5 Key Elements of Restaurant Design

In Branding, Design Planning, Hospitality Design, Interior Design by Regina Urner

Christina Toole Sr Interior Designer

By Regina Urner,
Sr. Interior Designer
Work with Regina>

A restaurant, like a person, has a personality. Whether it’s regal and reserved or hip and edgy, your design aesthetic makes a statement about what customers can expect to experience during any visit or interaction.

I approach design holistically. Function is as important as aesthetics. When designing or re-designing a restaurant, there are many elements to consider. Here are five key elements that should always be thoughtfully considered.


#1 Think like a guest

Take a seat at each table and look around. What do you notice? Is the space visually engaging? Do you have a view of a bathroom, dish room, or server station? If so, try to give some character to the walls nearby that so the guest has something to entertaining to look at.

How does the waiting area look when you sit in it? Is it obvious to your guests how to find the restrooms? When you’re outside or just arriving, what is the first thing you notice about the space? Be sure to experience your concept like a guest would so that you can be sure to deliver what you promise.

#2 Be true to your brand

If you are that hipster restaurant with a lot of character, then make sure your music matches your restaurant’s personality, your decor reflects your menu and style, and your layout conveys a relaxed atmosphere.

If you’re a fine dining restaurant, you won’t want a hodgepodge of chairs and tables. If you’re a BBQ joint, cloth napkins and large portraits aren’t going to feel authentic and will only confuse your guests who expected a more casual environment.


#3 Don't Skimp on Storage

This is an area of the restaurant that guests won’t see or interact with but is critical to your functionality and flow. Consider what kind of storage spaces and areas you’re realistically going to need. Only getting once-a-week food deliveries is a smart, cost-saving strategy but it does mean you need more storage space for those big orders.

Often, restaurants only consider how much fridge, freezer, and dry good space they’ll need for a few days’ worth of supplies, but when a deal on vodka comes along and they purchase ten cases, they run into issues.

An area for a manager to sit and count the drawer and do paperwork at the end of their shift is also a key use of space and can often be overlooked.

"I approach design holistically. Function is as important as aesthetics."Regina Urner

#4 Little things matter

Something as little as a vent pointed directly at you or a light shining into your eye can ruin a restaurant experience and make you not want to return. Pay attention to the lighting in your restaurant and make sure it’s appropriate for your vibe. Is it bright and airy or dim and romantic? Can you read your menu in the lighting you’ve chosen?

Another important factor is the ventilation. Carefully consider the placement of your vents, and where the air for them is being pulled from (i.e., don’t have it pull from the cigarette smoking area outside).  Attention to little things like the door knobs, the floor finish, and the hostess stand can add up.


#5 It’s not just visual

When you think atmosphere you immediately think what you see, but it includes the other senses as well. We know that taste is going to be included when drinks and food are ordered, but the sound, smell, and feel of your restaurant are all very important to delivering an excellent experience.

What does your restaurant smell like when you first walk in? Does a conversation carry across the restaurant for all the patrons to hear? When a patron isn’t talking, do they hear music? I’m a huge supporter of music in restaurants and can’t stand when it’s quiet. I want to be able to hear some music and feel like my conversation isn’t being heard by everyone around me.

Think about what the tactile experience of the guest is going to be like. You’ll want solid silverware, clean smooth tables and chairs and napkins that don’t scratch your face.

Some of these suggestions seem like common sense and yet we've all encountered these design errors and mistakes in restaurants. Having a written program and a design professional at your side can help you avoid these errors.

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Los Angeles-based interior designer, Regina Urner, specializes in residential, workspace, and hospitality design. Regina is a 2004 graduate from the UCLA interior design and architecture program. She has been LEED accredited and is NCIDQ certified.

Areas of Specialty:
Restaurant and Hospitality Workspace Design
Residential Design
Airbnb Vacation Homes

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