What is Dinner Theater?

Michael Pollick

Dinner theater is a form of live entertainment that includes a meal along with a staged play or cabaret-style show. Quite often, the menu is pre-selected by the venue owners or a catered buffet is provided before the show. This form of entertainment most likely developed from the popular supper clubs of the 1940s and 1950s, in which nightclubs combined a world-class dining room with a headlining cabaret act, variety show, or big band entertainment. As the popularity of these clubs waned, new owners renovated the buildings to accommodate stage plays.

Performing in dinner theater may lead to auditions for other acting work.
Performing in dinner theater may lead to auditions for other acting work.

Most plays are chosen for their general appeal and relatively low production costs. Customers are more likely to see a Neil Simon romantic comedy than a Shakespearean tragedy or a Wagnerian opera. Other typical fare may include a one-man show by a recognized star, an intimate cabaret performance, or an interactive murder mystery. Some theaters have limited stage space, but others may have state-of-the-art facilities with 50,000 square feet (15,240 square meters) of performance area.

A catered buffet may be served at a dinner theater.
A catered buffet may be served at a dinner theater.

Because many productions combine professional and amateur talent, they occasionally receive a bad rap from others in the professional entertainment industry. Few A-list celebrities actively participate in performances while their careers are running hot. Theatergoers are more likely to see actors from older television series or motion pictures headlining the productions, and the rest of the cast may be theater majors from local colleges or amateur regional actors. The level of acting may be varied, but it's usually not painfully unwatchable. Many recognizable performers prefer the steadiness of the dinner theater circuit to the uncertainties of Hollywood.

A cocktail hour might be hosted prior to the performance.
A cocktail hour might be hosted prior to the performance.

Many behind-the-scenes personnel and beginning performers see this type of theater as a good first step towards a professional career. Unlike community theater productions or college-sponsored plays, dinner theater is almost always a paying gig. Amateurs have an opportunity to work alongside seasoned professionals who understand the entertainment business. Much like working in soap opera productions, this type of performance can lead to auditions for traveling Broadway shows or film work.

Theaters may host a meal and a live performance in separate areas.
Theaters may host a meal and a live performance in separate areas.

Tickets for these shows are relatively inexpensive, considering the equivalent cost of a separate meal and show in a place like New York City. Some of the larger outlets may feature popular musicals barely off the Broadway stage. Actors are encouraged to interact with the audience, so theatergoers may have an opportunity to meet a favorite actor or mingle with the cast members after the show.

A dinner theater may host an interactive murder mystery.
A dinner theater may host an interactive murder mystery.

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Discussion Comments


@wander - I went to a Broadway dinner theater a few years back and it was quite expensive even then. If I remember correctly it was well over $100 per person. It was really an amazing performance though, and the food was made by a top-rated chef.

If you want to see Broad dinner theater cheaply, the best way to get a similar experience is to go for an off-Broadway show. They are usually about half the price and happen all over the country. I think sometimes it is best to just go with whatever suits your budget at not worry about making the big trek to NYC. It can be a really expensive place.


If you travel a lot you will notice that a lot of places offer dinner theater with traditional dance and local food. One of my favorite dinner theater experiences ever was in Thailand. The Thai dancers are quite skilled and the food was amazing.

One of the best things about dinner theater in many countries outside of North America is that they are really a bargain. For the dinner theater I went to in Thailand it only ran me about $15 dollars, and that included pickup and drop-off from my hotel.

I think the one thing left I would really like to do is see a Broadway dinner theater in New York city. I worry that it is going to be really expensive though.


I went to a dinner theater once that involved knights fighting to the death. Of course because of the premise it was a great place to take people on a field trip as they at least got to see some really interesting things, got to enjoy great food, and went to the various museums they at the dinner theater that were associated with Medieval times.

I felt that this was a great experience for everyone involved as they got to hear how the people talked back then and at least got a feel of how society was. It is impossible to fully re-create society as it was back then, but it is possible to try and in the end educate people and have a really good time.


I think dinner theater is really fun because you get two different parts of an evening out at once. I know some people think dinner theater shows are never as good as other professional theatre, but I don't think that that is always the case.


I went to a dinner theater show once and it was really entertaining. It was a pirate adventure that my children loved. The only bad thing was that I felt that the portions of the food were too small, but the food was good.

I have always wanted to try one of those sleuths mystery dinner theater shows because I think that participating in the show will make it really fun. There are a lot of these types of shows in Orlando and I am going to try to make reservations for the Arabian Nights dinner theater show next.

I know my kids will love it. When they get a little older I will try the mystery dinner shows because I think that they will appreciated it more when they are older.

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