Restaurant events are a great way to stand out in the busy restaurant scene. If you're running a restaurant or handling its marketing, it's really smart to come up with your own cool event ideas.
Many of the restaurants we work with run events to attract a new customer base, as well as increase overall revenue of their venue. In fact, it's well known industry inside knowledge that events are one of the best ways to increase revenue, especially during off-peak days.
There's now tons of options for restaurants when it comes to managing events so finding ticketing, payments and management systems to get the most out of an event has never been easier.
Are events part of your restaurant marketing plan? Take a look below for bar and restaurant event ideas and inspiration.
How to create the best restaurant event
It's pretty obvious that running successful restaurant events requires careful planning and execution. But what does this actually mean? In our experience, the key factors that determine success or failure are a deep insight into what will work at your restaurant, your potential audience and your marketing.
These are the 3 things the best operators focus on across the 1000's of events that have been run through Eat App's platform.
Understand Your Audience
Know your customers' preferences and interests. Tailor the event to suit the demographics of your regular patrons or the target audience you wish to attract.
How to do this:
Use your customer data! Details about your guests that come from spend, order histories or guest notes are great ways to come up with restaurant event ideas likely to appeal. Beyond this you probably already have a sense of who your audience is - so lean into it.
Collecting data with Eat App's CRM and reservation system is easy. Everything is segmentable so you can pull our key trends. We also make it easy for you to search all your guest notes for keywords.
Align with Your Brand
Ensure the event complements your restaurant's theme, cuisine, drinks menu, interior design and overall brand image. We always encourage people to think very deeply about this. Running events as an extension of your brand is key to throwing the best experiences for your guests.
Marketing and Promotion
Use the main digital channels social media, website and email marketing as well as in-house promotions to spread the word. Target your marketing efforts to reach the right audience for your event with marketing automation tools where you can - these tend to have better results.
Consider events like cooking classes or after parties that might include a person with an already established audience then look at doing co-branded social media marketing together to promote the event.
Pre-payments and your events
In busy markets, hosting events is a smart way to draw people to your restaurant. Knowing how many guests will show up helps you plan better for food, drinks, seating, and staff. One way to do this is by offering pre-pay options, like selling tickets or meals in advance.
Make it easy for guests to book and pay ahead by including a link to your event page or booking widget in all your promotional stuff. You can set up a system for pre-payment right on your event page or during the booking process. Plus, when guests pay in advance, they're more likely to turn up for the event.
Pre-payments speed everything up, allow you to plan better and bank the revenue up front.
Classic, tried and tested restaurant event ideas
In our experience you can come up with very creative, and unusual restaurant ideas but they might not work as well as you might expect. This is because people are creatures of habit and often event types they've been too before are what will appeal to them now. In addition, certain event formats tend to suit restaurants more than others.
With that in mind, these are the classic restaurant event ideas we think tend to work well for restaurants.
Wine or Beer Tasting Events:
These events, often featuring selections from local breweries or vineyards, are a staple in many restaurants. They not only attract connoisseurs but also casual diners looking to explore different experiences. Alcohol focused events tend to be fun and attractive to broad range of people.
Depending on the type of restaurant you run, partnering with comedians, bands or art galleries as their official after party venue post show or gallery viewing is a super way to run events.
Working with performers or artists doing midweek shows is often best as you are targeting getting more revenue in more off-peak times. Pro tip, you'll probably need a decent sound system to run this type of event.
Want to learn more? Check out this Reddit thread about restaurant after parties for Live From New York.
Live Music Nights
Hosting live music, ranging from jazz bands to acoustic solo artists, creates a vibrant atmosphere. It's a great way to attract guests who are looking for entertainment along with their meal.
These interactive events are a hit among food enthusiasts. Guests enjoy learning how to make dishes from the restaurant's menu, often led by the chef. It's a unique way to engage with customers.
This is a classic way to get more revenue outside of traditional dining. We've seen this work best focused around a single theme like making the best ravioli or cooking the perfect Pad Thai.
Weekend brunches, often featuring special menus, cocktails like mimosas or Bloody Marys, and sometimes live music or other entertainment, are extremely popular. They appeal to a wide range of customers, but typically they attract young, professional audiences.
For a great examples of a restaurant that combines many of these classic restaurant event ideas, check out:
Surrell in Seattle - Make sure to check out the exceptional branding.
Brennans in New Orleans - Another great example of a restaurant running classic restaurant events.
34 more restaurant event ideas
1. Dining in the dark
Let your customers experience dining in a new way. Turn off the lights to create a sensory dine-in experience that forces diners to connect with people around them despite being unable to see.
2. Surprise menu night
Refresh your menu for a day and offer a unique tasting menu. Don't reveal the names of the dishes on this special menu until the last minute for an extra shock. Who doesn't love a surprise?
