“Dinner and a show” is a phrase that’s becoming more and more prevalent as live entertainment continues to grow in our cities. And therein lies an opportunity for restaurants to offer a curated offering that focuses on speed and showcases what an institution does best.
Hospitality speaks with Aria, Beckett’s, and Gingerboy about condensing a dining experience through the medium of a pre-theatre menu.
The theatre menu has long been a staple at Aria, which has offered the multi-course experience since it opened 24 years ago — no surprise given the restaurant’s proximity to the Sydney Opera House. Executive Chef Tom Gorringe has put together a pre theatre menu of two or three courses that is available from 5:30–6:00pm Monday to Thursday and from 5:00–6:00pm on Friday and Saturday.
The chef believes time is of the essence when it comes to pre-theatre dining, which is why the menu is short and snappy. “We want our guests to have a mini Aria experience and enjoy without being worried about making it to their show on time,” says Gorringe. “We offer two- and three-course menus as we want our guests to experience what we offer across multiple courses.”
Front of house is also across scheduling, too. “In our pre-service briefings, we discuss the start times of the shows at the Opera House, and the team always checks with guests to see what show they’re going to see,” says Gorringe. “It means we can ensure they are able to arrive at any given show on time.”
Gorringe says the dishes on the menu are a mix of seasonal favourites along with Aria classics to cater to both regular and new guests. “A pre-theatre dining menu is the perfect opportunity to showcase a venue,” he says. “We love that this offering often results in guests coming back to enjoy the longer-format tasting menus. I would absolutely encourage other venues to offer a pre-theatre menu — it’s a great way to introduce your menu to a broader audience.”
Located near some of Melbourne’s top entertainment venues (Her Majesty’s Theatre, Comedy Theatre, and Princess Theatre), South- East Asian eatery Gingerboy has become a go-to for those looking for a pre-show bite. The offering consists of four dishes selected on the basis of efficiency, taste, and speed. “The overall concept was building a heightened experience for guests before they went on their wonderful journeys,” says Manager Arthur Cullen.
The dishes are also easily adaptable to cater to dietary requirements. “We have designed the menu to fit into place with most dietary conditions. As a standard, it is already gluten-free and can be amended to be dairy-free.”
Gingerboy’s menu is fixed, which means all the decisions have been made for guests. “The set menus we offer give guests the freedom to just sit back and enjoy the experience,” says Cullen. “In the same vein, yes, it is an opportunity to showcase the Thai-influenced classics we are well known for.”
Like Gorringe, Cullen believes timing is a vital element to a well-executed pre-theatre menu, which works well with the set menu format. And while speed is a focus, Cullen reminds operators to make the most of the short dining window. “Take an hour of their time and run with it,” he says. “Take an interest in the guest and make an effort to make their night bright, bring up their energy, and have them leave smiling with a full belly excited for what’s next.”
Beckett’s in Sydney’s Inner West introduced a pre-theatre dining menu last September. The two- or three-course offering is available from 5:00–6.30pm in the venue’s front dining area and is limited to a 1.5–2 hour sitting.
Beckett’s Founder and Playwright Director Wendy Beckett says the menu plays a leading role in a guest’s overall evening. “We champion the belief a pre-theatre dining menu needs to make you feel you are having a night out,” she says. Along with the pre-theatre dining menu, Beckett’s also offers a 10 per cent discount for diners who show their theatre ticket.
The menu is made up of dishes from the usual à la carte menu as well as a few exclusive additions. Restaurant Manager Philipp Tengler says the menu mostly stays the same to allow the team to maintain quality and presentation. “Offering set courses can enhance the overall dining experience by allowing customers to enjoy a thoughtfully curated selection of dishes and a progression of flavours in a controlled timeframe,” he says.
While the pre-theatre dining menu may be condensed, it provides a window into the venue’s overall approach to food. “We aim to create memorable experiences for everyone,” says Beckett. “We are happy to provide this in a shorter timeframe so our guests who love theatre can start their evening celebrating culinary art and finish it with a beautiful show.”