I’ve been sitting on yet another restaurant idea for quite a while now. I have always been curious about the idea of “dinner theater.” Traditionally, dinner theater combines a restaurant meal with a staged play or musical. Sometimes the play is secondary to the meal or, other times, the play may be a major production with dinner less important or even optional. Dinner theater requires the management of three distinct entities: a live theater, a restaurant, and a bar.
While dinner theater has evolved since its inception in the mid-1900s, it still falls into the two buckets mentioned above. A great example of the first type (theater as secondary) is the Disney Biergarten at Epcot. The venue focuses a lot on the atmosphere, but you don’t have to pay attention to the theater component if you don’t want to; the point is to eat dinner.
A marvelous example of the second type of dinner theater (dinner as secondary) is the Sleep No More experience at the McKittrick in NYC. Sleep No More is a noir-esque production of Macbeth in which audience members can walk through various rooms and scenes at their own pace, allowing for a personalized, immersive experience. Audience members can choose to optionally have dinner before or after a show at the Gallow Green rooftop lounge.
Personally, I think dinner theater can extend to a third bucket, in which the act of cooking is a performance art. My mind immediately jumps to Benihana’s teppanyaki. Japanese teppanyaki steakhouses place an emphasis on the chef performing for the diners. This can include juggling utensils, flipping shrimp tails, splitting eggs in the air with spatulas, and creating onion volcanoes.
I think this teppanyaki model could be extended to Mexican food. Mexican food has broad-based appeal, especially considering the long-term success of Chipotle which IPO’d at about $40 per share and reached a high of $750 per share in late 2015. However, Chipotle’s success seems like it is receding in the wake of an E. Coli scandal; the food feels less authentic and more robotic these days.
Thus, there is a market void to be filled. I think the ideal restaurant set-up would incorporate a bar, fast casual area, and a proper sit-down area. The bar would be used as an area to allow guests to wait for tables while generating profit for the establishment. The fast casual area would be in or adjacent to the bar area so that guests in a hurry could simply grab-and-go. The sit-down area would involve tables structured around teppanyaki grills, like at Benihana.
In terms of a playbook for teppanyaki tricks, I could see things involving carne asada doing pretty well, the onion volcano might turn into a fajita veggie volcano, and we might blow-torch your cheese for you. As I’m not a chef, I don’t really know what’s feasible here, but I do think this sort of experience could be deeply compelling.
This idea is a lot less thought out than Wyrd, the concept I shared last week. I’m fixated on the core kernel of this idea, though. I do hope that others think this is cool; I’d want to try making it happen one day. If someone else reads this and wants to beat me to the punch, just let me know: I’d really love to help!