3. Food tasting event
What better way to liven up your events calendar than treating guests to a food tasting? Everyone loves food, and nothing better than being able to try a little of everything before choosing your favorite dish. Invite customers and local chefs to come try your menu as a way to form a community and get feedback.
4. Chef's Table
Once a month, host an event where the chef comes out of the kitchen to give a demonstration. They can talk about best practices like how much salt and lime to put on a steak to make it tasty.
5. Guest chef night
At a guest chef night, the restaurant owner can invite local chefs to come and serve some of their tastiest dishes as a way to increase business and add a new twist to the usual menu. Guest chefs are happy to work with restaurants they admire and excite staff by keeping them on their toes.
Bar events that will attract a crowd
6. Battle of the bartenders
Every quarter, arrange a face-off between two or more of your bartenders. Let guests decide the winner, then create restaurant promotions around the cocktails they whip up
7. Networking Events
Dive into the world of professional growth by hosting networking events at your restaurant. Make your establishment a hub where people with similar interests, from tech to finance, arts, or other fields, come together to broaden their professional circles.
8. Sporting events
You don't need to run a sports bar to host bar events in honor of the Super Bowl or the Olympics. Give customers a good reason to meet with friends at your events.
9. Tap takeover
Contact a local brewery and team up with them to host a tap takeover event featuring their beers. Bar events can introduce new beers to your menu and allow beer creators to give a small introduction about their brews.
10. Charity events
Get involved with your community with a charity event strategy and give something back in the process. Many well known restaurant brands have run charity events.
For example, Danny Meyer's group of restaurants has hosted various charity events, including fundraisers for hunger relief and community support programs.
Another example is Zuni Café, San Francisco where this iconic restaurant has been involved in charity events, often focusing on AIDS research and LGBTQ+ community support.
11. Open mic nights
Use the format of a hit television show like American Idol while hosting your open mic night with live music. Invite a local celebrity or local musicians to judge the participants and get the local radio station to cover it. Award the open mic night winner with a free meal or drink.
Host a karaoke competition once or twice a month with the best performer getting their dinner paid for. Make sure the live music event includes a huge song selection available on the karaoke machine; you want to attract as many customers as possible and the bigger the song list, the better.
13. Battle of the bands
Restaurant events like Battle of the Bands involve both competition and live music – two things people love to see. Get local musicians to go head-to-head and let customers choose their favorite as the winner.
Game nights that awaken guests' competitive spirits
14. Board games night
Know what other pairings, besides wine and cheese, work great in a restaurant? Food and games! Stock up on board games to attract guests who are looking to entertain themselves while snacking on appetizers.
15. Scavenger hunt
Give your clientele a mission and attract customers by having them find clues that lead to its successful completion. It's a fun event like no other.
16. Arcade weekend
From pinball machines to updated classics, arcade games will enhance the overall experience for restaurant guests. For older customers, you can capitalize on the nostalgia of 70s- or 80s movies through movie-based games.
17. Host live trivia
Weekly trivia nights are a fun way for restaurants to encourage people to come in and dine during the slower nights of the week. Live trivia challenges are a great way to bring in dozens of guests for a night of food, fun, and games. Invite patrons to make teams and compete for 4-5 weeks. This can boost repeat business as participants pay weekly visits to your restaurant to finish what they started.
18. 80s fever night
Blast some 80s music and encourage customers to show up in their best 80s attire. Add a unique twist to the event by offering food specials and drinks based on the 1980s.
19. Christmas events
Encourage patrons to come in during Christmas week by holding an ugly sweater party. Share the worst dressed on your Instagram page and offer a free meal to the ugliest sweater wearer.
Need some inspiration? Check out these famous Christmas events run by restaurants.
Rolf's German Restaurant, New York City: Rolf's is famous for its extravagant Christmas decorations. The entire restaurant is transformed into a Christmas wonderland, adorned with thousands of lights, ornaments, and garlands, attracting both locals and tourists.
The Old Ebbit Grill, Washington D.C.: This historic establishment, located near the White House, offers a classic Christmas experience with its elegant holiday decor and traditional holiday menu.
Tavern on the Green, New York City: Known for its iconic location in Central Park, Tavern on the Green hosts a beautiful Christmas event with festive decorations and a special holiday menu.
The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, Riverside, California: While not a restaurant per se, The Mission Inn's Festival of Lights is a renowned event. The hotel and its dining establishments are adorned with over 4 million lights and offer a range of holiday dining experiences.
Walnut Room at Macy's, Chicago, Illinois: The Walnut Room, located inside Macy's on State Street, is a Chicago tradition. Its Great Tree and holiday-themed menus make it a popular destination during the Christmas season.
The Breakers, Palm Beach, Florida: This luxury resort offers a lavish Christmas brunch in its Circle dining room, renowned for its opulent decor and gourmet menu.
