restaurant design

Restaurant design for the post-pandemic consumer

By Tom Nightingale

Perfecting your restaurant design can be tricky but it is a vital step for attracting and retaining customers. How can restaurateurs ensure they are appealing to the contemporary consumer and providing an atmosphere and aesthetic that diners want to experience?

Datassential’s Trendspotting report offered a lowdown on some key and emerging trends in restaurant design that can go some way to capturing consumers’ desires. The report noted that as restaurants continue to struggle to stay afloat in the post-pandemic, inflation-infused climate, more than one in five (22 per cent) of operators have already or considered redecorating dining rooms to improve the ambience and to motivate more consumers to dine in.

How exactly are they doing that? Datassential’s report assessed some major trends in restaurant design that are prevalent right now and look likely to continue to be popular in the near future.

Maximalist

Taking a minimalist approach has been popular in foodservice in recent years, but it seems that bright colour is back in.

The report notes that coloured patterns tend to promote optimism and fun, which are two things that consumers are understandably increasingly seeking out as they look to put pandemic anxiety and pain behind them.

Restaurants that display a maximalist style generally showcase rich textures, walls covered in artwork and/or patterned wallpaper, as well as patterned floors and loud colours. Unlike minimalism, maximalism is all about more-is-more and layering.

Rebecca Kilbreath, editor-in-chief of Restaurant Development + Design, told Datassential that “nearly every segment type is utilizing lighter, brighter, and even vibrant colour palettes.”

Throughout everything, though, it is vital to consider whether maximalism fits with your restaurant’s brand and brand story.

A brand trying to promote clean ingredients, for example, may actually want to lean more into a minimalist design. However, a concept that is looking to cater to a younger demographic and offer Instagram opportunities, or one that is globally inspired, may want to lean more into a maximalist design as it offers opportunities for showcasing a variety of textiles, objects, artwork, and more.

Nostalgic escape

Just like maximalist colour, nostalgia is a prime way to offer customers an escape that many of them are craving. Nods to times past, as well as creating a vacation feel in a restaurant are a key way of tapping into that sentiment.

Datassential notes that aspects such as mid-century modern elements (arches, circles, curved seating) are trending, as are design elements that throw back to decades such as the ’50s, ’60s, ’80s, and ’90s. This can be combined nicely with maximalist colour, with colours such as soft pink, sage green, terra cotta orange, turquoise, and live plants adding to the nostalgic vacation feel. Small nods here and there can go a long way, such as integrating shell-back seating, using a beachy palette, featuring mid-century-style furnishings, and so forth.

“I’ve never seen more new restaurants with pink and emerald green interiors before,” added Kilbreath. “Retro colours and looks — think 1980s and 1990s — also seem to be emerging. It’s too early to say if it’s a full-blown trend, but it’s certainly worth watching.”

Monochrome

While looking to maximize colour, restaurateurs should also consider monochromatic approaches. These can make for highly Instagrammable locales. Examples right now include a two-dimensional-style design, where restaurants are created to look like you are stepping into a two-dimensional drawing.

In that way and in others, monochrome restaurants can go beyond just ambience to become a unique visitor experience, which is particularly important in attracting and retaining customers in the post-pandemic world of high inflation pressures.

Flexibility

The modern restaurant consumer wants flexibility in how they dine out, and reflecting that in restaurant design is key, added Kilbreath.

“Conceptually, everyone is designing for flexibility: flexible layouts, moveable furniture, anything that gives the greatest flexibility to operators,” she told Datassential. “Moveable seating and creating flexible zones are important because so many restaurant operators have found new revenue streams. Being able to transform a private dining space into a classroom for in-person and virtual events, for example, is a common practice now.”

The new kind of Instagrammable

Finally, Kilbreath noted that while designing for the modern consumer is vital, restaurateurs should be savvy about how they appeal to the social media-savvy generations.

“Designers are trying to move away from selfie walls and other super obvious statements [but] designing for our phone-centered lifestyle is still a thing,” she said. “Instead of designing an obvious social media element, though, designers have started designing with customer photography in mind. That can mean spotlight lighting over tables so that food photos look better, using wall coverings or patterns in the design that pop in backgrounds, or featuring upgraded tabletop elements that photograph well.”

Don’t be afraid to mix and match

Datassential’s report concludes by encouraging operators and restaurant designers to be bold in mixing and matching these trends.

Monochromatic designs can be maximalist, as can nostalgic designs. There isn’t necessarily a clear one or the other when it comes to design, which is why it’s OK to take inspiration from multiple design trends and merge them in new ways that make sense for your operation. Combining key elements – if done well – can provide a unique, sensory, and memorable experience.

Ultimately, the key to nailing a warm, welcoming, and standout restaurant design is that the design should always reflect the brand, its goals, and the menu.

These trends analyses and Rebecca Kilbreath’s quotes were taken from the Datassential Restaurant Design Trends report that was featured as Volume 103 of Datassential’s Trendspotting report.