Restaurant Design Trends: What to Expect in 2021

If you’re like most of the global population, you’re probably ready to say goodbye to the dumpster fire that was 2020 and are looking hopefully at the promise of 2021. We get it and, while we acknowledge there were some bright moments in the last twelve months, we, too, are hoping to get back to a bit of normalcy at some point in the new year.

To that end, we decided to take a look at what’s trending in terms of restaurant concepts for the upcoming year. There’s no doubt that the pandemic has changed the way restaurants do business, and those effects will likely last once the coronavirus is under control.

That being said, we still have a restaurant industry—though she is battered and bruised—and there are trends that are popping up in spite of the pandemic. Let’s take a look at some trending concepts/design features you’ll likely see in the new year.

Express/Ghost Kitchens

This concept became popular in 2019 and saved many restaurants in 2020. Whether you’re calling them Express or Ghost kitchens, the idea is the same—forgoing traditional restaurant seating for a kitchen and waiting area where customers can pick up food to go.

This idea of kitchen-only establishments has taken off—to the point that Uber co-founder, Travis Kalanick, has invested $130 million in CloudKitchens—a startup that rents commercial space to delivery-only restaurants and chefs. While ghost kitchens are typically open only for delivery companies, express kitchens offer the same concept to everyday diners.

Don’t be surprised to see a fully visible kitchen in these pared-down establishments—it’s a great way to provide the sights, sounds, and smells of a restaurant while guests wait to take their order elsewhere for consumption.

Outdoor/Rooftop Dining

The desire to eat outside has never been greater (another trend caused by the pandemic). Plan to see restaurants make the most of their outdoor dining options in 2021. Even establishments in metropolitan areas, with little outdoor space, have begun converting rooftops into quaint dining areas.

Many chefs are taking advantage of outdoor spaces to grow herbs used in dishes. Umbrellas and decorative plants create an inviting space during warmer months. When the temperature begins to dip, many restaurants keep outdoor guests comfortable by providing blankets, patio heaters, and fireplaces.

Trendy Warm Colors and Materials

While the design pendulum has swung wildly between minimalism and maximalism for the last few years, 2021 will likely see it resting on warm tones and rich, inviting materials. Mustard, mahogany and cognac are currently on-trend colors, and brass, leather and wood make excellent paring partners.

This isn’t to say you won’t see vibrant color combinations. Emerald greens and punchy coral make great accent colors. The resulting trend is inviting and a little bit luxe without being overbearing.

The Return of Drive-In Diners

The nostalgic charm of drive-ins has made a major comeback over the last 12 months, and we don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon. Many restaurants who had drive-in options back in their hey-day hadn’t offered the service in decades, but began including the option out of necessity during the pandemic—after all, the majority of parking spaces weren’t being used…why not make the most of the space?

As it turns out, many restaurants found the drive-in option fully embraced by those who were sick of being stuck in their homes and wanting a way to enjoy a change of scenery while maintaining a safe social distance. The fact that drive-ins also hearken back to a time when we enjoyed driving in and enjoying our meal, instead of driving through, suggests we will likely see more businesses embracing the drive-in option in the coming year.

Community-Conscious Design

Embracing the spirit of the local culture and weaving into a restaurant’s aesthetic design is a trend we’re loving and think you’ll see more of in the coming year.

Every community is different and, by embracing the unique features of the neighborhood, a restaurant can create a distinctive space in an organic way. By sourcing ingredients from local farmers, chefs provide a special dining experience for guests. And, by creating a visually unique dining room through the use of local artists for wall art, dinnerware, and dining furniture eateries are ensuring guests enjoy an experience they can get nowhere else in the world.

If there is anything positive we can take away from 2020, perhaps it is the appreciation this year has given us for the times when we were able to gather together with good friends over good food. May 2021 be the year it happens again—and may we appreciate those moments all the more once when we can once again gather with the ones we love.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021…Happy New Year!

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