5 Restaurants That Focus On Stupid Gimmicks Instead Of Food
Opening a restaurant is easy. Opening a successful restaurant is hard as shit. You need a great chef, a good location, masterful hype, and the will and skill to work until the outer layers of your skin peel off like you're an onion and finally the dry, tired puff of methane your entrepreneurial spirit has become is released back into the wild. At that point, it's time to expand to a second location.
And then there's the other brand of restaurateur. The ones who, instead of putting in the blood, sweat, and effort, seemingly just get blindingly drunk and make bets with each other about the stupidest concepts in the Universe. Then, when they wake up a week later, they look at their absolute worst idea -- the one smeared on the back of a stolen riot cop shield with a sticky substance they can only hope is mustard -- and go forth to make that shit reality.
Ninja New York
The masked, black-clad ninja character has been a mainstay in pop culture since the 1980s, and his image has been slapped on everything from bookmarks to pro wrestling. So despite the fact that the only comestible even remotely associated with ninja fuckery is pizza, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to pair that shit with food. Still, how difficult could it be? Just give your dishes names like "shinobi steak" and "katana casserole," then decorate the place with some ninja murals and nail $50 worth of shitty souvenir throwing stars on the walls.
Or you could do what Ninja New York did, and turn your restaurant into an actual underground dungeon where ninjas roam around, plotting to wreck your shit like it was 1985 and you're Michael Dudikoff.
If this guy leads you to your table, he's your waiter. If he kicks you in the kidneys, he's the Level 1 boss.
While Ninja New York does serve elaborate dishes from the preposterous end of the diagram, their main selling point is the costumed ninjas lurking around the premises and scaring you shitless. In practice, this means that your dining experience is periodically disturbed by black-garbed assholes jump-terrifying you as you try to enjoy your drink ...
... while other assholes reach out from hidden wall trapdoors to place fucking knives on your throat while you eat:
Man, even if we assume those are dull prop blades, that seems like an awfully great way to accidentally take out some excitable kid's eye. And although the knives being props would normally seem like a given, I'm having a hard time believing that in the case of this particular restaurant, seeing as how Ninja New York's own promotional video features the place's manager delighting in the way his ninjas drop from the ceilings to surprise diners. (Oh, they drop from ceilings, too.)
So, yeah. Despite its food's apparent merits, I can't shake the feeling that Ninja New York is less a restaurant than it is an elaborate supervillain death trap which just operates as a restaurant for tax purposes until Daredevil shows up and the elaborate corridor fight scene can begin.
Cabbages And Condoms
Coming up with a name for your restaurant is an important and grueling decision. What would best describe your food? What imagery do you wish to convey? Which elements should be the ... hold on, what? You already put a bunch of words in a hat and picked out two at random? You want to call the place Cabbages and what?
Well, at least it's not "Hitler" this time.
Cabbages and Condoms is an actual restaurant in Bangkok (because of course), and the only thing that prevents me from exploding into an uncontrolled torrent of boner jokes at this point is that the restaurant's actually trying to do a good thing with its otherwise questionable name and theme. Its owner is an ex-politician and philanthropist who has made it something of a personal mission to promote safe sex, and since cartoonishly ridiculous condom schemes seem to work, that's what he's going with.
For the casual eater, though, the experience can be a bit peculiar. The place's name alone requires a certain level of mental judo to disassociate dong raincoats from the food you're about to shove in your mouth. This isn't exactly helped by the restaurant's cucumber-pocket-themed decor ...
"For your oral pleasure."
... or the fact that there are actual mannequins dressed in condoms, just randomly standing around and watching as you eat.
If Suicide Squad gets a sequel, Jared Leto will start mailing these to his coworkers.
Still, that's all just icing, and it's all for a good cause. "Think about the positive side," you tell yourself, your taste buds begging for your brain to remove the mysterious taste of latex on your tongue as you leaf through the menu. "You're in a restaurant. The food should be good. You can just ignore the love glove paraphernalia and dig into a steak. Just avoid ordering sausage, and everything's fine."
And that's when your waiter arrives.
Fuck it, we're going to McDonald's.
Imagine finding yourself dining in complete darkness, accompanied only by your silent yet clearly present dinner companions' barely suppressed farts and the occasional yelp as someone stabs their cheek with a fork. All around you, you can hear the waiters hustle and bustle, maneuvering themselves eerily accurately in the pitch-black space. Wha- what's going on? Has the Mole Man kidnapped you again? Are you actually James Bond, and have finally managed to infiltrate KELPIE, the money-strapped offshoot of SPECTRE where they can't even afford light bulbs?
Wrong on both counts! You're actually dining in a dark restaurant, and as this name suggests, the lack of light is not shitty maintenance -- it's actually the main attraction.
Think Buffalo Bill stalking Clarice in Silence Of The Lambs, but with more bread sticks.
Restaurants like this are surprisingly numerous, because apparently, the business is keen to attract the valuable "people who are likely to stab themselves in the thigh with a steak knife if they get confused" demographic. There are slight variations on the theme from one location to the next, but it generally goes like this: The whole restaurant isn't dark, because otherwise every single course the kitchen sends out would be thumbs, and even the shit demon from Dogma would refuse to use the restrooms. But you can't see anything in the dining area, and as you can imagine, this brings a brand new set of challenges to the eating experience. You don't see what you eat. You can't remember where you placed your glass. You might accidentally grab a bite from the misplaced hors d'oeuvres platter of your friend and only realize that it was cuttlefish when your allergy kicks in.
