Your Restaurant Interior: What Matters Most

If you’re one of the thousands of restaurateurs in Australia and people ask you what is the most important aspect of your business, you’d likely answer “the menu”. And you wouldn’t be wrong—as famed writer Virginia Woolf once said,

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

While this is certainly true and the life of a restaurant will absolutely be short lived if serving boring, mediocre food, there is another aspect of the business that should not be overlooked—the restaurant interior. From the seating, to the lighting, to the decor, a restaurant’s interior affects the dining experience for guests and can determine whether or not patrons return.

Amy Dennis, CEO and Creative Director of the Nice Branding Company, had this to say about restaurant interior design:

“Every teeny, tiny detail in a restaurant’s physical space has to be carefully crafted to influence the customer through a direct connection in the customer journey.”

Let’s take a look at some of the aspects of restaurant interiors that can impact the customer experience:

Floor Plan/Flow

Balancing the number of guests your eatery can accommodate with the creation of good traffic flow can be tricky but is oh-so important in creating a pleasant experience for guests.

A layout that appears to have plenty of room can quickly turn claustrophobic during the rush hours if tables are too close together. No matter how great the food is, diners will not enjoy their experience and staff will become frustrated if there isn’t enough space to navigate between the kitchen and tables.

You may have to do a little math to calculate the right seating capacity for your space that will also generate enough revenue, but a general industry average for square footage requirements per chair is anywhere from 10-20 square feet for a sit-down restaurant.

Lighting

Ever been in a restaurant during happy hour, when the day is winding down and the lights are suddenly dimmed to create a more intimate mood? I don’t know about you, but my reaction is almost always an internal sigh and the thought Ahhh! That’s nice…

We aren’t overdramatizing when we say this—bad lighting can absolutely kill the mood in your restaurant. But, the type of lighting you need will depend on the type of restaurant you’re running. For a sit-down or fine dining restaurant, low ambient light can induce a sense of intimacy and encourage diners to lounge, to stay for one more drink or enjoy a little dessert. However, if you’re running a quick-service restaurant and your goal is high turnover, bright lighting will encourage guests to enjoy their food and move along.

It should go without saying, but you’ll need different lighting for different areas of your restaurant. While you may want ambient lighting in the dining area, your staff must be able to see what they’re doing, so brighter task lighting will be needed at the hostess desk and in the kitchen.

Seating

As a customer, you likely pay little attention to the seating in a restaurant … until you sit down. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself seated on an uncomfortable chair or bench and knowing you’re stuck there for the next hour or so. Regardless of the type of restaurant you run, comfortable seating should be a top priority.

That being said, the type of seating you offer will likely depend on the type of restaurant you run. Tapas restaurants and bars are embracing the comfy seating trend, offering plush couches and armchairs gathered around a low ottoman or table, allowing patrons to relax and enjoy an hour or two (or more!) of casual socializing. If yours is a quick-service restaurant, you still want to offer guests comfortable seating, but your goal is turnover so seats for lounging are unnecessary.

Sound

Music can have a tremendous effect on the dining experience. Fine dining restaurants tend to play more instrumental music. Live instrumental music, such as piano playing or classical guitar, creates an immersive experience for guests. The music level should be high enough that it is audible, but low enough that guests can enjoy conversation without shouting.

If your establishment is closer to a bar than a sit-down eatery, you may want to opt for louder and faster music. Studies have shown that bar patrons drink more (and at a faster rate) when music is played at a higher sound level. Once again, live performances add to the immersive experience. If you have the space and budget to hire musicians, it might be worth considering.

So, keep updating that menu. Keep your food quality high and trendy offerings … well, trendy.

But, don’t forget to pay attention to the interior aesthetics of your brick-and-mortar establishment as well. As New York restaurant impresario Warner LeRoy once said,

“A restaurant is a fantasy—a kind of living fantasy in which diners are the most important members of the cast.”

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