6 tips to design a perfect restaurant layout and ambience
1. Know the brief
My first question is who is the clientele, where do they like to dine out and what will attract them to the space? They have to feel they are in familiar surroundings but with enough wow to keep them coming back. Next, what time of day will the restaurant be used: is it for romantic evenings or during the day? The mood and palette need to be compatible for both. The Peninsula Clement Restaurant in New York achieves this balance well. Finally, how does the brand and identity of the restaurant fit with the customer?
2. A perfect layout
The layout of a restaurant is critical for client experience, the quality of service provided and ultimately the profitability. I always try and design two routes: one for clients and one for waiters. Space has to be maximized, and so you can squeeze small tables in as long as you don’t cause congestion. A key vantage for the maître d’ is crucial to keep the restaurant flowing on a busy evening.
You need to take into account an arrivals and waiting area, preferably around a bar if there is one. The main restaurant space, as well as the cloakroom, WCs and till points need to be thought through. Meanwhile, the kitchen and preparation areas need to be efficient, nearby and hidden.
3. Mix it up
A buzzing restaurant usually has a mixture of table sizes and shapes, several different areas and moods. It allows for different parties and private bookings. I think versatility is overrated, often getting in the way of an efficient design, but there does need to be interchangeability: you must be able to pull tables together to make larger groups.
A mixture of areas is useful to, to ensure the space feels full and interesting, even at the start of an evening. Think about the Upper House Salisterra restaurant in Hong Kong. There is nothing worse than looking across a mass of empty tables.
Follow the brief. Excite the eye, but allow your guests to take centre stage. Don’t allow the space to feel fussy: guests are meant to focus on themselves. They want the place to feel special and interesting. Often a series of spaces allows for this, where there is always something around the corner, something new. Lighting must be soft and complimentary; LED lights on tables are a must.
If there is a bar, it often rightly forms the centre piece of the restaurant. It can create the buzz to draw people in from the outside, and provides a useful space for guests not wanting the full fine dining service.
6. Axial views and reflections
It’s key to create a convivial and lively space when the restaurant is filling up or at full swing. It can’t be too quiet or too noisy, and you have to cater for different moods. On one hand it is wonderful to look all the way across the restaurant, as it makes the place feel grander and more luxurious, especially if it is broken up with screens and mirrors for reflections. The Ivy restaurants do this well.
At the same time you musn’t be able to see too much. You don’t want your eyes to constantly wonder, and allow your guests to feel overlooked! Each table wants to be at the heart of its own party, not on the edge of something more interesting elsewhere.
Once you have a plan for the design of the restaurant, then you must design the food and tableware, it all has to come together seamlessly!