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It’s no secret that customers want more. In fact, 55% of diners said that they are interested in new experiences at their local restaurants, from events to tastings.
Introducing new experiences in your restaurant can help set your business apart from competitors and position it for new heights in the new year. Here are the top five new experiences customers want in restaurants in 2024, according to the Square 2024 Dining Report.
Tastings topped the list, with 48% of customers citing them as an experience they would most enjoy at their local restaurant. Wine, beer, or coffee tastings allow customers to experience a range of your offerings in a low-risk environment — sometimes for a fixed cost — so they can gather a better understanding of your brand for a reasonable price. Allowing diners to dabble in your offerings opens your brand up to new and loyal customers who may not otherwise step outside of their go-to option.
Think of which bundle of offerings would make the most sense for your business. For example, for a wine bar, this could look like a wine tasting with four options — two traditional wine offerings combined with two offerings unique to your business. Be mindful when thinking up options to include in your tastings. Three or four completely unheard-of options could potentially scare away diners, so try to include one traditional drink in your roundup of offerings to help encourage diners to take the plunge.
Having live music in your restaurant can take your customer experience to a whole new level, and 44% of diners are interested in experiencing it. For example, if you have a live performer in your restaurant, your business can market the night as an event, bringing in people who are interested in seeing the live act. Your cuisine can work as the cherry on top for any newbies, and for your regulars, the performer can be a pleasant surprise. The same can be true if you opt for instrumental live music, such as a piano player or flutist.
Remember that the type of performer you have in your business should reflect the ambiance you’re seeking to create and the target audience you’re looking to serve. Supporting local artists in your area is a way to explore this experience and test it with customers. Be mindful of the artists you support, and be sure they reflect the values you want your restaurant to be associated with.
Cooking classes or demonstrations
It’s not surprising that 32% of diners would be interested in learning how to elevate their cooking skills from the restaurants they frequent. Introducing cooking classes or demonstrations into your business can help emphasize your expertise in your restaurant’s chosen cuisine and, depending on your execution, can take customers one step deeper into your brand. Restaurants with deep, historical family roots, for instance, can benefit from shining a spotlight on the cuisine that’s been in their owners’ families for generations and telling the story of its significance. This can bring in customers with similar backgrounds and help establish an emotional connection. Research shows that 70% of emotionally engaged customers spend up to two times or more on the brands they are loyal to.
For restaurants looking for new ways to engage customers and encourage loyalty with classes or demonstrations, examine your popular menu items and think of ways you can build moments around them. If you’re not comfortable teaching a class and sharing top-secret restaurant tricks, consider other ways you can bring customers into your dishes in a lively, engaging way — even if it’s something as simple as a Q&A with the chef.
Game and trivia nights
Who doesn’t love a good game night? Thirty-one percent of customers would enjoy a game or trivia night at their local restaurant. Game and trivia nights are a great way for your regular diners to meet new people and experience your brand and space in a different way. Changing up the layout of your restaurant for the night to encourage engagement can help customers feel as though they’re in a unique place with the same great feeling (and menu, of course).
Setting up a fixed menu can make the night easier on your staff, freeing up time for them to orchestrate the game night and tend to customer needs. Depending on the size of your space and the turnout you’re expecting, you can even set out light refreshments and drinks, which could be bite-sized versions of offerings on your menu, to encourage regulars or newbies to branch out within your menu.
Implementing art shows in your restaurant is another unique way to engage customers. Around 15% of diners would be interested in experiencing an art show at their local restaurant, and it’s not hard to see why. Art shows can bring about natural conversation topics for diners, making your business a great spot for first dates and seasoned couples. Art shows can also be a great way to support local talent, making your restaurant a potential staple in the neighborhood.
Work with local art dealers and artists to understand how you can bring this option to life. Consider themes that can tie into seasonal moments, like Valentine’s Day, that can help make your business the place to be. As always, be thoughtful about the kinds of art you showcase, and be sure to have artists and art that align with your values and the mission of your restaurant.
Diversifying restaurant offerings with live events can be an exciting moment in the life of your business. Spend time with your staff, gather feedback from your customers, and revisit your business mission to find the right opportunities that align with your path toward growth. Once you land on the right event, be especially strategic about how you market your endeavor. Action on strategies like sending marketing emails to loyal and lapsed customers, making dedicated posts on social media, and adding it to the events page of your website. After your event, assess your turnout and think about ways to pivot or build in the future.
To learn more about what customers want from restaurants in 2024, download the full 2024 Dining Report.