Galatoire's, New Orleans, Louisiana: Known for its French Creole cuisine, Galatoire's offers a festive and elegant dining experience during the Christmas season, complete with traditional decorations and seasonal specials.
20. Speed dating
A speed dating event tends to attract individuals who are new to the city and is a great way to introduce your restaurant to new faces.
21. Spa night
Hosting a spa night is one of the best restaurant event ideas to attract the weekend crowd by selling tickets ahead of time to boost revenue. Recruit a masseuse to give neck and shoulder massages at this fun restaurant event.
22. Couples' night
This event can be hosted on the last Saturday night of every month. Make sure to create special deals for two and have candlelit tables in place. This restaurant event idea should increase reservations for double dates and lots of extra revenue.
23. Art exhibition
Up the ante by hosting a local artist's work in your restaurant on slower nights to attract more people and create awareness for local businesses.
24. Stand up Comedy
For a cool comedy night, just pop a mic stand in one corner and line up some comedians, doesn't matter if they're newbies or pros. Hit up some local theatre groups to find your funny guys and gals. The cool thing is, each comedian usually brings their own crowd – so hey, that's a bunch of new faces for your bar
25. Painting sessions
Guests can be given a canvas and some paint while a local artist guides them through the steps to paint a scenic landscape. Meanwhile, serve drinks and delicious food to both old and new customers.
26. Hire a close-up magician
Magicians like David Willmott and Grant Mitchell know exactly how to surprise restaurant guests with something extra. Whether it's during the wait as the kitchen prepares orders or to break the ice as people sit down to eat, close-up magicians can intrigue customers of all ages.
27. Food Tours
Your city is a hub for diverse cuisines and flavors. Consider hosting a food tour in your restaurant, weaving in stories about the local area's history and current scene. For an added twist, partner with nearby bars or restaurants to offer a unique, traveling food tour experience.
28. Pop-up event
Partner up with a local business to host a pop-up event like a craft beer-tasting night or a weekend visit to a farmer's market. Keep an eye out for local opportunities that can help you present your business and attract customers differently.
29. Celebrity meet and greet
If you can get a local celebrity to show up for an evening, then you have a great restaurant event idea at your disposal. Not only will they attract a flock of customers, but they can also help you increase revenue via themed menu items that are a reflection of their latest work.
30. Unique holidays
Make a statement by celebrating holidays that guests have hardly heard of. Fruitcake Toss Day, English Toffee Day, and Curried Chicken Day are just some of the fun events you can get involved in.
31. Valentine's Day
The day of love and friendship can be celebrated at a special event filled with hearts and cupids or a singles event involving an anti-valentines theme. Either way, it's a great way to attract customers.
32. Saint Patrick's Day
St. Paddy's Day is one of the most celebrated cultural holidays around the world. With green beer to bangers and mash on the menu, it's bound to be a hit among drinkers and foodies alike.
This bar event stems from a long-standing German tradition of dressing up in lederhosen while drinking beer and eating food surrounded by company. The restaurant industry can be sure to take advantage of this time as an opportunity to introduce new craft beers and show off German-style menu items.
34. Family days
A family-style night to celebrate special events like Mother's Day, Father's Day, or Children's Day is a great way to involve the whole family in restaurant events. Include special deals on food and drink to bring in new customers.
Promoting restaurant events
Promoting restaurant events effectively is crucial for attracting customers and ensuring the success of the event. Here are five of the best tips for promoting restaurant events, along with examples:
Use social media marketing
Example: Create engaging content for platforms like Instagram and Facebook. For a wine tasting event, post high-quality images of the wines, short videos of wine being poured, or behind-the-scenes clips of sommeliers discussing the selection. Use relevant hashtags and encourage followers to share.
Double down on email marketing:
Example: Send out personalized email invitations for a special themed dinner night, like a "Mediterranean Feast". Include enticing descriptions of the menu and a link to easily make a reservation. Segment your email list to target regular customers or those who have attended similar events.
Collaborate with Local Influencers or Bloggers:
Example: Invite a local food blogger or influencer to a preview of your "Farm-to-Table Dinner Series". Offer them a complimentary experience in exchange for social media coverage and a blog post. Their followers, who trust their recommendations, are likely to be interested in your event.
Offer exclusive discounts or packages:
Example: Promote an early bird special for a New Year’s Eve party. Offer a discount for customers who book their tables before a certain date. This creates urgency and encourages early bookings, helping in better event planning.
In-House promotion and cross-Promotion:
Example: Use table tents, menu inserts, or digital displays to advertise an upcoming "Jazz and Dinner" night to current diners. Cross-promote by partnering with nearby businesses, like a local wine shop, to spread the word about your wine tasting event in exchange for promoting their business at your venue.
Ready to try out some restaurant event ideas? Find out more about how you can sign up with Eat App to pre-sell events, manage reservations, and enhance the post-event customer experience.