How to Get More Customers Into Your Restaurant and Keep Them There for Hours Using Great Interior Design

What kind of food business do you operate?

Is it a high-end, fine dining French restaurant, bursting with flavour and flair? Or perhaps you own a  small but very homely, family run, local cafe that just happens to serve the best coffee in town? Or maybe you specialise in healthy whole foods with an emphasis on sustainably sourced produce? Or are you in the volume and convenience business – The best takeaway burger and chips in the whole of Dublin perhaps?

Whatever your food business, your interiors are telling your customers exactly who you are and what you represent WAY before they ever taste your food or experience your friendly service.

Is your interior design chasing away new business?

The fact is that we humans are highly visual beings, not to mention we are creatures of comfort. When an environment is visually pleasing and balanced and comfortable, we feel like it is a place where we want to spend time. When it is not, we want to run as fast as we can away from that place. When we do not feel at ease in our environment, we take action to remove ourselves from that environment. In essence, your interior design could, actually be chasing away new customers. That is why it is paramount that the entire ‘customer journey’ through your business, from start to finish, is visually pleasing, well balanced and comfortable.

I have written before about the ‘customer journey’ through your business and the importance of choosing the right colours, shapes, lines, materials, textures, lighting and finishes to create that sense of comfort and ease, no matter what business you are in. But, what do I mean when I say ‘customer journey’? Well, simply put it is the experience your customer has with your business from the initial point of contact (which could be your website, your flier, your doorstep etc) right through to the point where they become a loyal, repeat customer of your business.

And the largest component of that customer journey in the food business? The dining environment i.e. your interior design!

The food business relies more heavily on interior design for attracting new customers than any other business

The food business relies (for the most part) more heavily on interior design than other types of businesses for the initial attraction of new customers.

Why is this?

Well, thinking about other types of businesses, we can see that the initial point of new customer attraction most often comes from sources other than great interiors

For example: Professional Services such as  – salons,  law firms, accountants, real estate, car sales,  specialist music stores etc. These types of businesses attract many of their customers from word of mouth and reputation, from their websites and social media, from expos etc. Not many of these types of businesses get ‘impulse passing trade’, simply because nobody decides when they pass a law-firm that they suddenly feel like hiring a lawyer and “this office looks nice, so I’ll try this one”! Or, “I feel like getting my taxes done, this place looks lovely and inviting, so I’ll give it a go for a change”. No. Instead they ask around, they go online, they do their research and then they commit to a decision. And once they have made a decision, and they are happy with the service, they will usually stick with it and most likely tell their friends to try it too.

This is not the case with restaurants and cafes though – well, at least for the most part.

Yes, granted, word of mouth is HUGE in the food business. I don’t dispute that, but the food business has one unique opportunity to attract new customers that many other businesses don’t have.

People HAVE TO eat!

People have to eat every day and they get hungry usually at 3 different points through the day. ANd what happens when they are out and about and need to eat? They go looking for somewhere nice that will satisfy their hunger, delight their taste-buds and offer them a pleasant respite from the outside world whilst they tuck into whatever tasty treats you are serving that day.

So, restaurants, cafes, pubs and takeaways have the somewhat unique advantage of knowing that they can always attract passing trade, in a way that other businesses just don’t.

Yes, there are some other businesses, like retailers, that attract passing trade too, but this is often based more on convenience and product offering than on a great interior.

Your customers are not just looking for food, they are looking for an emotional experience

You see, when a customer is looking for a place to eat, they not only want convenience, great food, a suitable price, but they want to feel comfortable, feel at home or feel special or feel relaxed or feel pampered. Whatever they are looking for – know this – they are not just looking for food, they are looking for an emotional experience too.

So what does this mean for your food business?

It means you have a great opportunity to capitalize on passing trade, simply by upgrading your interiors and communicating with your potential customers in the language of style, comfort, elegance, convenience, warmth, cosiness, homliness…whatever it is you want them to feel.

Go back to the customer journey for a moment and think about the initial contact point for a potential new customer who is passing by your restaurant.

What do they see first? What attracts them?

Your outside signage? The delightful smells wafting out of your front door?

Yes, perhaps, if you are really really good at marketing and if your kitchen is located beside your front door!

More likely it will be a glimpse of your inviting restaurant through your windows, or it will be the warm glow of your soft lighting, or it will be the design of the doorway itself.

Then, if you’ve got that bit right and caught their attention, they might wander over to your outdoor menu and peruse your offerings.

Now, if those two factors line up, they are in the door.

A great interior draws your customers in through your door

But what’s to stop them crossing your threshold, taking one look around, deciding it doesn’t feel right’ and turning on their heels and high-tailing it out of there?!

Your impressive, elegant, stylish, comfortable, inviting interiors – That’s what!

SO you see, your interior is not only the thing that attracts the attention of potential customers in the first place, but it is also the very thing that convinces them to make that journey from door to table and to take a chance that your food and service will be every bit as good as your interior design has promised it will be.

A great interior draws your customers through your door and into your business.

After that, it is up to you to keep them.

If your ambience is right, your customers will settle in and stay long enough to sample two, maybe three or four courses from your tempting menu.

And finally, if the service and price match up, you have won a new customer, who will then, likely, go out and tell their friends to try ‘the great new place they found’. And better yet, they will be back themselves, with a whole crowd in toe!

Job done!

So, you can see the importance of great interior design in your food business.

But how do you achieve this?


Here are 5 simple steps you can take to create the perfect customer journey


  1. Work with a professional designer who also understands and offers customer journey/branding as part of their design process
  2. Design a customer journey map – ie map out every touch point your business has with a potential new customer. Include your website, social media, your marketing materials, your doorway, the view from your window (from outside in), your ‘threshold view/experience’, your table experience, (think comfort, seating, all visual cues etc), your menu, your customer service, your food presentation…right through to the point where they leave your restaurant and any potential follow up contact you might have with them after that.
  3. Try to work out what your customer is feeling and experiencing at each point and how you can improve on each touch point.
  4. ASK, ASK, ASK – always be seeking feedback on your customers experience. Focus, not only on food and service (most places do this as a minimum) but ask how they liked the atmosphere, were they comfortable, could you do anything to make them feel more at home? How did they like the experience of being IN your restaurant?
  5. Study the different needs of your customers. On any given day you might have 5 or 10 different TYPES of customer – for example, the couple looking for a quite intimate space, the business meeting, the out of towners on holiday and looking for a place to sit and drink wine for 3 hours! The girls night, the boys night.. you get the picture. There will always be different groups with different motives and it is your job to offer each group a comfortable spot that serves their needs. Offer a variety of seating options like booth seating, intimate corners, bars with stools, large group seating etc. People value comfort and privacy when eating.

And finally, check out our post on the 5 essential elements of great restaurant design here


14 thoughts on “How to Get More Customers Into Your Restaurant and Keep Them There for Hours Using Great Interior Design”

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