In the year 2018 there were over 660,000 restaurants in the United States alone. People love going out to eat. The problem is, there are only so many different ways you can repackage the same kinds of food. When you think about it, most restaurants fall into a handful of categories. You have burger joints, chicken restaurants, steakhouses, fine dining, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, and a few others. How do you make your specific restaurant stand out from the thousands of others? For some restaurants, that means coming up with a gimmick. And some of those gimmicks are definitely stranger than others.
10. SafeHouse Spy Restaurant
If the perseverance of the James Bond franchise has taught us nothing else, it’s that people really do love the spy genre. But what exactly does that have to do with restaurants? Ask the owners of the SafeHouse Spy restaurant, which has wrapped their dining experience entirely in the spy mystique.
The restaurant has no public front; the entrance is hidden in an alley. If you can find the entrance, you’re still not getting in just by opening the door. You have to give the password.
Here’s where things get especially weird. You either know the password because someone told you, or you don’t know the password. If you don’t know you can still get in, but you’re going to have to prove your worth. Those who don’t know the password have to perform a task which might be dancing, making animal noises, or some other harmless yet slightly humiliating act. Whatever they have you do, they’re going to make you do it on camera so the entire rest of the restaurant gets to watch.
As you can guess, this is all in good fun and the restaurant has plenty of activities once you get inside to keep kids busy. The decor is Cold War-era espionage and even features trick walls and rotating booths if you want to amp up the 007 experience.
If you’re still a little cool on the spy theme, word is the food is exceptional as well, so you should still enjoy your trip even if you don’t care for the gimmicks.
9. Instagram Restaurant
These days there’s a bit of a backlash against the idea of Instagram influencers. These are the people who have tried to make their way in the world by exchanging goods and services for exposure. You’ve probably read stories about entitled Instagram influencers who have been kicked out of hotels after trying to get free rooms or extended stays in exchange for promoting the business on their social media.
The idea that your Instagram is actually worth money to someone else didn’t grow in a vacuum, however. Back in 2014, there was actually a pop-up restaurant that let you pay solely in Instagram pics. The company Birdseye, known for making frozen food normally, created their pop-up restaurant in London. The menu didn’t have prices that you had to pay in cash, you just had to share pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #birdseyeinspirations.
In fairness, the food this restaurant was selling was also from their frozen food Inspirations line and both dishes, fish and chicken, looked kind of like knockoff Hot Pockets. Still, free food in exchange for photographs can’t be that bad of a deal.
8. Nazi Restaurant
If you were going to compile a list of all the really bad ideas you can think of for a restaurant gimmick, it’s almost guaranteed that in your top 10 you would have Nazi Germany. Why would anyone in their right mind ever conceive of the idea of creating a Nazi-themed restaurant?
You can ask why until the cows come home, but you’ll have to accept the fact that someone literally did have this idea and brought it to life in Indonesia. Known as the Soldaten Kaffee, the restaurant was actually in business for some years before it was finally closed in 2017. There was also a brief shutdown in 2013 when the owner was routinely getting death threats.
The decor in the restaurant featured Nazi imagery, including swastika flags and pictures of Adolf Hitler. The owners claim that the cafe wasn’t pro-Nazi, it was more historically Nazi, sharing information rather than promoting it. Even the plates that you ate your dinner on featured the stamp of the Third Reich eagle.
7. The Labor Inducer
The Suburban is a restaurant in Excelsior, Minnesota. The restaurant describes itself as a craft sports bar and features the kind of fair that you would expect at any sports bar including sliders, nachos, chicken wings and a variety of sandwiches, salads, and pizzas. So none of that qualifies as a particularly unusual gimmick. However, they did gain some notoriety for one burger in particular.
One of the burgers on the menu is known as the Labor Inducer. As the name suggests, it supposedly can induce labor in pregnant women. So how does that work? The owner was coming up with new burger ideas for a competition and offered one of his test burgers to the pregnant co-owner of the restaurant. She was nine days away from giving birth, but after eating the burger she went into labor seven hours later. That was good enough for them, and they called the burger the Labor Inducer and added it to the menu.
Since it made headlines, the owner said that several pregnant women a week were coming into the restaurant to eat the burger in an effort to give nature a helping hand. And amazingly, it seems to have worked out as a second baby was born a few hours after a mother ate one.
There’s nothing particularly unusual on the burger: it’s an Angus beef patty with honey cured bacon, peach caramelized onions, spicy mustard and a Cajun remoulade on a pretzel bun. And, as far as anyone knows, those are the only two babies it prompted into the world.
6. Heart Attack Grill’s Cremated Remains of Dead Customers
The Heart Attack Grill made headlines in the late 2000s for its hospital-themed restaurants and the fact that they actively seem to want to kill their customers. Food was loaded down with fat, cholesterol and sugar, the kind of stuff that is considered fodder for causing a heart attack. And if you weigh over 350 pounds, you can eat at the restaurant for free.
