Design for the Small Restaurant Entrepreneur: Behavioral Aspects In Design

A recent study conducted found that the average American eats one hundred ninety-eight meals out a year.[i] Americans spend on average $855 million per day on dinning out. [ii] So what is it that makes eating out such a large part of our daily lives? Besides the convenience of not having to cook, the luxury of being waited on, and the appetizing meals prepared, the interior design of restaurants also plays a large roll in their success.[iii]

An interior designer may be working for an owner who knows exactly what type of atmosphere they want to create in their restaurant or there may be a lot of room for creativity. Either way, to set forth designing a restaurant the interior designer must take in account a lot of issues. Knowing the market, the intended function of the restaurant, and the budget are all key issues.

When I begin designing something I like to think as though I am designing for my self. I put myself in my client’s shoes and put myself more personally into the situation. Knowing the market means getting to know your customers. You need to know what your customers want. Knowing what your customers want means getting feedback from existing customers (if renovating an already established restaurant) or competitors’ customers (if designing a new restaurant). Most likely people are going to have an opinion about what they like and dislike about the design of a restaurant. Doing market research would also be helpful. If you look at the demographics of the area and analyze the competition in it, you will have a good idea if there is a place for your idea.

When beginning the design process it is important to figure out what type of theme you want the place to have. There are upscale high-class restaurants people go to for formal occasions and celebrations. There are entertainment themed restaurants like Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café. Then there are the restaurants that make a spectacle of the actual cooking process like Fire & Ice and Kobe Japanese Steak Houses. It has been found that the American Public likes to see how their food is prepared and handled. Also having the chef out of the kitchen it makes for a more personal atmosphere that many people enjoy. Comfort is another important part of design. No one wants to be in an atmosphere where they feel as though they do not belong. Making customers feel welcomed through the interior design of the restaurant is very important.[iv]

When designing a restaurant it is important to keep the employees in mind as well as the customers. A restaurant with easy access in and out of the kitchen is most successful. That way there the customers can easily receive prompt service and that will make them happy. Circulation space is a very important aspect of restaurant design. Customers and employees both need easy access to bathroom facilities. The wait staff needs to move freely from table to table and carry large trays along with them. Circulation space around the dinning room is a key feature to any successful restaurant.

Once the theme of the restaurant has been decided it is then time to create it. Lighting, furniture, upholstery, wall finishes, ceiling height and finishes, and space planning all contribute to the creating the theme. For example if you want to create a romantic atmosphere dim lighting is adequate. If you want to create a starry atmosphere MR 16s on the ceiling would work well. If you want to accentuate particular areas by making one area brighter than another that can be done. Lighting can also be used to accent artwork and displays that you may have in the restaurant. Cove lighting is another great technique used to create a floaty atmosphere. Colored lights work well in restaurants with welcoming interiors like Fire and Ice. Depending upon which type of atmosphere you decide on for your restaurant there is a lighting scheme that will go along with it.

Color is a huge part of the interior design of a restaurant. Using warm tones like red are known for increasing blood pressure and making people anxious.[v] Red also is known for increasing appetites and causing people to lose track of time. [vi] Red is a very good color to use in restaurants for those reasons especially. Yellow is a friendly color and is known for bringing warmth and an inviting atmosphere.[vii] Cool tones like blue known for sedating and relaxing. Blue causes the brain to release calming chemicals.[viii] Blue should be used sparingly in restaurants because it is a natural appetite suppressant.[ix] Green is the most relaxing color that can be used in interior design. White is known for creating a refreshing and clean feeling. The color purple represents royalty and luxury. If you are trying to create an up scale restaurant with a romantic atmosphere purple is the perfect color to incorporate into its design because purple is also the color of passion and romance. Brown works well when a neutral, comfortable, and open atmosphere is desired.[x] Pink has been found to be the most sedating color of all. It is said that people’s heart muscles can not even race fast enough for them to be angry when they are in a pink room.[xi] Pink, like purple, is a romantic color, and is also the symbol of tenderness. Since color has the ability the evoke so many intense emotions and can have such an effect on the nervous system it makes sense that it is such an important factor in interior design.

When creating intimate atmospheres lowering the ceiling height helps to set the mood. If you are trying to create a bright and open atmosphere higher ceiling heights should be used. Furniture design is also an important part of a restaurant. If you are seeking a quick turnover rate you should not specify overly plush comfortable seating. The more comfortable the seating the longer customers are going to want to stay. However if you are seeking that from your customers and you want them to lounge around and drink and drink and drink then that is a perfect element for your design. There have actually been chairs designed that physically hurt the body if they are sat on for long periods of time. I would not suggest causing pain for your customers, but that would surely cause a fast turnover rate. Material choice is very important in restaurant design. Using a lot of glass makes an atmosphere feel more open and light. Using more solid materials creates a very stable environment. Soft materials can be used to create a friendlier atmosphere and comfortable accommodations.[xii]

With all of these things in mind you can create an amazing restaurant that sets the mood and has the atmosphere you desire. It takes a lot of evaluation of your potential customers and your own desires in order to come up with a solid restaurant design. “Diners change restaurants like they change their clothes: to suit their moods. So to be successful, restaurants must satisfy more than just appetites, meaning what’s on the walls is as important as what’s on the plates.” – D magazine July 2001




[iv] Lawson, Bryan. The Language of Space.








[xii] Lawson, Fred. Restaurants, Clubs, and Bars: Planning, Design and Investment for

Foodservice Facilities.

Works Cited

Lawson, Fred. Restaurants, Clubs, and Bars: Planning, Design and Investment for

Foodservice Facilities. Woburn, MA: Butterworth Architecture, 1995

Lawson, Bryan. The Language of Space. Architectural Press; 1st edition, 12/5/01.


Published by Author Stacy A. Padula

Stacy Padula has spent the last 14 years working daily with teenagers as a college counselor, mentor, and life coach. She was named "Top Inspirational Author of the Year" for 2022 by the International Association of Top Professionals (New York, NY). In 2021, she was broadcast on the famous Reuters Building in Times Square as "Empowered Woman of the Year." Her Gripped book series is currently being adapted for TV by Emmy-winning producer Mark Blutman. She is the founder and CEO of Briley & Baxter Publications: a publishing company that donates a portion of its proceeds to animal rescues each month. She has edited and published a variety of titles, including Boston Bruins Anthem Singer Todd Angilly and Rachel Goguen's The Adventures of Owen & the Anthem Singer, LaTonya Pinkard of Netflix's Last Chance U's Nate & His Magic Lion, and former NHL player Norm Beaudin's memoir The Original: Living Life Through Hockey. Stacy resides in Plymouth, Massachusetts with her husband Tim and two miniature dachshunds, Briley and Baxter.

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