Food is no longer an afterthought at some of the world’s most exciting attractions. Instead, it is becoming a key part of the visitor experience. Whether it’s themed food, food-based experiences or food festivals, eatertainment looks like it is here to stay.
The term “eatertainment” encompasses a few different elements. Attractions are moving away from the traditional fare of hot dogs and chips. Many now offer a range of high-quality food options. Others are focusing on the experience of eating itself. And finally, many venues are using themed food as a way of creating different worlds.
More and more, people are demanding good quality food when visiting an attraction. They want something that enhances their enjoyment. Theme parks are aiming to be an immersive experience. Serving food which doesn’t fit into the theme can be jarring. Imagine journeying to different galaxies at a Star Wars themed attraction. Stopping for a pizza halfway through might feel like it is breaking the spell.
Themed food and eatertainment experiences can be a solution. As well as this, there is the idea of food being an attraction in itself. Concepts range from three-course meals served in the air, to celebrity restaurant pop-ups. Theatrical dining experiences are everywhere.
Serving everyday foods alongside out of this world experiences doesn’t make sense. Many attractions now offer eatertainment dining options to fit in with their theme. The idea is to keep the experience as immersive as possible.
Theme parks have created themed dining areas to cater to different audiences. Fans can feel like they are a part of the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast in the Be Our Guest Restaurant. This establishment is one of the popular food options at Disney World Florida. The decoration makes people feel like they are inside the Beast’s enchanted castle. The scenery includes chandeliers, a coat of arms and a grand ceiling.
A visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would not be complete without a sip of Butterbeer. Or even a refreshing Pumpkin Juice. At Universal Orlando, visitors can explore locations from the Harry Potter series. Many of these take the form of food and drink experiences.
Visitors can check out the Three Broomsticks, the Leaky Cauldron or the Hog’s Head. These provide an authentic wizarding pub experience with traditional British foods. They can also explore interesting new flavours at Florian Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. Park-goers can even experiment with colourful drinks potions at Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment.
Disney’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands features some much anticipated eatertainment concepts. Galaxy’s Edge is set to open in summer 2019 at Disneyland California. It opens later the same year at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. The park features a host of exciting attractions. These include a Millennium Falcon flight simulator. Visitors can also enjoy the Rise of the Resistance trackless dark ride. But a key part of the themed experience will be the food and drink options available.
Visitors will be able to eat and drink at Ronto Roasters, Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, and Oga’s Cantina. Ronto Roasters will centre around a giant podracer engine serving as a cooker. Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo will be a rustic dining option with cargo crate stalls. Themed foods here will include delicacies from the Star Wars Universe. Customers can try fried Endorian Tip-Yip. That’s fried chicken with roasted vegetable mash and herb gravy to people from Earth. Or how about Kaadu Ribs (sticky pork ribs with a blueberry corn muffin and cabbage slaw)?
Dining with disreputable characters
The Disney Parks blog details what park-goers can expect from Oga’s Cantina. They call it “the kind of establishment that attracts some of the most interesting and disreputable characters in the galaxy. And you never know when a stormtrooper or a familiar face will show up. Patrons of the cantina come from across the galaxy to sample the famous concoctions.”
Kids and adults alike can try beverages from other worlds. Soft drinks will be available, such as Blue Milk, Tatooine Sunset or Moof Juice. Cocktails include The Fuzzy Tauntaun or The Bloody Rancor (complete with an edible bone!)
Merging entertainment and good quality eating
When visitors pay premium prices for attractions, they expect a certain standard of food to match. Millennials, in particular, want quality and experience, rather than fuel. They also want a range of choices and different types of food. Eatertainment has risen to meet this need.
Take Canadian cinema chain Cineplex for example. The company’s growth strategy includes more premium cinema options and location-based entertainment. Cineplex wants to become an entertainment destination all under one roof. Its food options are a key part of this. Cineplex’s VIP cinemas offer a larger food and drink menu, as well as licensed screens. Customers can enjoy treats such as flatbread pizzas and Thai chilli chicken. Desserts include brownies and strawberry cheesecake. It’s all delivered straight to their seats.
The premium cinema experience features IMAX for an immersive experience and luxury seating. Cinemas all over the world are stepping up their food options. The UK’s Picturehouse cinema chain offers independent cafes at each of its locations. Movie-goers now have more options besides popcorn and hotdogs.
Gaming and dining
One business that credits the inclusion of food for their success is Funderdome. This indoor entertainment centre is located in Newfoundland, Canada. It targets an audience of both young and old, family and friends.
The games centre gets people in the door with its wide range of entertainment options. This includes go karts, virtual reality experiences and arcades. But it keeps people in the building longer by offering good food and drink. Funderdome caters to nights out and parties with a full licensed bar. Pinstripes is a similar concept in the US. They aim to combine gaming experiences with quality dining.