The place lived up to its name and reputation when one of the restaurant’s spokesmen, 575-pound Blair River, actually died. A year later, a customer had a heart attack while eating one of the restaurant’s Triple Bypass Burgers. Other diners in the restaurant thought it was a joke and took pictures of the man as he fell on the floor.
The year after that, another restaurant spokesman died from a heart attack in front of the restaurant. Despite all the morbid associations with the restaurant, the owners haven’t scaled-back anything. In fact, in the year 2020, the restaurant started displaying the cremated remains of their past guests who had died of heart attacks.
5. AI Server
The wait staff at a restaurant can really make or break your dining experience. A good server can make you want to come back and again. A bad server can make you avoid the restaurant forever. At one restaurant in Seoul, South Korea, the food is brought to customers not so much by a server as a robot named Aglio Kim.
The robot is a mobile trolley with a computer interface. It’s perfect for social distancing during Covid-19 as it minimizes human contact. Customers are able to order their food from a touch screen at the table, and the robot uses artificial intelligence to navigate the restaurant to get food and bring it to the right table. It can even deliver up to four tables at once.
4. The Drug Lord Restaurant
It’s not often that a restaurant is based around a person, especially a person who doesn’t technically have anything to do with the restaurant. But that didn’t stop a pop-up restaurant in Australia from making their restaurant a Pablo Escobar-themed one. If you don’t recall, Pablo Escobar was an infamous Colombian drug lord and murderer. The restaurant Pablo’s Escoburgers featured an Escobar-themed burger that was served with a line of garlic powder meant to resemble a line of cocaine on top of the bun, along with a fake $100 bill rolled up next to it.
While it certainly got a lot of attention, not all of it was good. Some people suggested the restaurant was glorifying drug use and others thought it was in poor taste. Still, if they were looking to get attention, they managed to get in the news all around the world, so perhaps that was what they were going for.
As for the owner, he made a statement on the restaurant’s Facebook page that they weren’t trying to offend anyone and were just trying to have a laugh, not glorify the man or his crimes.
3. Social Distance Ghosts
Throughout the pandemic, depending on where you live, we’ve gone through cycles of restaurants being open, then closed, and then open again. Sometimes when they open, they have to adhere to unusual social distancing rules and can only seat a few guests at a time. One restaurant in Michigan came up with a novel solution for making social distancing easier to work with.
Trattoria Da Luigi in Royal Oak, Michigan came up with an idea to make sitting alone in a restaurant less lonely. The empty seats in the restaurant are filled with ghosts. Chairs that are not at use feature sheets draped over them with faces drawn on them in old school, Halloween costume style.
Most restaurants have opted to simply remove tables to promote social distancing, producing large gaps in the dining room. The owners felt that doing so would make the restaurant feel wrong, so they simply fill the holes with “ghosts” instead.
Customers responded favorably to the idea, but presumably the ghosts will have to return to the grave once social distancing is no longer in effect.
2. Bra Size Discounts
When it comes to offering discounts to customers, you need to find a fair and reasonable way to provide them. That’s why things like coupons were invented. If you start offering rewards to people based on something arbitrary like their physical characteristics, you’re opening the door for hurt feelings and allegations of discrimination and abuse.
Despite how it seems like an obviously bad idea, the Trendy Shrimp restaurant in the city of Hangzhou, China came up with the gimmick of offering discounts to female customers based on the size of their bra. According to a chart decked out with cartoon examples of different shaped women, those with an A-cup bra would get a 5% discount and if you got all the way up to a G-cup you got 65% off your meal.
Although the restaurant removed the advertisements after complaints, management still defended the campaign as being good for business. Apparently they saw a 20% rise in customers. And, in case anyone was worried, customers could get their discount from female waitstaff rather than male waitstaff if they wanted.
1. Naked Restaurant
Some restaurants tend to be more formal than others and require that diners adhere to a specific dress code. They’ll even provide male diners with a suit jacket if they come in without one and don’t meet the dress code requirements. On the other end of the spectrum was the Bunyadi restaurant in London.
In 2016, the pop-up restaurant appeared with what you would argue is the opposite of a dress code. Diners could enjoy their meal without any clothes on whatsoever. You didn’t have to be naked; there was a section of the restaurant where people could still wear clothes. But like the smoking versus non-smoking sections of old, this one had a dressed versus non-dressed section.
Management claimed that the idea was to experience true liberation. Somehow, eating naked in a room full of strangers would help you get closer to that. To further enhance this feeling, bamboo partitions and candlelight set the mood, at least as far as ambiance went. No word on how good the food may have been.