Functional Interior Design for Your New Restaurant

Functionality Trumps Aesthetics in Restaurant Success

Posted by Michael Elkins the 28 November 2017

The restaurant business isn’t as easy as some beginners think. It seems simple--you just need to produce good food in a pleasant atmosphere at a reasonable price. However, achieving those goals won’t guarantee financial success. Many factors are involved in determining whether a restaurant becomes profitable. According to many studies and surveys, restaurant design and ambiance rank among the top criteria that affect how profitable your business will be.

The methodologies of restaurant design can vary tremendously based on your concept, cuisine and budget, but one area is of utmost importance regardless of aesthetic design. Your restaurant has to function smoothly, or there will be unacceptable delays and problems. This might mean that you need a dedicated area for customers to place carryout orders. You definitely need to create easy access to bathrooms and outdoor dining areas. Your tables must not be so close together that servers and customers can’t move freely. Accommodating wheelchairs, walkers and other assistance devices is also essential.

Storage Space: An Often Overlooked Aspect of Restaurant Design

Restaurant design impacts all areas of your restaurant in two ways--appealing to customer aesthetic preferences and creating efficient flow patterns that facilitate cooking, serving and paying for orders. It’s important, however, not to allow aesthetic concerns to trump efficient functionality. For example, a clean, uncluttered dining room with a central focal point might be desirable, but you need storage spaces for condiments, glasses, silverware, carryout materials, high chairs and extra seating. A beautiful curved wall or central aquarium might serve as an excellent focal point that encourages customers to take and share selfies, but either feature could impede customers and servers by blocking the efficient flow of internal traffic.

Storage is critical for both front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house design. You might also want to create clear paths from the loading dock to storage areas. If you have storage in the basement or an upper floor, installing a freight elevator could prove to be one of the wisest investments you make.

Functional Restaurant Design Issues

One common problem is that nobody wants to sit in a certain area or one particular table. You can troubleshoot this issue before opening your restaurant by sitting at each table and noting the view. If one table seems too near kitchen traffic or has no view of other diners, adjustments might be necessary. The comfort of your guests is critical, so it might even be necessary to create several dining areas that appeal to different types of customers--such as those wanting an intimate dinner and those interacting in large groups. Your design details will depend on your concept, which might fall into one of the following categories:

  • Fast food
  • Casual
  • Fast casual
  • Fine Dining
  • Modern
  • Gastropub
  • Neighborhood bar and grill
  • Indoor/outdoor
  • Cafés and bistros
  • Fusion cuisine

Just as an example, it’s clear that a fusion cuisine restaurant would probably incorporate design elements from both cuisines. Indoor/outdoor restaurants might design a space that generates easy access between the areas. Separate server stations can reduce back-and-forth server traffic. There are several critical areas to consider when designing for functionality, and these include:

  • The bar and waiting area
  • Entrances and coat check areas
  • Main dining room
  • Special areas for dining such as spaces for group meetings, buffets and private rooms
  • Server stations
  • Kitchen design
  • Areas to place carryout orders

Some restaurants now offer certain items for takeout in the front of the restaurant, outdoors, in vending machines and even at nearby locations such as busy factories or office buildings. It’s important that you design these spaces so that they match your design concept in the restaurant.

Paying Guest Checks and Ordering Carryout

Taking payments and carryout orders can really obstruct the flow of a restaurant--especially at lunch time when people have a more limited time to eat. Long lines at the cash register or POS station can block paths to the restroom or entrances and exits. These impromptu lines could also block the efficient progress of servers between the kitchen and tables. Of course, modern POS systems that allow tablet and smartphone ordering and prepaid and tableside payments can reduce these problems from basic design flaws to manageable operational issues.

chefs at work

The Restaurant Kitchen

Restaurant kitchens are usually short on space, and no matter how large your kitchen, your needs will quickly expand to use all the available space. Professionals chefs--those who truly understand that restaurants are businesses--will make do with fewer gadgets and devices. Equipment should be chosen that can fulfill multiple culinary needs, and you and your staff should plan ways to make every area in the kitchen serve at least a dual purpose. Some of the best space-saving strategies in restaurant kitchens include:

  • Store tools with similar functions together--a missing tool can easily be replaced with something similar in a rush situation.
  • Draw or tape shadow outlines to simplify storing and finding the right tool.
  • Designs kitchen stations strategically for slicing and prepping duties, frying, sautéing, making sandwiches, maintaining heated prepared foods, storing refrigerated items and plating.
  • Vertical spaces and shelves can facilitate finding essential tools and equipment, so repurpose empty walls and cabinet doors to store essential knives and tools.
  • A clear path to storage spaces for the dishwashing staff is also critical during busy service times.
  • Shelves under work tables are also important storage areas.
  • Design your restaurant so that the most used refrigerated ingredients are available in sandwich tables and reach-ins.
  • Design cooking processes so that your cooks need to move as little as possible.
  • Tradeoffs are sometimes necessary--such as accepting reduced energy efficiency by locating freezers near deep fryers for greater frying efficiency.

Sometimes, more drastic action is necessary if your kitchen is very small. It might require knocking down walls to expand the available space or paring down your menu. Prepping as much food as possible in advance is another strategy that many restaurant with small kitchens employ.

Promoting Your Bar Through Complementary Design Features

Bars often lead the way in attracting a specific type of clientele--young urban professionals and millennials, trendy club hoppers and bar crawlers. One study found that 68 percent of restaurant customers are willing to spend their entire evenings in a restaurant that has an appealing bar. Designing for the bar crowd includes creating a comfortable space where people can eat or drink. It might be necessary to design a separate food preparation area to promote efficiency in ordering food at the bar. You might need some highly specialized food styling tools and equipment to process your own meats and create signature foods and beverages using molecular gastronomy.

Enabling Your Interior Flavor to Change

Restaurants are second homes for many customers, and as such, it’s important to enable seasonal designs to accommodate shifts in dining habits, promote the season and adjust design features for parties, special occasions and business meetings. Modular designs--though more expensive--can prove less expensive over time if you need to make frequent changes to your interior décor.

Planning Your Design Budget

The best strategy is to design first for functionality so that you don’t become too attached to a particular aesthetic design. You need to consider the brand, concept and what type of service you will provide. For example, fine dining requires a bigger investment in design than a neighborhood restaurant or fast food operation. The costs of building a restaurant vary according to location and concept, but averages run between $85 and $300 USD a square foot. Design typically takes about 10 percent of the construction budget, but you’ll spend more for a fine dining restaurant or a place with live entertainment.

If you plan for functionality first, then it will be easier to accommodate aesthetic designs that differentiate your restaurant. When both functionality and aesthetic design work seamlessly together, the result can be extraordinarily appealing and profitable. No matter how great your restaurant looks or how wonderful the food is, your success depend on seamless functionality, efficient service, fast preparation time and customer comfort. You never want to be in a position where you’re trying to build functionality into a predefined aesthetic design.