Restaurants have always represented an escape from the everyday. When a guest dines outside of their home, they’re being waited on, cooked for, and they don’t have to clean up when they’re done. For most, that’s a welcome departure from the norm. And these days, consumers’ spending habits are showing that they are interested in even more of an escape from the day-to-day.

According to Morgan Stanley, sales from Beyoncé and Taylor Swift’s concert tours, plus box office sales for Barbie, added close to $8.5 billion to the economy in the third quarter of 2023. This is compelling evidence that suggests folks are craving an escape from stressful issues.

By piggybacking on trends and pop culture, it’s possible for restaurants to tap into an even greater spending pool. But it’s important to choose activations that make sense for your brand and ones that represent real opportunities for increased revenue. Take a high-level look at how your brand appears, from your decor to menus to marketing materials. Then, make a plan for activations throughout the year. Determine what feels authentic and relevant to your brand and look for ways to engage with trends without compromising your overall vision.

Pop-Up Culture

You have a lot of opportunities to connect with pop culture through your restaurant. Decor is a great way to establish a vibe. Consider decorating as a way to set the tone visually. And clearly your menu is another place where you can start to play around with trends. Where I live in Virginia, I noticed several restaurants offering Barbie-related cocktails this summer, attracting groups of movie-goers who wanted to keep the pink party going.

You may also want to consider limited-edition merch that connects your brand with the trends of the day. This kind of hyper-niche merchandise is super popular right now, and offering it in-house only is a smart way to drive traffic directly to your restaurant.

What’s Hot?

Stay on top of trends. For some folks, this comes naturally. They’re tuned in, and they know what’s cool and relevant at all times. For others, however, this process is less intuitive, and it brings up questions about which trends to follow and which ones to ignore. If you’re in the latter category, it’s important to do your research. Set aside time during the week to read culture magazines, scroll through TikTok, or, more importantly, to talk to your staff about the trends that matter to them.

Commit to the Bit

Start with a limited activation based on one specific element of pop culture. Give yourself a set period of time, and think through the entire process, from press and influencer outreach to training staff on new menu items or merch. Fully commit to the idea and keep track of not just numbers but less tangible results, like reactions from guests or online chatter.

Beyond the Moment

Another way to think about this kind of marketing activity is aligning your brand with elements of pop culture that feel exciting and fun for you. You may not be interested in a tie-in to the blockbuster movie or concert of the year. Find your niche and use your creativity to connect it to your restaurant in a way that folks can enjoy.

Get Trending

Make sure to let folks know what you’re doing. Use all of your existing communication channels—newsletters, social media, server script, table signage, and, of course, social media, to clearly share your plans around whatever activation you are planning. Give some lead time for the press to be able to cover the event and extend invitations to regular customers and influencers for some help spreading the word.

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