There are many interactive murder mystery dinner shows out there, but there’s nothing quite like The Dinner Detective mystery show. Where most rely on historical settings with cheesy, predictable scripts and minimal interaction, The Dinner Detective takes you inside the crime. You not only watch the mystery unfold, but you’re also part of the action.
We were curious about this theater experience and wanted to unlock the mystery around this captivating show. From where it started to what you can expect when you attend, we’ve uncovered all the clues to solve the case.
Here’s everything we know about The Dinner Detective: Murder Mystery Theater.
Scott and Kelly O’Brien decide to re-invent the murder mystery show experience
The interactive dinner theater experience has been around since the early 1950s. These early establishments broke free from the typical dinner and a show, which was mostly music at the time. Known as theater restaurants, the play, and the food were still separate affairs—with dinner in one room and the theater in another.
Over the next thirty years, the dinner theater evolved to merge the food with the entertainment, peaking in popularity in the early 1980s.
Scott and Kelly O’Brien met while working in Hollywood. After watching a three-hour predictable and cheesy murder mystery show, Scott decided to use his screenwriting skills to give a new true crime twist to the old murder mystery formula.
The approach was one he was already well-versed in thanks to his experience researching cases and writing for the hit TV show, The Practice. Once the shows were scripted, Scott and Kelly gathered a small group of highly skilled improv actors and performed their first show at San Gennaro Restaurant in Culver City, CA.
But the O’Briens faced a challenge.
How could they convince an audience—largely through word of mouth—that their dinner detective show was fresh? That what they had to offer was more than the tired, campy, same-old-same-old experience that dinner theater audiences had largely come to expect?
An innovative approach to mystery theater
The first thing the O’Briens did was figure out everything about the typical murder mystery experience that they didn’t like. And then they changed it.
Scott knew how to take actual cases and merge them into fictional narratives—a formula that was incredibly successful in legal law shows spanning multiple television networks. The couple then sought out the best improv actors in the area, hoping their innovative approach would set them apart from other dinner theater experiences.
Their plan worked.
Within a few shows, they were selling out, with corporations booking them for private shows. By 2006, they launched a second location in Orange County, in 2007, a third in Long Beach, and in 2008, The Dinner Detective crossed state lines to bring the very best of dinner and murder to Boulder, CO.
Today, there are over 80 locations spread across 38 states.
What makes The Dinner Detective a unique experience?
Outside of weaving actual cases into their stories, there are quite a few elements that make The Dinner Detective unique.
The actors aren’t on a stage performing a play. Instead, they’re dressed in regular clothes and are seated among the audience. No one knows who the actors are, and to help deepen the illusion, audience members are encouraged to give fake names when they check-in. Want to be a comic book hero or a prolific serial killer? The more outrageous the better.
While including the audience in the fun has always been a key element in interactive murder mystery theater shows, this takes it one step further and makes it easier for actors to hide and guests to participate.
Guests are then seated at round, banquet-style tables so they can parse through clues with the rest of their team. Some of the actors will become apparent given the roles they play. A victim will be murdered. Detectives will investigate. But who are the suspects? Everyone—maybe even you.
In fact, even if you aren’t officially interrogated by a detective, because many of the actors are seated randomly at the tables, you may end up casually questioned by a cast member and never even know it. And because audience participation is the most important element, all shows are placed in modern-day settings—not the past.
To further focus on the audience, each script has leeway, allowing the actors to really exercise their improv strengths and literally go with the flow. O’Brien has stated in interviews that roughly 50% of each show ends up improvised.
Attend The Dinner Detective on different nights, and even in the same city, you won’t get quite the same show. It’s custom-made for that exact audience, and likely a key to their continued success and popularity.
The Dinner Detective Mystery Show Experience
Throughout the performance, you’ll be served a four-course meal that varies depending on your location. This includes appetizers, a salad, an entree, and a dessert. The website offers an easy map to find the location closest to you, as well as a menu with the specific options available for your preferred night.
Ticket prices vary based on location and range anywhere from $59.95 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to $99 in New York City, though most tickets are around the $69.99 price point. This price includes an interrogation reception, the four-course meal, and wait-staff gratuity—though they note bar and performance gratuity are separate.
Additionally, every website warns that each performance will pull audience members into the action, and anyone can be part of the show. The show uses loud simulated gunshots, short blackouts, and prop guns. Because of the interactive effects and nature of the show, most locations have an age limit of fifteen and older, with a few holding a strict eighteen and older age limit. Be sure to check the specific website for details.
Solving the crime is satisfying, but to really make this an experience you won’t forget, each show gives a Top Sleuth Prize Package to the audience member who names the murderer or offers the best guess.
In all, if you’re a murder mystery buff looking for a one-of-a-kind dinner theater experience, the interactive nature of The Dinner Detective is the perfect choice for your next date night. And if you’re looking for private parties or group bookings, every location has options for both.