The 90s brought us many memorable things, but themed restaurants weren’t one of them. Somehow these tacky tourist establishments managed to stay in business despite serving expensive and lackluster food.
At one time, people waited in long lines at these establishments. They even bought shirts at each location to prove they had visited. However, many have lost their appeal, and customers aren’t frequenting them nearly as much.
Today, we’re looking at five themed restaurants that should have died in the 90s.
Let’s get started!
What Are Themed Restaurants?
Themed restaurants, as their name implies, are restaurants where the entire dining experience revolves around a singular focused idea. The establishment builds the topic into the whole dining experience. The theme is present in the restaurant’s decor, menu, and architecture. Some of these establishments even use special effects to create an immersive experience for guests.
Some of the most popular themed restaurants started as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. However, they became tremendously popular in the 1990s. Hungry tourists waited in long lines to eat overpriced food in a unique environment. They were wickedly popular, and customers, for some reason, returned time after time.
Pro Tip: Ditch the themed restaurants and enjoy a meal at one of these 7 Most Unique Restaurants in the USA instead.
#1 Planet Hollywood
Planet Hollywood is a themed restaurant that started in New York City in 1991. The focus of the restaurant revolves around all things Hollywood. During the early days, celebrities like Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone were the principal backers for growing the franchise.
Consumers fell in love with dining among authentic memorabilia from movies they had seen on the big screen. The brand quickly grew and expanded locations to include London, Chicago, and southern California. They would later add massive locations in Las Vegas and Walt Disney World.
However, by 1997 it became apparent that Planet Hollywood was struggling financially. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the first time in October 1999 and again in October 2001. To survive, dozens of Planet Hollywood locations closed around the world. Currently, only six restaurants and five hotels remain.
The menu includes burgers, pasta, sandwiches, and specialty grilled items like steak, ribs, and slow-roasted chicken. In addition, the establishments often have a long list of adult beverages. After a drink or two, it’s easier for guests to stomach the gross price they’re paying for their meal.
#2 Bubba Gump Shrimp Company
The 1994 movie Forest Gump was one of the most popular movies during the 90s. In the film, Forrest Gump meets a man named Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, and the two chat about getting into the shrimping business, which Forest did after Bubba died in the Vietnam War.
The chain launched in Monterey, California, in 1996. Like Planet Hollywood, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company displays movie memorabilia and still photos from Forrest Gump. Depending on which of the 34 locations you visit, you’ll also find costumes, reproductions of script pages, and storyboards decorating the walls.
As should be expected from a themed seafood restaurant, the menu is full of fish and shellfish options. However, there are plenty of burgers, steak, and pasta options. Many of the menu items connect back to the characters or topics in the movie. You can even order a box of chocolates for dessert!
#3 Rainforest Cafe
Rainforest Cafe is for you if you like dining with animatronic jungle creatures and a thunderstorm interrupting your meal every 20 minutes.
Guests may have thought they were entering an urban mall. But Rainforest Cafe transports you to a thick jungle setting with all the noise and chaos of a rainforest. Swinging monkeys, fog machines, and waterfalls are just a few of the things guests can expect.
The first Rainforest Cafe opened in 1994 at the Mall of America in Minnesota. However, because themed restaurants were trending, the company quickly expanded to six restaurants in the United States and an additional location in London, England. By 2008, there were 22 locations around the world.
A majority of customers of Rainforest Cafe are tourists. Their menu is nothing special and serves standard American chain food items like burgers, seafood, and pasta. One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the Volcano, a dessert brownie topped with ice cream and a lit sparkler.
While Hooters started in 1983, much of its growth occurred during the 90s. It’s a sports bar that’s a great place to grab a beer, eat a burger or wings, and watch your favorite game. However, its scantily-dressed servers separate Hooters from any other sports bar on the block.
Hooters is most known for their “Hooters girls,” which are waitresses wearing extremely short orange shorts and low-cut white tank tops. Their uniform certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
The company has a long legal history resulting from the treatment of its employees. Multiple women filed lawsuits claiming unfair treatment and an inappropriate work environment. Several of the significant cases were settled out of court, which only increases the sketchiness of the company.
However, they have some of the best burgers, wings, and cold beer in any sports bar. With more than 400 locations worldwide and a solid legal team, Hooters isn’t likely going away anytime soon.
#5 Hard Rock Cafe
Hard Rock Cafe hit the scene in 1971 when the first restaurant opened in London, England. However, it wasn’t until 1979 that the restaurant embraced the idea of decking its walls with memorabilia from rock and roll. While the second Hard Rock Cafe opened in Toronto, Canada, in 1978, it wasn’t until 1982 that Hard Rock Cafe began intensely expanding to the United States.
Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood are very similar, but Hard Rock Cafe reflects the music industry. Guests to the Hard Rock Cafe locations often enjoy perusing the walls and looking at the rock and roll memorabilia. It includes guitars from artists like Eric Clapton, The Who, and many more rock legends.
The menu at Hard Rock Cafe is similar to other standard American chains. There are a variety of burgers, salads, and cuts of beef. However, like most themed restaurants, it’s nothing to write home about.
The chain has a reputation for focusing more on creating the experience and less on the food quality. However, since they’re typically near high-traffic tourist areas, there’s a revolving door of customers at their 165 restaurants, 24 hotels, and 11 casinos.
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It’s Time For Themed Restaurants to Go the Way of the Dinosaurs
While there was a time and a place for many of the themed restaurants we’ve discussed, it’s not now. The time has come and gone for many of these establishments, but somehow they keep their doors open, and customers return time after time. Whether these restaurants have what it takes to make it through this decade remains to be seen. However, we don’t see ourselves visiting them anytime soon.
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