By Jim Berman, Foodable Industry Expert
Restaurant branding extends far beyond the food. The look and feel of the dining space, the logo, and even the style of seating, all play into restaurants’ appeal. Design matters and — like the septic system — doesn’t get much attention until it stinks. Some looks work and others very clearly lack objective. Trends in restaurant design are as quirky as dining choices, but assuredly share appeal for target audiences. Here’s what’s trending:
Edison lights aren’t new, but the steampunk-meets-hipster look holds on. Why? Because it works across the mashed-up restaurant scene. Random, exposed beams. Reclaimed wood. Ruggedness is evidenced in the look of casual mainstays like Shake Shack and Not Your Average Joe’s. The groomed, soft edges of the haute cuisine restaurant have gone the same way of the stuffy buttoned-down shirt and classical background music.
Dining dollars are going back home to cook and the chains are taking it square on the chin. But diners are hitting spots to feel the love of an experience or adventure. How does that figure into design? Little touches. Intentional reminders of the dining experience, again, aren’t new, but still have a role. Legendary Gramercy Tavern sends you home with breakfast — neatly labeled with the restaurant’s moniker.
Bright Lights, Big Music
Dim lights and dull music have been replaced with eye-catching displays and a soundtrack that makes the whole dining a room a stage. Pittsburgh’s Burgatory spots rack up design awards with their burgers-meet-the apocalypse take on signage, adding striking neon and flames. With the flair for the dramatic, bright lights are elevating conversation and relaxing stuffy atmospheres, both success factors when dealing with a very, very social millennial audience.
All the crap on walls has become less about kitsch and more about moving towards intentional strokes. Kensington Quarters in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood boasts a simple, whitewash-painted credo in lieu of unspirited clutter. Bold statements rather than hotel-room art are more apropos for the current scene.
Communal Dining Isn’t Just For Appetizers
High-top tables are now prime stages in areas that were once occupied by less-than-desirable, center-of-the-room seating. The bump in altitude gives the”‘island” tables, cast asea in the middle of the dining room, a new life with a view. The upright table landscape at Chicago’s The Publican have shifted the “I don’t like this table” to preferred real estate. While perched on barstools, the high-altitude tables make for convivial eating, shoulder to shoulder with strangers.
In Wilmington, Delaware, Bella Coast hawks wares in air-screened display cases fronting the expensive prosciutto slicer and flanked by hanging cheeses. The indoor market venue makes ingredients approachable, all while providing an outlet for customers to grab a little do-it-yourself cooking adventure on the way out the door.
Trending design does not mean trendy. There is a definite comfort in premeditated cues that reassure guests. An engineered logo, concise menu, and interesting music are starting points. The walls, lights, and other visuals play into the experience. As diners are starting to rebound to their kitchens with their dollars, the feel of the restaurant’s design elements can be the deciding factor of which eateries come out ahead.