Do You Know The 5 Secrets of Great Restaurant Design?

Have you ever been looking forward to a great night out at a lovely new restaurant with your friends and you get there and the food is amazing, the service is second to none, but you still didn’t quite enjoy the night and settle into it?

We’ve all experienced this at one time or another. We look up a restaurant’s website, peruse their tempting menu and make a booking. We’ve heard the food is to die for and we’re looking forward to a great night out. But on the night, something is just not right. It falls flat. Maybe the noise  level was through the roof or there is no privacy or intimate spaces or you were practically sitting on top of the people next to you. Maybe it felt too stark or the waiters kept bumping you as they passed you with plates of hot food.

Whatever the issue, most likely your night fell flat because the something was ‘off’ with the design of the restaurant. Some of the critical design elements, needed to make a restaurant really work,  were missing or out of harmony and this is what makes the experience fall flat.

Why customers will leave a restaurant and never come back if the design is not right.

If you are the owner of such a restaurant, you might be asking at this point ‘how do I know if something is ‘off’ in my restaurant design and what do I do to fix it?

Well, the first thing you need to understand is that your customers will not stick around for long if they are not comfortable in your restaurant. Whilst that might work well in the fast food business, if you are at the other end of the restaurant scale, you want your customers to spend 2 or 3 hours with you and order that second expensive bottle of wine or that third course of food.  You want your customers to stick around and that means making them comfortable.

How can you be 100% sure your customers will be comfortable and that your design will work?

My advice is always to hire a specialised commercial designer who knows the in’s and out’s of restaurant design and branding. Find somebody who understands what it takes to make the many elements of design  come together to create that perfect dining environment.

However, in the meantime, here are my top 5 tips for you to consider. Have a look at your own restaurant and try to work out if you are making any of the following mistakes:


  1. Lighting

When the general dining public enter a restaurant, they are looking to be entertained, they are looking for a little bit of magic and fantasy and escapism…as well as a great meal.

Nothing can set the tone for that magic and fantasy and escapism quite like lighting.

Think about that for a moment. If your customer walks into your restaurant only to find that the overhead lighting is on full tilt and they can see every wrinkle and blemish on the faces of their dining partners and they can see every detail of your restaurant, including that slightly discoloured table linen or the aging of your chair fabric, then all fantasy and magic has just gone out the window. They are hit with the stark realities of life. The reality that their partner is aging and so is your restaurant!

This is the very reason we have ambient and mood lighting. As restaurant owners, it is not only your job to feed the dining public, but to offer that much needed escapism from reality too.

A well designed restaurant should be a feast for all the senses!

Getting the lighting right is a delicate balance and really depends on a number of things including the surface finishes used, the shapes, lines and forms used, the spatial layout and of course the atmosphere and environment you are trying to create.

I could not impress upon you more, the importance of hiring a design team like McCabe Design Group to help you get this right. It is very very easy to get it wrong and, unfortunately, when it does go wrong it can create an unwanted atmosphere that will simply drive business away!




  1. Acoustics

Next up is acoustics.

A loud environment is the number one reason for early exit of diners.

If your customers come to your restaurant to enjoy a meal and a chat, only to find they can’t hear themselves think because  every noise and voice and clash of dinnerware reverberates around your restaurant like a great big concert hall, then you can bet that as soon as they finish their main course they will leave your restaurant and find somewhere quieter to catch up. Not only that, they won’t be back!

Restaurants, by their very nature attract people wishing to have loud conversations, or families with their young kids who don’t quite understand their own noise levels yet. They are also places of action, with the sounds of the kitchen, dinnerware clashes, phones, waiters calls and so much more going on in one small space.

Now I know I said a restaurant should be a feast for all the senses, but if any one of those senses is completely overwhelmed, what you end up with is not so much a feast but more like frustration, fatigue, folly… you choose the F-word. The outcome is the same!

Some restaurant owners will choose to section their restaurant based on different noise levels for different atmospheres. They will create some areas where the sounds bounce through the space, giving a busy, vibrant atmosphere. They may then create other spaces where the acoustics are softened somewhat for a more intimate experience.

Acoustics are difficult to get right and are largely dependent on the internal structure of your space as well as the choice of materials used, particularly where you are choosing modern materials with clean lines and finishes.

Many designers will work with an acoustics specialist or will create hidden acoustics technologies in all the right places to get that balance of busy, vibrant hubbub and more intimate dining just right.

My advice is to think about the ideal atmosphere you are trying to create and then work with your designer to create just that.


  1. Colour

Colour is one of those very subjective design decisions. It completely depends on a number of factors including your own branding, your style of restaurant and food and the atmosphere you are trying to create.

Colour is also a mood enhancer. Different colours are said to have different psychological effects on people. Colour psychology is a study in itself and a very important decision for your restaurant.

You can read our blog post on “6 colours that increase sales and why” here.

  1. Spaces

Different customers will come to your restaurant with different agendas every day. Some will want a quiet space to conduct a business meeting or have an intimate conversation, others will want a setting where they can have a big noisy group dinner, without feeling like they are disturbing others. Some want to sit where they can be be seen or noticed and some will want a view to look at because they have little to talk about!

Having a space suited to each of their needs is important and is one of the major contributing factors in getting your diners to stay longer. Again, they are looking for an emotional experience and by the time they come through the door, they already know what that experience should feel like.

Creating a number of meeting and seating options such as a circulation space, a bar, high seating, booth seating, intimate seating and group seating is paramount to meeting your customers needs.

A well designed circulation space, for example allows diners to meetup with their dining companions, whilst also allowing your restaurant staff to move them through to their table seamlessly and without disturbing other diners.

A well designed bar allows potential new customers to come in, have a drink, check out the feel of your restaurant and of course, your menu, whilst deciding whether or not to stay.

The importance of these multiple seating options cannot be overstated.


  1. Functionality – Front of house meets Back of House

Finally, the functionality of your restaurant – We have spoken in length about the customer experience in the front of house. But what about behind the scenes?

A professionally designed kitchen with the all important magic ergonomics and flow, needed so that your chefs and wait staff can do their jobs easily and efficiently and without interruption to their work, is essential to the running of your restaurant.

Mistakes here can be costly in terms of the quality and efficiency of your food and your service, ultimately affecting your bottom line.

In addition to this, the relationship between Front-Of-House and Back-Of-House needs to be seamless. Wait staff need to have the space and freedom to move food through your restaurant and communicate with your kitchen seamlessly.

All-in-all restaurant design is a tricky and complex business. But when done correctly, it is very often the major difference between a booming business and tumbleweeds!

Before you open your doors, make sure you hire a designer who can offer you an end-to-end design service that includes all of the services and elements we have spoken about in this article.

If you would like to consult us as McCabe Design Group in relation to your restaurant design, you can contact us here.

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