The next wave of restaurant dining rooms might focus less on looking spacious and cool and more on feeling like intimate living spaces—only with slightly less Netflix and slightly fancier cocktails—slightly. As consumers’ preferences tend toward social, convenient, transparent and authentic eating experiences, restaurateurs and designers are meeting the demand with designs that are smaller, faster and more open.
1. A disappearing back-of-house
New York City’s heretic-theme pizzeria Bruno blurs the lines between front- and back-of-house. Owner Demian Repucci, who won a 2002 James Beard award as the designer of Chicago’s Blackbird, says he considered today’s evolving views about tipping when designing Bruno’s 600-square-foot dining room. By bringing the kitchen up front, not only is there an entertainment factor, but cooks can pitch in with service. “I see this no-tipping thing as the direction the industry is heading,” Repucci says.
2. Lighting and staging for amateur photos
With smartphones, every guest is a photographer, so designers must think about how spaces will look in pictures. At Bruno, a bright LED fixture lends studio lighting for amateur food stylists. Backdrops are a consideration for Dallas design firm Studio 11. Its curators find and place sculptures and artwork in restaurant dining rooms, sometimes near branded signs, to create social media opportunities, says Kellie Sirna, founding principal of Studio 11. At The Yard, a casual-dining restaurant in Austin, Texas, customers can sit on a life-size “Howdy Y’all” sculpture, which owners are hoping will prove an Instagram hit.
3. Smaller, more intimate spaces
Instead of high ceilings and cavernous layouts, restaurants are breaking up their spaces with soffits. Brider, the fast-casual sister of Oak and Acorn in Denver, has lower ceilings with textural details in the center to create an intimate, family-friendly atmosphere and keep noise levels at bay. “I’ve noticed people spend more time and money in warmer atmospheres,” owner Bryan Dayton says. “It adds a human element.”
4. Versatile seating for a reservationless world
As some restaurants move toward ticketing systems and walk-ins only, seating must adapt. At Bruno, banquette seating and two-tops can adjust with the flow of guest traffic and accommodate large groups or couples on a first-come basis. Sirna predicts communal tables that don’t suit introverted diners and intimate experiences will soon be passé, in favor of couches and lower tables that seat the same number of diners.
|Pale pine wood||Edison light bulbs|
|Textured fabrics||Dark hardwood floors|
|Warm colors||Communal tables|
|Lower ceilings||Large multi-level spaces|
|Smaller footprints||Dark lighting|
|Sculptures and murals|