Robert Irvine of ‘Restaurant: Impossible’ on How to Improve Your Restaurant’s Design — Fast

The Food Network star shares his tips for updating a restaurant's design and decor, on a budget, to keep customers coming back.
Chef Robert Irvine started his 25 year-long cooking career with the British Royal Navy. (Photo: Robert Irvine)

Robert Irvine knows a few things about updating a restaurant on a budget. On every episode of his show “Restaurant: Impossible,” which airs Thursday nights on Food Network, he overhauls a struggling restaurant’s food, service and decor in 48 hours with just $10,000.

Irvine, who has worked in the restaurant and food service industries for 25 years, started his cooking career with the British Royal Navy before working on luxury cruise ships and in casinos. He began his TV career with Food Network in 2007, first hosting “Dinner: Impossible” and, beginning in 2011, “Restaurant: Impossible,” now in its 13th season.

On the show, Irvine doesn’t hold back. In this Q&A with NCR Silver, he tones down the tough love and shares his advice on quick design fixes that make a big impact, what is worth DIYing versus contracting out and what to consider when creating a new menu.

What mistakes do you see that lead to poor customer experiences and missed profits?

First impressions are key. It all comes down to when the customer enters. One major mistake is failing to appeal to the primary senses. Focus on smell and taste.

What restaurant design elements lead to a memorable experience?

A well-designed restaurant will not take away any attention from the food. Instead, it will contribute to one of those memorable experiences when everything comes together: the meal, the service and the positive atmosphere. The layout and lighting create a certain vibe.

What are some simple, affordable design changes restaurants can make quickly?

Update the lighting! It’s important to note that the lighting can make or break the ambiance. Music should be playing but hardly noticed. Remember to keep the dining room at a comfortable temperature too.

What bigger-impact design changes should restaurant owners consider?

Change the furniture, get rid of bad carpet, divide the seating sections and match up the décor.

Is it worth hiring a restaurant designer?

I believe it is worth it to hire a designer. But just make sure they deliver by using reputable general contractors. Some DIY projects could be reupholstering and painting the existing chairs or refinishing the existing table tops.

What other restaurant design tips should an owner consider?

The design of the menu is extremely important. The menu is the first thing guests ask for when they want to try out a new restaurant. Some design faux pas are inconsistent layout and fonts that are illegible. You might think a nice calligraphy font looks classy, but if your customers are struggling to read it, you’re taking away from their experience. In all things, just remember that it’s about the customer. It’s not about you.

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