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National Restaurant Association - Delicious by design

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Manage My Restaurant

Delicious by design


Courtesy of DAS Architects


Your restaurant’s dining room design is an essential part of your brand image and can make or break your business. Whether you’re opening a new restaurant or remodeling, here are some tips on how to stand out from the crowd.

Getting started

• Tap into your restaurant’s personality. What works for one restaurant might not for another. Use your concept, menu, location and price point to drive your design.

• Focus on the customer. McDonald’s conducted extensive customer research to prepare for its current reimaging efforts, which included remodeling 2,000 units nationwide in the past two years, with another 800 planned for 2013. Changes include more contemporary, movable furniture, pendant lighting and varied seating heights. “We want people to be comfortable whether they’re here for lunch, a meeting or dinner with the kids,” says spokesperson Danya Proud. One goal is to transform McDonald’s to a place where customers bring their laptop computers and settle in for a while.

• Withstand the test of time. “We design our restaurants to be timeless, not just the latest fad,” says David Schultz, co-owner of DAS Architects, a Philadelphia-based firm that specializes in restaurant projects. Likewise, McDonald’s redesign emphasizes a contemporary look that “will still feel fresh for 15-20 years,” Proud says, including modern, yet durable furniture.

Creating the right ambience

Contemporary designs emphasize a simple, authentic atmosphere, says Schultz. “Often it’s about creating an ambience that allows customers to be comfortable whether they’re in jeans or a suit,” he says. Here are some ways to set the tone:

• Make material decisions. Reclaimed wood, exposed brick and sometimes stained concrete flooring can be composed to create a modern rustic ambience that is popular in today’s approach to fine-dining and casual restaurants, says Schultz. Brick veneers are also in style, says Alfredo Jaime, a partner and co-founder of San Diego’s Jaime Partners, which specializes in project management for restaurant construction. “They provide the look and feel of brick, but without the cost.” For the bar, consider a live-edge wood plank, showcasing the wood’s natural edge, for a solid, sturdy and natural feel, says Schultz. Quickservice giants Wendy’s and McDonald’s also incorporate back-to-basics materials in their remodels. Wendy’s new design options include wood-like ceramic tile and stacked-stone fireplaces combined with modern touches like flat-screen televisions and digital menu boards. Wendy’s plans to reimage half of its company-owned restaurants by the end of 2015.


Little Water Cantina in Seattle uses pendant light fixtures fashioned out of antique gramophone horns.

• Differentiate yourself with “found objects.” Foster a unique, yet down-to-earth feel with reclaimed objects like antique furniture, reused barn boards and light fixtures crafted out of found objects. For example, Seattle’s Little Water Cantina refashioned vintage gramophones into pendant light fixtures. The restaurant’s lounge is enlivened by a wall constructed out of 800 recycled tequila bottles collected from the dumpsters of local Mexican restaurants by husband-and-wife owners Shannon and Laura Wilkinson.

• Put food at center stage. Open kitchens are a popular design element, says Jaime. “People like to see the action. It gives them a feeling of being part of the food preparation process.” 

• Bring the outdoors inside. Jaime notes a rise in restaurants striving for a natural look. Last year, his firm oversaw the construction of San Diego’s Herringbone restaurant, transforming a vacant warehouse into an airy, natural setting, complete with six 100-year-old olive trees that were planted into the excavated ground.

• Tell your own story. Personalize your restaurant with little touches, like artwork commissioned to relate specifically to your concept. For example, at Carluccio’s Coal Fire Pizza in Northfield, N.J., a sepia-tone photo mural stretches across the wall behind the bar, highlighting photos of the owner’s children enjoying Italian dishes and pictures of Italian landmarks.


Courtesy of DAS Architects

• Choose your palette wisely. Schultz recommends warm, rich tones, like browns, beiges, amber, rose and salmon. “Use greens and blues sparingly,” he advises. “People tend not to look good in green light. Blue is a cold color, and you want to create a warm, inviting atmosphere.” Of course, color schemes differ depending on your concept. McDonald’s redesign emphasizes vivid colors, like oranges, yellows and greens. A steakhouse might use dark woods and black leather chairs, while a pizza joint lends itself to more splashes of color.

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