Over the years, the restaurant industry has turned to a variety of quirky concepts to draw customers, from dining in complete darkness to restaurants that replicate a famous TV or movie set.
With the rise of social media networks — Instagram, in particular — unique restaurant features can spread like wildfire as customers are now sharing pictures of more than just their food. For restaurateurs, that translates into free marketing and even the ability to charge customers more for the experience.
Some of the latest offbeat concepts not only help restaurants set themselves apart from the competition, but also tackle industry-wide problems like rising labor costs or limited seating. Without the scale of the largest restaurant companies, some businesses are thinking outside of the box.
Here are four unconventional restaurant concepts that are taking off:
When temperatures cool, restaurants expect that their outdoor tables and chairs will remain empty until warmer weather returns. However, some are swapping in patio igloos to maximize their space and generate some Instagram buzz. For Atlanta-based Publico Kitchen & Tap, igloo season is coming to an end soon, but the plastic domes will be around again next fall, owner Michael Duganier told CNBC.
In a tight labor market, restaurants are looking for new ways to attract and retain employees. But there's also a more futuristic solution. Robots prepare the food served at Creator, a San Francisco restaurant, from start to finish. East Coasters can visit Boston's Spyce and feast on a robot-prepared meal.
As the saying goes, dogs are man's best friend. For years, restaurants have sometimes permitted dogs to sit alongside their dining owners outdoors. Cafes are even bringing the dogs — or cats — to customers, so visitors can drink coffee and play with animals. Now, some are taking the next step with dog park-restaurant hybrids. Visitors to Bar K in Kansas City, Missouri can enjoy a meal or a beer with friends while employees supervise their dogs in dedicated play areas.
Restaurants with breathtaking views are nothing new. Restaurants like Sea at Anantara Kihavah Villas or Ithaa, both in the Maldives, up the ante with dining rooms surrounded by the sea. Europe's first underwater restaurant, Under, is set to open this spring in Norway.