Dinner Theatre is a format that caters usually to elderly patrons. The building will be both a restaurant and theatre. In some places food is served during the show, others it's served beforehand.
At conventional dinner theaters, the plays chosen tend to be The Musical, or other Lowest Common Denominator crowd-pleasing fare. Another take comes in the form of original spectacles in custom-built arenas designed to entertain family crowds, such as the Real Life Medieval Times chain. A popular variation has been to mix dinner theater with LARP Murder Mystery theatre, where the audience takes part in the proceedings to solve the crime. Alternatively, the show is set up as an event that encourages mingling between audience and actors, a concept pioneered by Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding in The '80s.
In fiction, this is usually portrayed as the lowest job an actor can get.
- Soapdish has Kevin Kline's washed-up character performing Death of a Salesman at a Dinner Theatre. His audience is divided between the oblivious and the uninterested.
- At the beginning of Shrek the Third, Prince Charming is reduced to performing dinner theater to an unappreciative audience who cheer Shrek (who is supposed to be the villain in the play) instead of him.
- The film Auto Focus recreates Bob Crane having to make do with these kind of theatre roles to make ends meet, after Hogans Heroes ends.
- The Cable Guy takes his increasingly reluctant buddy to an outpost of Medieval Times and they wind up duking it out Star Trek style in the arena itself.
- In the episode "Hollywood Babylon" of Supernatural, a character named Gerard St. James is playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.
Gerard St. James: Speaking of, I'm playing Willy in a dinner theater production of Salesman at Costa Mesa, all next month. (He hands Dean a flyer) You get a free pepper steak with the coupon.
- One episode of Saturday Night Live featured Chris Farley as an actor playing the victim in a cheesy murder mystery play ("Eeny Meeny Miny Murder, Catch a Killer in the Mansion of Flurder"). Because his parents were in the audience, he overplayed his death scene, outright refusing to die so he could keep on overacting, eventually driving everyone away.
- The Golden Girls Has an episode ("The Case of the Libertine Belle") that fits this trope. The gang is treated to a Murder Mystery Dinner Party at an upscale bed and breakfast. The twist: The first mystery is a decoy. Blanche unwittingly takes part in the second act. Hilarity Ensues
- Part of the backstory in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Gets Drunk" reveals that Monk ruined a murder mystery theater weekend by solving the mystery in the first twelve minutes, causing the organizers to have to refund all the guests.
- The 3 Little Pigs: The Movie: Big Boss, owner of The Inn of the Gentle Wolf, plans out a lucrative event for his establishment, where he intends to serve pigs Wally and Beemo to his carnivorous guests, after the two provide some entertainment with a song & dance.
- Bob's Burgers: The episode "Hamburger Dinner Theater" has Linda trying her hand at dinner theater by staging a bizarre musical murder mystery at the restaurant.
- King of the Hill had "Abracapasta", a dinner theatre specializing in magic.
- And there was the disco-themed murder-mystery dinner theater on a train.
- In an episode of Chowder, Shnitzel plays a tree in Mung Daal's dinner theater.
- On The Simpsons:
- Mark Hamill performs a Star Wars-themed dinner theater version of Guys and Dolls.
- Krusty The Klown also appeared in King Lear at the Springfield Dinner Theatre. Homer, a restaurant critic at the time, thought the food wasn't near so hammy as the acting. (It didn't help that Krusty didn't know it was a tragedy.)
- The family also went to a magic-themed dinner theater.
- SpongeBob SquarePants has three episodes in which the Krusty Krab is temporarily turned into one: "Culture Shock", "Squirrel Jokes" and "The Play's the Thing".
- Dan Vs.. has an episode called "Dan Vs. Ye Olde Shakespeare Dinner Theatre".
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie: The main characters begin the plot as pirates in a pirate-themed dinner-theatre restaurant, depicted as cheesy. The main characters' hate of working there fuels the plot and their desire for something more interesting.
- The 2004 Official Transformers Collectors Convention had planned a Transformers-themed LARP Murder Mystery-style dinner event titled "Who Shot Optimus Prime?" featuring Autobot detective Nightbeat, but because the hosting entertainment company wanted more money to change their format than the convention organizers could afford, those attending the event got the generic DEATH BY CHOCOLATE starring Detective Harry Bottoms instead. But, at least the attendees got Optimus Prime and Megatron posters signed by Peter Cullen and Frank Welker along with their meal, so the night wasn't a total loss.