Creating a Great Guest Experience Remains Important in 2024

Don't miss any of the installments in our series on 2024 trends!


It looks like 2024 will turn out to be an interesting year for the bar and restaurant industry. What started in the last year or so with the return of tableside martinis, over-the-top caviar service, and cocktail towers, will not only continue this year, but eaters and drinkers are going to want more than just “dinner theater”—they are going to want to be part of an experience and made to feel special while dining out.

According to Townsend Wentz, chef and owner at Philadelphia, Pa.-based Townsend Wentz Restaurant Group, which runs several restaurants in the area, restaurants and bars are going to have to go beyond entertainment for 2024. “Engagement is going to be expected and rewarded if your team can create memorable moments for the guest,” he explains. “Experiential dining moments revolve around engagement. They want to participate in the experience, even if they're only watching."

Chef Townsend Wentz
Chef & Owner Townsend Wentz

Hugh Hedin, general manager of Hotel Emery in Minneapolis, Minn., which houses restaurant Giuila, explains that the narrative told by the bar or restaurant will also be important this year, as those imbibing and dining are going to look for personal touches from chefs that they, too, can relate to.

“Guests increasingly seek a personal connection with the places they dine, shaping both menu development and the overall restaurant style," says Hedin. "A notable aspect is chefs sharing personal stories from their childhood or cultural influences. At Giulia, our consulting Chef Steven Brown drew inspiration from his travels in Northern Italy, bringing his distinct touch to the Midwest, evident throughout our menu."

But these won’t be the only top trends for 2024. Price and exclusivity will dominate, while nostalgic designed watering holes will be sought-after hot seats. 

Price Shopping

According to Datassential, customers have a hefty list of demands for restaurants and bars this year, especially as the cost of living is on everyone’s minds and people aim to be financially savvy.

On the top of that list of demands is doing away with credit card fees, as 49% of customers want them taken off the menu. Diners feel that credit card usage is a cost of doing business and should not be passed along to those dining at the establishment. In addition, 48% of consumers would like restaurant websites to post pricing as it helps them plan better for their visit. Another 20% of consumers want “market price” to be a thing of the past. This will be first and foremost on a guests’ list going into the New Year, as they will be more discerning of who earns their continued loyalty.

“With fairly significant increases in prices over the last few years, guests want to feel valued and believe an experience is worth the price tag. This demand is amplified in our social media-driven world, where guests yearn to document and share their noteworthy experiences,” says Hedin.

Staffing has been difficult post-pandemic and that is something everyone who has been consistently dining out has realized. However, the patience that one once had for mediocre customer service will be no more as the industry had several years to pick back up.

Going forward in 2024, you will continue to see the quality of customer service return to pre-pandemic levels as the volume of dining continues to return. As prices increase due to inflationary pressure, the relationship between the guests' increased expectations for the money spent and perceived value will be differentiated at the point of service,” said Wentz.

Pop-Ups Are Here To Stay

There is a social media trend on the way in—exclusivity. Customers are going to want a really unique experience in exchange for spending money; an experience they can share with social media followers (yes, even if it’s just their mom) that is unique and luxurious.

“As everyone becomes accustomed to living on the 'Gram, restaurants will need to be more than a pretty picture. When I go to a restaurant to eat, have a good time out, and spend hard-earned money doing so, the reality needs to match the expectation,” says Wentz.

One of the best ways to do that is with pop-ups, note sources who spoke to Bar & Restaurant News. Pop-ups create buzz with a limited amount of seating, a small time frame, and/or a secret code to get in—matching the level of exclusivity that diners and sippers will be looking to digest in 2024.

“Similar to the music industry, the food industry is using the internet to create, market, and execute individualized events. They feel special and they are special. The engagement is off the charts,” notes Wentz.

townsend restaurant
Roasted venison at Townsend EPX restaurant. (Photo: KC Tinari )

Pop-ups help the restaurant and bar industry as well, allowing for young chefs and mixologists to begin to gather a following, or bringing in a celebrity guest from another market for a special event. It also usually comes with no overhead, no lease, and no heavy investment in equipment.

In addition to pop-ups, Fuentes sees hybrid restaurants taking the lead in the next year, like those that combine music with a hot new cocktail bar, or dining within a retail space. This has already started during the last few years with places like Nantucket, Mass.-based Ethos Wine Bar, which allows patrons to play records while sipping; and Tutto il Giorno in Sag Harbor, N.Y., where one can shop for cozy blankets and coffee table books while eating cacio e pepe.

“In my opinion, what the guests want is to be part of the action, to walk away with a good story to tell. Good food and good drinks is not good enough for that anymore,” Fuentes says.

Nostalgic Vibes Top Design Demands

As far as designs go, it turns out that the consumer really wants “vibes.” These can include cozy, warm, unique, and bold vibes that tell a restaurant’s story instead of a cool, industrial hangout with Edison lights. Fuentes says that while some restaurant designs may turn away from photographable looks and moments, it will still be important to the consumer to enjoy a space that allows for a “wow” factor. But, she notes, this “wow” factor will have a special caveat. Just like in food and beverage trends for 2024, people want to eat and drink in a place that evokes a feeling of yesteryear.

“Nostalgia, low-key, done right, makes for Instagrammable spaces," says Fuentes. "The large, gaudy designs take the eyes away from the subject and make it too much about the room. I think people want to be seen inside a space that showcases them. That’s where I believe we are headed."

Hedin echoes this sentiment, explaining that a low-key nostalgic vibe will be more coveted than one that is an over-the-top showstopping experience in a luxury environment.

“I feel a stronger shift towards a preference for nostalgic vibes reminiscent of childhood. Interestingly, the low-key trend is gaining traction as it becomes increasingly Instagrammable, especially when it offers a deeply nostalgic experience,” says Hedin.

However, to some, it doesn’t matter how stunning the look of a place is. When diners and drinkers saddle up to the bar or settle into a booth, it will all boil down to how good the food was and how exceptional the service was. “Winning over the guest will continue to be about how you make them feel.  Whether it's through nostalgia, comfort, excitement, or luxury, if you don't connect with the guest, your great/poor design will not matter,” says Wentz.


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