Digging Into Experiential Dining
Coaxing millennial and Gen Z diners out of their kitchens and into your establishments goes beyond weekly specials and exceptional food, but means providing an experience they can’t get at home, from hanging doughnut walls to virtual reality gaming and community fish fries. The key is matching your core strengths to the heartbeat of the community you serve. Capture that zeitgeist and you’ll capture today’s diners, and if you do it well enough—generations to come.
The Wisconsin Experience
Home of beer, cheese, fried fish and unpretentious Midwestern hospitality, Lakefront Brewery taps into its 32-year legacy by offering a full-on Milwaukee experience that satisfies long-time locals and visitors. It’s not surprising this restaurant seamlessly combining all four would draw guests by the thousands each month.
Its legendary Friday fish fries, a Milwaukee tradition, are set up German beer hall-style, with long rows of wooden tables for communal dining and live polka music. Large groups spanning several generations soak in the ambience each week, and it’s not uncommon to see a tattoo-ed millennial knock back a beer with a lifelong resident watching his grandchildren spin around the dance floor. The mass feeding of up to 1,500 diners each Friday is anything but mass-produced, with scratch-made batters, sauces, even potato pancakes.
“People are looking for an authentic sense of Milwaukee, complete with cheese curds and brats, and we’re delighted to provide it,” says Executive Chef Kristin Hueneke.
Lakeside keeps the party going year ‘round, with fall “festiv-ales,” a limited- edition brew release on Black Friday, Valentine’s Day wedding packages and summertime dining on the patio. The brewery tour, popular since Lakeside’s earliest days, has always been less about making beer and more about “starting a party atmosphere,” says current tour manager Dylan Mazurkiewicz.
Led by an extroverted crew of local improv comedians and teachers, “no tour is ever the same.” New tours—mini, technical, food and beer pairings—were added to accommodate visitors who come from all over the country to the place Milwaukee Magazine famously claimed “wrote the book on brewery tours.”
75% of consumers say they believe unique dining experiences are worth the higher cost.
50% of diners say they would pay more for the exact same menu if it had a chef interaction.
The “Eatertainment” Concept
Recently dubbed as one of the year’s hottest trends by Nation’s Restaurant News, Punch Bowl Social is set to expand its 13-location footprint exponentially in 2019 by delighting large groups of fun-seeking foodies. The “eat-drink-play” concept marries social activities like Skee-Ball, bowling, vintage video games and virtual reality with the culinary mastery of James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson. Punch Bowl Social gets it right on every count by putting food and drink on equal footing with entertainment and customizing the offerings to suit the local vibe.
Food is an eclectic assortment that can include fried (nitrite-free, sustainably raised) bologna and cheese sandwiches, lobster bacon fries, superfood grain bowls, and breakfast served until 3 p.m. every day, featuring house-made ricotta cheese pancakes with blueberry and fresh lemon curd. While the culinary focus is definitely a differentiator, Acheson is quick to say it’s about the whole experience.
“We want to give people a chance to unwind in this pent-up age,” he explains, “play a round of Ping-Pong, have a great time at the karaoke bar, enjoy a craft beverage, alcoholic or non. It’s meant to be inclusive and fun, and for guests to feel completely cared for. We’re just out to make people happy.”