Dining as Theater: How Food Becomes Part of an Entertainment Experience

Dining as Theater: How Food Becomes Part of the Entertainment Experience

From 12-course dinners that can last up to four hours to service with a side of spectacle, restaurants have found countless creative ways to add more to the dining ritual than just good food. Especially in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas — where visitors flock for the unexpected — a restaurant meal is about the full experience.

Albert Mack learned that early on. As a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, he won a nightclub in a card game and grew the once-sluggish business to serve 400 guests per night. After spending four years at the Wynn (where Steve Wynn was a mentor) he decided to open his own concept in Las Vegas, Sake Rok, opening this week. It’s part sushi bar, part nightclub, 100% full of surprises.

“Las Vegas is a mecca of entertainment — incredible nightclubs, sensational restaurants, amazing shows,” says Albert. “But none of it seems to tie together. Why can’t we build on that experience?”

Targeting the upper-middle market instead of the ultra high-end, Albert went about creating an experience that began with the food, adding atmosphere and interactive experiences that push the envelope and keep guests guessing. Here’s what dining looks like as part of the nightlife experience — and what it takes to make it work.

It’s all about shared experiences.

Sake Rok is built on a group dynamic, says Albert. Whether a guest comes in with one other person or seven, as soon as they step foot in the venue they are part of something bigger. Even the small plates of food and punch bowl drinks are meant to be shared.

Guests are part of the action.

When the entertainment begins, guests will see performers dancing the tango and serenading the crowd. Diners may be chosen to become a part of the show if servers invite them to get up, dance, and join the fun.

Behold the art of distraction.

At Sake Rok, there’s action in every corner of the restaurant. Pictures and videos are projected on the walls, and lights may dim in certain areas while performers are setting up for their next bit. Albert and his team will use different spaces and sections to draw attention to (or away from) what’s happening.

Leave documentation to the experts.

Guests dining and dancing at Sake Rok may find themselves featured on video, but they won’t have to worry about capturing their 15 minutes of fame on Instagram. As soon as its over, the restaurant team sends the videos and images to guests for them to post as they like.

The benefits are two-fold: It’s easy for guests to share their experiences and get the word out about Sake Rok, and they can also focus on enjoying themselves instead of taking pictures, so they don’t have to miss a thing.

“At plenty of concerts and events, people miss a things because they’re busy trying to get that perfect photo,” says Albert. “We want you to be a part of it.”

Servers are doing more than serving.

Predictably, it’s no easy feat finding servers who can dance, sing, and delight guests — all on a professional level. “They have to give impeccable service from a food and beverage point of view but also have personality and charisma,” says Albert.

He admits it’s a daunting task building a team that can deliver on those expectations, but he predicts Sake Rok will be a trendsetter in the future of F&B if they do it right.

You have to read the room.

The success of a hybrid concept like this one depends on being able to understand when people want to focus on their food, when they want to talk to their companions, and when they want to party. The restaurant’s emcee is in charge of touching tables and getting a feel for the vibe so they can make decisions about which shows and vignettes should come next.

Not everything should be staged.

That’s another important way Sake Rok is unique: they’re not recycling the same performances every hour, on the hour. “It’s too robotic,” says Albert. “That doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. We want to be more organic, to feel the room.”

That way, when the crowd is quiet the emcee can pick up the energy. Spontaneity, and understanding the audience, is key to delivering a memorable experience.