Even the smallest restaurants have grand concepts and big entertainment ideas. In fact, small venues often create an atmosphere of exclusivity that attracts more diners than expensive promotions. Clever entertainment and diversions keep customers returning, and restaurateurs can choose from hundreds of ideas to attract dedicated audiences. Restaurant and bar diversions that excite regular customers and draw new visitors include live music, DJs, art showings, cooking demonstrations, magic shows, fortune tellers and other creative draws.

Entertain by Cooking Brains

Diners have a natural affinity for food-related entertainment and social gatherings, so cooking lessons, demonstrations and talks by celebrity chefs are natural focuses for hosted restaurant events. Kick things up a notch by catering a special meal after the demonstration. Don’t settle for the obvious choices but strive to titillate, educate and entice people with ethnic foods or a different style of cooking familiar ingredients.

Most restaurants can teach about baking pies, but few offer a strategy for replacing the traditional wedding cake with signature pies. Be sure to tell an interesting story in the advertising and at the event such as information about suppliers, food history, restaurant history or other relevant details.

Following the Yellow Brick Road

Ideas for promotional events at restaurants will expand naturally after the first few theme nights (or days) because customers will begin suggesting thematic ideas. Getting publicity and exciting people depend on doing something that’s just a little different from typical promotions. Restaurateurs can pave their own roads to success with ideas like:

  • Two-for-one nights for drinks, menu specials, desserts or the full menu are normal, but consider holding a promotion for singles who meet and share a table or participate in a speed-dating round-robin.
  • Host a beer or wine tasting for neophytes to educate them about craft beers and fine wines.
  • Host community holiday celebrations with live music, open microphones or standup comedy routines.
  • Themed dinners are an ideal way to jump-start business on slow nights, but you can generate even more excitement by encouraging diners to dress for the theme and holding them on weekends or special occasions.
  • Fundraisers are a great way to involve local charities, neighboring businesses and suppliers in special entertainment partnerships.
  • Host a Vegas night with mock-gambling, magic shows, glitzy spangled and feathered showgirls or lounge entertainers.
  • Choose trivia-night themes based on sports, local history, food knowledge or music.

Karaoke with a Rocket-Man Twist

Karaoke nights consistently generate business when managers add something extra to keep customers engaged. Each night might have its own theme or musical style that keeps customers excited and returning. Try hosting local celebrities’ night, sports figures from area teams or newscasters and journalists. Host a rock night, blues event, country-western classic or crossover sing-along. Possible karaoke themes include:

  • Music by decade
  • Special request night
  • Corporate challenges
  • Duets or parodies
  • Children’s songs sung in an adult style
  • Twisted rock, rap and hip hop
  • Most awful songs ever recorded

The song lineup’s quality (or lack thereof in the last example) is the key to success and not quantity. Try to accommodate special requests that fit the theme, which is easier to do if customers can connect to the restaurant’s digital-menu or POS systems with their smartphones or tablets.

Don’t Shoot the Piano Player for His or Her Art

Offering dinner specials for special events is one the simplest ways to promote a special, but always look for a unique selling proposition. Instead of showing the works of local artists indiscriminately, choose an artistic style, medium or period. Commission a special showing in unusual media such as tiled art, wire-mesh shadow portraits, paint drips or painting with the body. Get people’s attention, and keep them talking to generate phenomenal promotional results and extreme customer loyalty.

Food, service and ambiance satisfy diners at basic levels, and favorite foods will keep people returning at regular times. Restaurateurs can increase restaurant visits and sales per visit by breaking through the limitations of dining habits. Give customers unique entertainment propositions regularly. Unique restaurant diversions build loyalty, attract new customers and keep regulars engaged and excited.