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Interior design is critical for any restaurant, yet it can be often overlooked. No one wants to get their menu just right only to have guests leave because of there wasn’t a waiting area, or fail to return because the noise level was too high. 

“It’s the first impression your patrons will have of your space or business. Before they’ve even tasted the food, they’ll make a judgment about the design and comfort level,” says Andrea Beecher cofounder and designer at Salt Lake City-based M3LD.  “Carefully considered design will help reinforce your story or brand and, as a restaurant, help drive business.”

How can you be sure that your restaurant is optimized for design? Interior designers weigh in on what they find restaurant owners often overlook, and provide tips so you won’t do the same.

interior of a restaurant design ideas

Physical Flow

“Restaurateurs make the same basic mistake that most people make,” says Pablo Solomon, an award-winning designer in Austin, Texas.  “They fail to take the time to understand what feeling that they want the diner to have and what image they want their restaurant to project.”

Solomon believes the flow of the restaurant is key to making sure the diner has an enjoyable experience.

Too often, restaurants ignore obvious red flags like:

  1. Not making the flow to and from the kitchen safe and easily accessible for the wait staff.
  2. Not making the customer’s first view of the interior attractive, appealing and welcoming.
  3. Not prioritizing the need to sanitize everything, from floor to ceiling.
  4. Having too much clutter and overzealous décor.

Andrew Goodman, the designer behind the highly lauded San Antonio restaurant concepts Battalion, Feast, Rebelle and Haunt, agrees.

“A restaurant can be visually appealing in the design phase, but it needs to be functional when guests pour in,” says Goodman. “The focus of a restaurant is often the kitchen and dining area, so the waiting area can sometimes come as an afterthought. However, it’s the face of your restaurant. It’s the first welcoming space people see, so make it big enough to be comfortable. The last thing you want to do is pack in waiting guests like cattle. It sets an edgy tone for the entire meal.”

open restaurant interior design

Treat all senses equally

Joey Ruben of Neighbor, a casual eatery in Venice Beach, California, believes the design of a restaurant doesn’t stop at flow and aesthetics.

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“One thing I see overlooked quite often is sound design,” says Ruben. “As a society, we’ve become deaf to good sound from the average equipment in our homes, offices, headsets, and cars. That opens up this great opportunity for restaurateurs to transport a guest through their space. It makes and breaks the vibe.”

And it can even mean saving money, Ruben says.

“From a business standpoint it can also be helpful for a designer to use sound design as a tool to save in more expensive areas like designer furnishing, premium finishes, or expensive artworks,” he says. “Great music can elevate any circumstance, including the $50 restaurant supply chair versus the $500 showroom one.”

A restaurant can be visually appealing in the design phase, but it needs to be functional.

Accept the Power of Social Media

Selfies are a part of modern life, so restaurants should first make sure that there’s nothing on your walls that would reflect negatively on your restaurant. As Solomon advises, “A bland wall beats a wall of crap.”

Consider interesting photos and art as decor, says Solomon. Photos and art appropriate to the theme or history of the restaurant local area can be especially effective.

Ruben prefers a bolder selfie wall: “I see a lot of hotels and restaurants leaning toward eye-catching installations that guests use to memorialize a visit on social media. There’s lots of catchy phrases in neon, heavy patterns in wallpapers, and big bold colorways these days. It’s all super fun for the guest that wants to share their visit and, in turn, great marketing for the restaurant.”

Bar and line of restaurant

Little Details Count

Even if you’ve nailed down flow, aesthetics and acoustics, there are still ways to provide something out of the ordinary that attracts customer attention. Dennis Decker, brand manager of Harlem Shake, a burger and shake concept in Harlem, New York, suggests the following:

  1. An extra storage area for supplies.
  2. Plugs for cell phones by tables and counters, and enough plugs for events.
  3. Coat hooks and hooks under counters for purses and backpacks.
  4. Clear spaces for purses in bathrooms.
Check out Upserve’s Restaurant Decor Ideas Guide!

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Megan is always adventuring. Whether it is simply wandering around Newport, RI or venturing off across the world, she is constantly looking for a new travel destination. While she may not be able to tell you the exact cities she has visited, you can expect a play by play of everything she ate.
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