Theme parks focusing on good food
Theme parks are in on the action too. At Walt Disney World, the Epcot World Showcase is popular with annual pass holders. Dave Kesting is the general manager of Epcot festivals. He credits a large part of this success to the food served.
“Everybody really likes to eat,” Kesting says. “There are some people who are in love with flowers and some people love the musicians. We found everyone loves food.” During Epcot’s year-round programme, the food options change on a regular basis. Visitors can enjoy small tasting portions from a wide array of stalls. They can therefore travel the world through authentic food offerings.
Another attraction that has discovered the allure of food and drink is Busch Gardens. The Tampa Bay attraction hosted its inaugural Bier Fest in August and September 2018. It featured local breweries and food producers. The festival took place over four weekends. It had over 100 beers from 60 different breweries around the world.
Jim Messinger is the Culinary Senior Leader for Busch Gardens. “Tampa Bay has such a strong craft beer culture.” He told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “Guests want an experience and our other festivals such as the food and wine festival have made a great impact.”
SeaWorld has credited events such as this for their recent growth in attendance. They have also said that the return of the free beer offer is a factor.
Theatrical dining and dining in the dark
A trend that has been increasing in popularity in recent years is theatrical dining. Here, the food itself is an attraction, but the atmosphere is key too. Eatertainment attractions such as these are designed to be multi-sensory. The idea is to add a little more excitement to the traditional restaurant experience.
Dinner Time Stories is a two-hour dining experience involving a six-course menu. Participants span the globe as they follow the journey of “Le Petit Chef”, tracing the route of Marco Polo. It tells a story through flavours, tastes, sight and sounds. Diners watch the tale unfold through a blank book in front of them. A continuous 3D projected story brings it to life. The experience includes props, music and decorations from the various locations. The food is also matched with cocktails.
Visitors to Germany’s largest theme park, Europa Park, can enjoy a fun dining experience. When they tire of riding the rails, they can eat at FoodLoop. In this restaurant, the food rides the tracks instead. Customers order food and drink via a touch screen. When the food is ready it makes the journey to them along a mini-rollercoaster.
It even does two loop the loops before coming to rest in front of the customer. FoodLoop won a THEA award in April 2012. “At FoodLoop your food has as much fun as you do” explained the jury. The UK’s Alton Towers theme park also has a rollercoaster restaurant.
Unique eating experiences
In London, there is a restaurant where customers can eat their whole meal in pitch darkness. The concept is called Dans Le Noir? The website calls it a true human and sensory experience. The restaurant is in complete darkness. Visually-impaired waiters serve the customers, who share tables with total strangers.
The creators want to challenge people’s preconceptions. The idea is to make them question their surroundings. They say, “80% of the information we perceive goes through the sight which influences us in a decisive way. Rediscovering our other senses is also a way to get back to basics as we should not eat just with our eyes.”
Height and flight
If eating in darkness does not take your fancy, how about eating from a great height? Dinner in the Sky allows patrons to enjoy a gourmet meal with a difference. The seats, table and central kitchen area are all suspended from a crane. As a result, diners eat their meal at an altitude of 50m above ground. Celebrity chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Joel Robuchon have catered for previous events. The idea started in Belgium and is now available in over 40 countries.
The Pan Am Experience in LA is, as CNN puts it, “one-part re-enactment, one-part dinner theater and one-part memorabilia overload”. A four hour themed experience, passengers are immersed in the world of the iconic American airline. Flight attendants in vintage uniforms serve classic 1970s food and Harvey Wallbangers. Even the seats are ‘faded’ by the sun and guests clutch boarding passes.
Theatrical food and drink
Eatertainment also makes use of pop culture references. For example, the London cocktail bar ABQ references the hit TV show Breaking Bad. Visitors enter a fully-immersive experience in an old RV. Inside, they can enjoy experimenting with ‘cooking up’ cocktails. Dry ice, molecular techniques and conical flasks are all involved. Patrons even don bright coloured hazard suits upon entry. It’s definitely not your typical cocktail bar.
Other beloved TV shows have spawned eatertainment experiences too. One of the most popular is the Faulty Towers Dining Experience. The two-hour show includes a three-course, 70’s style meal. Actors deliver the mayhem filled, largely improvised show around the diners.
Eatertainment has a broad appeal
Eatertainment appeals to a whole range of customers. It attracts lots of people, from children to adults, from super fans to connoisseurs. Millennials, in particular, appreciate the trend for eatertainment and good quality food options. The Washington Post reported that this age range is more conscious of their food. They pay more attention to food’s origins and health benefits than previous generations. Millennials are keen to try new things. But they also expect food that is authentic and sustainable. A soggy burger and chips is not likely to make the grade.
We can expect to see the trend for eatertainment to continue. People demand interesting and high-quality food when visiting attractions. They also want to have immersive experiences that add to their enjoyment. After all, food is a universal language. It is something that everyone can interact with. All different types of attractions are using this to engage with more audiences as a part of their package.