional opportunities. You may be able to tie demos into your rewards program by allowing guests to redeem points in exchange for being the person who gets to taste the cocktails or get a one-on-one lesson from the chef.

8. Photo booth

While a photo booth may not be a perfect fit for more upscale or formal restaurant spaces, it can be the perfect form of on-demand entertainment for bars and eateries that are more about merriment than they are dedicated to chasing Michelin stars.

Position a photo booth by your front door and now guests have a way to amuse themselves while they’re waiting for a table. Encourage before and after shots — especially if you’re a bar with live music going on and you know people will be drinking and dancing — and consider using a booth that creates digital copies that you can upload to social media.

9. Arcade games

Restaurant activities that appeal to our inner child can have an impact just as much as a big band or high-profile event. Install some vintage arcade games or pinball machines and offer waitress service so people can play old-school favorites while enjoying snacks and drinks.

10. Holiday parties

‘Tis the season to turn your space into holiday central! Throw a Winter Wonderland ball, have a Halloween Howl bash complete with a costume contest, or go totally patriotic with an indoor Fourth of July picnic that includes red, white, and blue cocktails. Plan and advertise everything correctly and you may become the go-to destination for holiday parties in the future.

11. Celebrity meet & greet

There are few things people love more than getting up close and personal with their idols. Invite a celebrity to meet the fans, and charge for VIP access. That might be eating at the chef’s table with a local sports star or guest bartending alongside a TV star who calls your city his or her hometown.

It can be tricky getting celebrities to agree to these appearances, but some might happily sign up if you incorporate a charitable tie-in. Offer to raise money and awareness for the celeb’s favorite non-profit and you’ll be bringing in guests and doing good for your community at the same time.

12. Themed nights

Come get down on the dancefloor for Disco Night! Celebrate New Year’s Eve with an art deco extravaganza. Tailgate in the restaurant parking lot — everyone in a team jersey gets a promotional freebie!

There are so many ways to play with the concept of theme nights. Salute a specific decade, person, or movie. Cater to sci-fi enthusiasts or craft beer fans. Create a special menu and/or decorate your front of house to match the theme.

Keep a running list of restaurant event ideas, gathering inspiration from competitors and putting your own twist on those concepts, and you’ll always have exciting new ways to connect with current and future customers. Interested in more help using your restaurant for special events to help boost revenue?

Reach out to a Clover Business Consultant today to see how our restaurant POS systems can help you engage with customers to promote your events.


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