But hey, shit happens. The point of the experience is that when they take your sight away, your other senses should carry the load, right? Your senses of smell and taste improve, which is fine until one of the courses in the menu (which is a "mystery menu," because why not!) turns out to be something you absolutely hate. Your sense of hearing is on overdrive, allowing you to hear all sorts of suppressed gurgles and errant burps from other people which would usually thankfully escape your attention. You'll also hear very, very well every time someone accidentally scratches their plate with a knife, which you just know will happen like three times a minute because no one can see what the shit they're doing.
It can be freaky as shit, is what I'm saying. Here, have Ellen demonstrate:
As for those waiters who are somehow able to scuttle across the space without turning the place into an impromptu slapstick performance, the Sherlock Holmesian magic of image search suggest that the reasons for their powers vary. Some restaurants apparently cheat a bit by not making the room completely dark and making the guests wear masks. Others just have their staff wear night vision goggles. Others still, like London's Dans le Noir (which, to be fair, actually aims to promote visual impairment awareness) and Singapore's NOX, up the ante by actually using visually impaired waiters who can maneuver the space perfectly. And now I'm kind of pissed that I already used that Daredevil joke two entries ago.
Dick's Last Resort
In theory, I find the concept of Dick's Last Resort fascinating. I've worked in a restaurant and can be a grumpy fucker myself, so the idea of an establishment which not only allows its employees to insult its patrons, but outright encourages it, gently tickles my karma glands.
It's just that "Hey, here's a restaurant where they insult everyone" is a fucking difficult concept to pull off. Dick's Last Resort certainly tries. Their mascot is a grumpy-looking bastard in a series of increasingly appalling Hawaii shirts. Their website is a cartoonish affront to mankind which overuses words like "grub" and "yer." And their staff will get in your face, pelting you with sarcastic remarks and general mild-to-moderate hostility. Your napkins will likely be delivered by the waiter throwing them at you, and after the dinner, they might force your party to wear hats with customized insults scribbled on them.
I said customized, not necessarily creative.
As a former restaurant worker, I find this approach to customer service cathartic. As a comedian, I sense a fucking shitshow. As evidenced by the amount of asswipes declaring "I speak sarcasm as a second language" to the world on a T-shirt or whatever, effective sarcasm is a skill that many people think they have, but very few actually possess. How many of Dick's waiters have that very particular sense of humor necessary to make the restaurant's trademark approach funny and not off-putting? Can they do it day in, day out? Because if they can't, they're going to seem like they're phoning it in, or even like they're legitimately mean. And that's if the customer knows what they're in for. Although Dick's Last Resort relies heavily on its nastiness gimmick, its locations look more or less like every other grill / drinking hole in existence. Imagine just wandering in from the street to grab a beer and a quick bite, only to be greeted by a barrage of insults -- and not from the grizzled alcoholic sitting at the bar, like in regular restaurants.
As such, Dick's is particularly susceptible to the people skills of its waiting staff. Most locations get their share of negative reviews which highlight the thin line of comedy the waiters have to constantly dance (and often fall off of into the pit of rude dickishness below). On the other hand, some locations appear to survive virtually on customer service alone, despite nearly every reviewer blasting the food and prices to oblivion.
Still, the fact that Dick's has 16 goddamned locations and appears to be a fairly successful chain might prove that they're actually awesome and I should shut my stupid face. Then again, Nickelback has sold 50 million albums.
Fucking Robot Restaurants
Anyone who's followed my column for any length of time is probably familiar with my stance on robots, which is: If you see a robot, shoot it. If you see a robot that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, shoot it twice, because if it's the good sort, it can take it and will forgive you. If not, hey, at least you got a couple shots in before it twists you into a pretzel.
With that off of my chest -- oh, screw it. Have a fucking robot restaurant .
Hajime Robot Restaurant is located in Bangkok, so it's probably just a matter of time before they do some terrifying robot-condom-themed joint venture with Cabbages and Condoms. Its robots are worryingly industrial-looking types which serve food on tables, running on a racks in the middle of a restaurant and presumably planning to use their handy grabbing-distance position to wreak havoc on eaters the second the robot apocalypse begins. But don't worry! The robots are customized to have googly eyes and smiles. Sometimes, the owners force them to dance for our entertainment. What could go wrong?
What could go wrong?
Yet somehow, Hajime Robot Restaurant is only the second-worst eatery to be in once Skynet gains sentience. The gold standard of that game is the innovatively named Robot Restaurant in, all together now, Japan. This Shinjuku monstrosity is essentially every single toy you owned as a child, only now they're giant-sized robots that zip around while you eat. They have robot sharks, Real Steel boxing-bots tearing into each other, way-too-fast wheel robots zapping around the floor, and giant, terrifying, half-naked lady-bots which carry actual half-naked ladies around. All of this takes place on a small dance floor at a spitting distance from you, and oh shit why am I even trying to explain this with words? Just watch the fucking video:
Normally, I'd GIF the best bits of that shit up for you, but to be honest, the only GIF that would accurately capture the insanity of that video would be the length of that entire video, and the editors have promised to feed me to the Bandwidth Jaguar if I ever try to repeat the Great GIF Incident of 2014. So instead, have another video:
That, friends, is how the world will end: Not with a bang or whimper, but in a mass of neon robot warriors tearing through hordes of horrified yet enticed diners and dancers. Just the whole world, nothing but that. Forever. And you know what? I think I'd be OK with that.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked weekly columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
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