From acoustics so bad you wish earplugs were on the menu to clichéd decor (are Edison bulbs really still hip, you guys?), hackneyed—or just plain bad—restaurant design can leave a bad taste in a guest’s mouth. When it comes to dining out, the ambiance can be as important as the cuisine, and unpalatable design should never compromise the experience. We tapped award-winning Boston-based designer Taniya Nayak—who has lent her refined eye to hub hotspots like Lower Mills Tavern and starred on the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible along with a number of HGTV shows—to school us on some of her go-to pro-tips for intelligent restaurant design.

Yellow Door Taqueria in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Sarah Storrer

Take a seat.

“One of the best tips I can offer is to sit in every seat [in the restaurant]. Sometimes this needs to be done mentally as you work off of your drawings. Be sure that every guest, in every seat, is looking at something nice!”

Bright lights, big problem

“Bright lights are for cafeterias. Ambient lighting is everything when it comes to a proper dining experience. Set the mood with lighting that is dimmable and adjust it accordingly throughout the day. Leave the fluorescent lights in the kitchen.”

Lion’s Tail in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Mike Diskin

Don’t hide the host.

“I often see a host stand set up in an area where they cannot see the guests—or the guests cannot see them—as they enter. A warm hello and welcome greeting is the guests’ very first impression of the place. This should never be overlooked or deemed as unimportant.”

It’s a hard knock life…

“Tile and wood look great together but they often send sound waves bouncing off the walls. Be sure to incorporate some type of soft seating (upholstered banquettes, bar stools or dining chairs), acoustical ceiling tiles, or even soft drapery to help absorb the noise. Plus, it looks great!”

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Read between the lines.

“If you’re designing a restaurant, don’t forget to read the menu or chat with the chef! The design [of the space] should always have a tie to the food that is being served. Let’s face it: eating sushi in a country kitchen could seem a little odd.”

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo credit: Panospin Studios

Let history repeat itself.

“I always try to grab hold of a piece of history of that space or the area. Locals and tourists always seem to appreciate a good story. My husband and I just opened up Yellow Door Taqueria in Dorchester, Massachusetts. It used to be an iconic antique store for over 20 years—a favorite corner shop in the neighborhood. In coming up with the design concept, we wanted to hold on to the history by designing a taqueria that has the look and feel of an old antique shop. The place turned out great and, more importantly, the guests seem to really appreciate that we went in that direction.”

Yellow Door Taqueria in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Sarah Storrer

Don’t forget where you came from.

“Start out with a really strong concept board. Sometimes things shift and get sidetracked during the process because some fabrics are no longer available or the budget constraints require finding alternatives. It is always good to check back to the original intent.”

Your next great restaurant decor idea could be here.

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Alexandra is an entertainment, culture and lifestyle writer and native New Yorker who somehow ended up spending the better part of her 20s in Boston without adopting any kind of Bahston accent. She also does not care one bit about the Sox. Or any sports at all, ever. She’s not embarrassed to admit that her favorite “meal” is a tub of movie theater popcorn and is a little embarrassed to admit that she has been known to microwave her eggs. She is a big fan of beer—writing about it or drinking it.
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