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What A Restaurateur Can Learn From Retail Design

While the creation of an engaging retail space requires a number of industry-specific considerations, plenty of retail design “best practices” can also be applied to the development of a successful restaurant concept.

As the “Retail” in our firm’s name has transitioned from meaning a focus on just the retail industry to serving the full spectrum of the retail real estate category, it’s been super rewarding to flex our design muscles in spaces ranging from spas to banks to office spaces. Restaurant design has been another result of this diversification and its been pleasantly surprising how many of the lessons we learned while creating engaging shopping environments can be crucial to developing a memorable dining experience. What follows are a few key “crossovers” that any restaurateur can use to improve their space.


Experience Is Everything

Just like employing a famous brand ambassador and offering seasonal sales can give a retail business’s awareness a shot in the arm, hiring a celebrity chef or offering killer happy hour deals will almost certainly attract restaurant customers initially. What restaurant owners should keep in mind for the long run, however is that creating a truly memorable experience is what keeps customers coming back. Like any commercial environment, designing for all five senses should be a top priority for restaurants, particularly those hoping to stand out among competitors.


Both new and established eateries can create a buzz using design elements – think an Instagrammable wall or sign, memorable restrooms, an impeccably designed bar or something whimsical and unexpected like a secret entrance – which will leverage the powers of social media even before guests walk in the door. Restaurants are natural hubs for human interaction, so it’s more important than ever for guests to have an experience they can have a conversation around – both in the moment and while bragging to friends about their night out on the town!


Perception Fuels Profit

Just like with retail, when it comes to pricing, margins, etc. the “stage” you set for your customer’s interactions is crucial. Guests’ perception of the dining environment will  directly impact their comfort and willingness to pay higher prices, stay for an extra round of drinks and, more importantly, recommend the restaurant to friends. In fact, entire books have been written about how a restaurant’s ambience can even affect how the taste of the food is perceived. To create an exceptional environment for discerning diners, restaurateurs should be prepared to spend more on high-end finishes and materials, décor, architectural elements and bespoke design accents. These days, it’s normal for a restaurant design to run in the mid-to-high seven figures, depending on the concept.


Design, Not Just Decoration

Keep in mind that the unseen elements of a design, especially the space plan, are just as important as the visual and experiential components emphasized as focal points. Accounting for the overall flow of a space will not only maximize operational efficiency but help foster a better environment and keep guests comfortable. In a fast-paced restaurant environment where servers are constantly running food between the kitchen and dining room, having a functional space is paramount to success.


Further, a proper layout will provide a solid foundation as you work through the build out and permitting process. Just we provide detailed technical documentation to demonstrate a retail store’s design intent, we also consider every detail from door knobs to ADA regulations when it comes to developing a restaurant concept.


A poorly designed restaurant will surely be a source of heartburn (ZING!). Don’t make customers choose between good food and a thoughtfully curated design – give them both! For more information on how we’ve helped restaurateurs in the past, be sure to check out this case study.

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