4 Simple Restaurant Design Changes Your Patrons Will Eat Up

These tweaks can boost business and keep customers coming back.
Sometimes the design of your restaurant can be just as important as the food. (Photo: Coeval Studio)

Creating a memorable meal for guests goes beyond food and service. Restaurant design is just as much a part of the experience — it can keep customers coming in the door or turn them away.

Good design can strengthen your restaurant’s image and complement the food, according to Karen Daroff, president and design principal of Philadelphia-based Daroff Design, which has worked with hospitality clients including Cuba Libre restaurants and Loews Hotels.


(Photo: Coveal Studio)

“Design [can] make guests feel they are being emotionally transported to another time or place,” she said. “It can celebrate the regionalism of the cuisine and incorporate a sense of authenticity.”

If your restaurant is starting to look outdated or you want to attract new diners, consider these four design upgrades from professional restaurant designers.


(Photo: Coveal Studio)

Reconfigure your seating

“A restaurant should diversify the seating arrangements and avoid a ‘cafeteria style’ dining experience,” said Jenne Whitelaw, project designer at Bethesda, Maryland-based GTM Architects, which has worked on Washington, D.C.-area restaurants including Cafe Deluxe West End and Carving Room.

Restaurants can achieve variety with different types of seating — booths, bar-height tables, two- and four-person tables, large family-sized tables for more than four people — and by making sure tables aren’t all lined up in straight, monotonous rows.

In addition, seats should be arranged so every table is desirable and the waitstaff can circulate without intruding, Daroff said. Everyone has that memory of sitting at a table that was too close to the kitchen or too cramped, so all they remember is how uncomfortable the experience was.


(Photo: Daroff Design)

Evaluate your lighting

Many restaurants overlook their lighting as a part of the space’s design. But good lighting can make the food look visually appealing, highlight design features that already exist in the restaurant and create a dramatic or romantic experience.

“It does not matter how fabulous your finishes are if they are not lit with layers of attractive lighting,” said Whitelaw.

According to John Paul Valverde and Miguel Vicens, creative directors of Coevál Studio, a Dallas-based design studio whose clients have included Quill Lounge and El Bolero, lighting plays a major part in setting the mood. If a space is too dark during the afternoon, it will be hard to entice the lunch crowd. If it’s too light in the evening, it won’t create the right setting for cocktails at the bar or dinner service.

Valverde and Vicens recommend adding dimmers or changing out light bulbs for softer or brighter ones to create the right environment. If one side of your restaurant gets too much light, consider shades or window filters, too.


(Photo: Coveal Studio)

Create a new dining space

If your restaurant has a bar or outdoor patio, Valverde and Vicens recommend considering popular communal seating. They also use exposed kitchen designs, even for casual restaurants, because it gives a place more energy. During peak hours, they show back of the house staff working and preparing meals, while during slower hours before dinner, the restaurant still feels busy because diners can see the kitchen staff getting ready for the dinner rush.

If you add a new space or additional tables, Valverde and Vicens warned, make sure your kitchen can handle more diners.


(Photo: GTM Architects)

Revamp your menu

Menus are the first tactile part of a diner’s restaurant experience, so they should complement the look and feel you’re trying to achieve. “The messages, language, font and images should feel memorable, branded and unique,” said Whitelaw.

Fonts and images should be also consistent from the menu to the signage inside and outside the restaurant, according to Daroff. “From the curb through to the table, from the signage to the menus, the design should deliver a seamless message reinforcing the brand,” she said.


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