Restaurant Interior Design: Creating Ambiance That Enhances Dining Experiences

In culinary training, aspiring chefs learn that the first bite of a meal is taken not with the mouth, but with the eye. The presentation of a dish is extremely important in establishing an identity for the restaurant and its cuisine. When done right, the presentation of a dish will convey a sense of personality, establish expectations for the flavour and texture profile and ideally add a sense of theatre and awe to the dining experience.

This is as important for the restaurant interior design as it is for the presentation of the dishes themselves. Restaurant decor is essential in creating an ambience that compliments and enhances the culinary offerings, creating an unforgettable customer experience. The kind that keeps diners coming back time after time, creating opportunities to reward their loyalty and strengthen their relationship with your restaurant.

Here we look at some ways to add that extra wow factor to your restaurant interior and make the ultimate first impression.

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Think about how you want your target audience to feel

Before getting into granular detail about how to decorate a space, a restaurant designer will work with restaurateurs to determine how they want customers to feel when they enter the space. This is inherently tied to the restaurant’s identity and brand, as well as being the foundation upon which the customer experience will be built.

Some restaurants want diners to feel relaxed, comfortable and cosy. Others want their diners to feel wowed, awed and perhaps even challenged. There are no right or wrong answers, but it’s important to remember that your diners, like all consumers, make an estimated 95% of their purchasing decisions based on emotions rather than facts like pricing. Therefore, restaurateurs should consider how they want their diners to feel first and foremost.

A big part of this depends on your target audience, and what they expect from a restaurant. The better you know their needs, the better positioned you are to identify how they want to feel in your restaurant and design your space accordingly.

Establish a colour scheme

Having built your own restaurant brand, you likely already have some understanding of the semiotics of colour, and how different colours can communicate different meanings or make us feel certain ways. For instance:

  • Green symbolises freshness, newness and nature
  • White symbolises purity and freshness
  • Reds and oranges can imbue a space with a sense of warmth and vitality
  • Blues are calm and serene
  • Browns and creams are often used in traditional or homespun restaurant decor concepts
  • Greys have connotations of modernity and sophistication

Colour is an extremely important part of a restaurant’s branding, and is intrinsic to the desired customer experience. The colour of the walls, floors and furnishings can come together to create a unique atmosphere that is convivial, prestigious or authentic, depending on the desired impression you wish to make on your diners.

Let there be lighting

It’s easy to underestimate the impact of lighting on restaurant decor, but the way light interacts with the environment can have a huge impact on the ambience. The right lighting can help a space feel cosy, warm, welcoming or intimate. The wrong lighting can make even exquisitely decorated interiors feel more like an art gallery or even an operating theatre than a chic restaurant.

A little research into different lighting options can open up an exciting range of possibilities for your restaurant space. Wall sconces, track lighting, pendant lights, chandeliers and even candles can all be used to your advantage in creating an ambience that enhances the dining experience.

A few ideas include:

  • Using different styles of lighting for different areas e.g. brighter and more vibrant lighting at reception and bar areas and softer lighting for dining areas
  • Using layers of lighting (ambient lights, track lights, task lights and sconces) to add a greater sense of depth and dimension to the space
  • Using lighting to highlight wall art or accent furniture

Remember that lighting should be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. It should allow diners to make their way safely around the space, create a sense of openness and transparency in bar and reception areas, and be bright enough for diners to read their menus comfortably while still soft enough for a relaxed ambience.

Restaurateurs should also consider the impact of natural light on their decor and how the positioning or colour of the sunlight interacts with the colours, textures, geography and geometry of the space.

Get tactile with your choice in furnishings

The feel of your restaurant is important. And that doesn’t just mean the ambience. It also means the implementation of different textures and materials to create a multisensory customer experience that subtly hints at the gastronomic goodness to come.

For instance, restaurants aiming for a prestigious atmosphere may want to imbue the space with velvet, marble and polished brass, while those that have built their brand on organic, vegan or vegetarian modern cuisine may want to opt for a more earthy aesthetic with bare brick, timber, wrought iron and humble cottons and linens.

Find opportunities to decorate sustainably

Today’s consumers are extremely aware of the ecological impact of their lifestyles. Sustainability matters to them in a number of areas of their lives, including their food and beverages.

Restaurants can extend their dedication to sustainability to their decor, implementing energy-saving lighting solutions, repurposed or recycled furnishings, and sustainable materials like bamboo.

Think carefully about how you integrate technology

Like all businesses, restaurants can benefit from incorporating technology into their operations. While this extends to restaurant decor, technology should subtly enhance the diner experience without calling attention to itself. Digital menu boards, service POS and smart lighting and temperature control systems are all examples of this. Take a look at how quick-service restaurant chain Tender Cow and The Pig’s Nose Inn have leveraged Square’s business tech solutions to enhance their customer experience.

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