Would you dine in the dark?

(29 /01 /2015)

I was recently watching a comedy show on TV, not thinking about hospitality issues for a change, when one of the skits on the show grabbed by attention and really got my creative juices flowing.  The skit was about this couple who went to a restaurant that showcased the “essence of food”; translation – diners could order from the menu, could chew the food but then had to “spit” rather than ingest the food, much like you would when wine tasting.  Diners were able to experience the aromas, the flavours, the textures, the food’s essence but without the “carbs and calories”. In reality, this concept seems completely ludicrous in my book – honestly, who would enjoy dining without eating?  But perhaps it could work…along with the many other weird and wonderful dining concepts that are being tried out throughout the world.  Here’s a taste…

At Dans Le Noir in London, you dine from a surprise menu in a pitch-black dining room…even the servers are blind so no one can actually see the food you’re eating.  You’d have to be very trusting of the chefs that what they put on your plate is to your palate but just imagine how much more you’d rely on your senses of taste and smell.  Perhaps this could be a way of experiencing the “essence of food” without using the spittoon!

Themed restaurants have been around for years and yet they still seem to be popular with patrons.  I can’t even think of a theme that hasn’t already been turned into a restaurant but some of the crazier ones that I’ve come across include: bathroom dining where the chairs are toilets & the tables are vanity tops; primal dining – ditch the silverware and plates and eat like a Barbarian; disaster cafés where you experience the full force of earthquakes or other natural disasters while dining; and rude service cafés where patrons are treated terribly!

A couple of other interesting concepts I came across while researching bizarre restaurants, was “pay as you please” or “pay for time”.  With the first concept, customers paid whatever they thought the meal was worth – if patrons enjoyed the meal they paid well but if not, then there was certainly no tip for the chef!  The second concept was different again – customers could bring their own food and beverages and pretty much stay as long as they liked, paying as little or as much as they thought that time was worth.  And for thrill seeking customers, dining up amongst the tree tops in giant tree-houses or sharing a meal on a suspended platform high up in the sky are also available options.  Want to experience food created by tomorrow’s world-class chefs?  Well now there are cafes serving meals created and prepared by budding chefs under the age of twelve with just a little bit of adult guidance.  Perhaps the Junior Masterchef craze is here to stay?

But now down to business…do these unique dining concepts actually work? And how much effort must go into them to make them a success?  I think the key advantage of presenting something quirky is customer attraction.  Unusual concepts tend to draw in the crowds and get people talking so they do the promotion for you.  And these unique dining experiences can often be priced a little higher so perhaps there’s greater profit potential…except in the case of “pay as you please” or “pay for time” which I imagine would be much harder to profit from.  Unique concepts also allow you to indulge your creative side and take a few risks, enabling you to cater to a niche target market with few competitors.

However, launching an original restaurant idea does pose a few risks.  What if customers really don’t like what you’re offering?  This will obviously impact you’re ability to make money and stay afloat.  The staff you employ will need to be fully committed to your concept as your service is only as good as the people providing it.  The cost to establish something quirky may be much higher than for a more traditional restaurant so that must be taken into consideration when working out how much you can sell your product for.  Something else to consider is the economic climate in which you’re operating – in hard times, restaurants offering higher-priced dining experiences will suffer as patrons go elsewhere for more modest meals.  Also consider how much your concept restaurant will cost to maintain especially if you’re intending to hang customers upside down in the trees!

Launching an original restaurant idea and having the guts to take a risk or two is truly admirable.  But you must do your homework and follow the formula for establishing a new business to ensure success.  So while it might seem that all the ideas for unique restaurants are taken, I’m sure you can come up with something new and amazing for the world to enjoy.  I’m just not a fan of heights!

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