restaurant atmosphere

How to use design to make your restaurant stand out — part 2: restaurant atmosphere

By Megan Prevost

While the design and content of your menu can certainly help your restaurant stand out, customers think about more than just food when they’re choosing a restaurant to dine at. Restaurant marketing professionals know that restaurants provide customers with an experience, not just dinner. Whether subconsciously or explicitly, diners select restaurants based on how the entire experience makes them feel, and that includes restaurant atmosphere.

Think about your own dining experiences. Some spots are intimate and cosy, some are bright and filled with positive energy, and others are sleek and elegant. When designing your restaurant, you want to create a distinct experience that customers won’t find anywhere else.

You might be surprised to find that designing a place that is distinctly yours is no simple feat. You’ll have to consider things such as your restaurant’s layout, how close together tables are, what shapes the tables are, what colours your artwork will be, how many lights you’ll install, and even which type of sink you’ll have in your washrooms. 

All these design facets come together to create a distinct, standalone brand for your restaurant and your restaurant only. Here’s how to create a restaurant atmosphere that diners will come to know and love.

Restaurant atmosphere

A majority of consumers choose restaurants based on online reviews. You might think that has nothing to do with design. Think again.

Customers find reviews on sites like Google and Yelp, where other customers share photos of your restaurant. Yelp even has a specific section for users to easily view photos of the inside or outside of your restaurant. So, while consumers are perusing reviews, they’re also getting a feel for what your spot is like without ever having visited. Therefore, the design of your physical space is important when it comes to attracting new customers and making new customers want to return.


When designing your restaurant’s physical layout, you’ll be making choices based on legalities and safety measures while also optimizing the layout for the experience you want to give customers. So, you’ll have to consider the placement of ventilation, heating, bathrooms, windows, and doors and how you want customers to feel in your space.

First, decide the customer capacity you’d like to be able to accommodate. In most cases, there’s a delicate balance between making space for as many customers as possible and avoiding overcrowding or clutter in the restaurant. However, this depends upon your brand. For example, if you want to provide an exclusive-feeling, intimate experience for diners, you might not place tables very close together, but if you’d like to create a boisterous and social restaurant atmosphere, a few large, shareable picnic tables would fit your brand better. 

Consider your brand: a refined, high-end restaurant should look spacey, sleek, and uncluttered. A more crowded dining room could work to your advantage for a homey, family-style spot. An open kitchen that’s visible to diners can make your restaurant stand out as unpolished, edgy, or even lively, in addition to fostering customer-business transparency. When designing your layout, also consider the music you’ll play and the placement of speakers or live music areas. A good rule of thumb for most eateries is to avoid placing tables too close to a loud kitchen, smelly bathroom, or a door with heavy foot traffic — you want to stand out, but not as the place with crappy seating.

RELATED: The psychology of restaurant interior design


You may not consider “design” a facet of planning out your restaurant’s seating plan but think again. Both the design of your seating plan and the seats themselves are hugely important when it comes to setting expectations for diners.

For example, if your brand values socialization and family-style meals, you might choose roomier booths with comfortable seats or large, round tables. If you want your restaurant to be an intimate, romantic choice for customers, you might optimize more secluded seating over a higher total dining room headcount. If you’re selling a more refined menu wherein you expect diners to order at least three courses, you’ll want to optimize comfort so that they’ll stay awhile. If you’re a fast-casual spot, you’ll focus less on creating cosy dining nooks and more on fabrics or materials that are easy to clean quickly. Design your seating arrangements to align with the ambiance you’d like to provide to customers.

Colours and artwork

Unsurprisingly, your restaurant’s interior decor is extremely important in branding and the customer experience. You’ll have to make design decisions on colouring, artwork, plants or pieces of furniture, and more. 

A restaurant’s colour scheme has a big influence on ambiance. Bright, neon colours, for example, make a space feel fun and signify to the customer that they should feel upbeat or energetic in this spot. Darker colours typically make a space feel more intimate or formal, while neutrals and lighter shades can be elegant or soothing. 

Likewise, the decor displayed in your spot should correspond with your brand ideals. If you’re going for an edgier appeal, exposed brick or retro artwork could work to your advantage. A plant-based or health-centric restaurant might display images of nature or animals. Even the choice to have televisions in your restaurant is an aspect of design that helps build your brand and make you stand out as unique.


In addition to interior decor, the lighting inside of your restaurant is a major signal to customers that tells them what kind of experience they should expect.

When designing your restaurant, carefully consider how much lighting you will have, how bright or dim it will be, and the types of light fixtures you’ll use. Use lighting to create the restaurant atmosphere you want: dim lighting is less harsh and cosier, whereas bright or colourful lights can make diners feel more lively.

Design your restaurant for standalone success

When customers enter your restaurant, they should instantly feel what kind of experience they will get. If you want your customers to know your spot as the place to party, you’ll likely have brighter colours and fewer tables than if you hope to be the restaurant where families spend quality time together. Get granular about your branding and restaurant atmosphere and design every corner to represent your stand-out, distinct identity.

Check out part one of this restaurant design series here!

Megan Prevost is a contributing writer for RestoBiz and a Content Manager for MustHaveMenus. Her work has also appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.