A pleasant meal out depends on so much more than the food. There’s the atmosphere, the crowd, the service, the company – a whole host of factors that make up an enjoyable restaurant experience.

But even that’s all circumstantial. You might be surprised to hear that your enjoyment of a restaurant is practically predetermined by a number of restaurant design fundamentals. Hospitality design is a complex creature, and there’s a long list of essentials to keep in mind when an architect designs a restaurant: visibility, color, lighting, table spacing, table size, décor and much more.

Some of those design ideas are obvious – “don’t squeeze 20 tables in a closet-sized bistro” is a pretty hard and fast rule – but other decisions aren’t so intuitive. So we thought it’d be fun point them out. Here a few restaurant design fundamentals to look out for on your next night out. See what your favorite restaurant is doing right, or wrong.

See What You’re Getting Into

No one wants to buy something they know nothing about. The same goes for restaurants. You might not be able to sample the food, but before you walk inside, you probably want some idea of what you’re walking into.

That’s why the view from the sidewalk is massively important in restaurant design. It’s the all-important first impression. A room full of happy people enjoying delicious looking food — it’s the best sort of advertisement a restaurant could ask for. If the inside of the restaurant is not visible you’d better have a killer entryway. It’s difficult to pull in foot traffic when you have no way to flaunt your design.

restaurant design fundamentals | 417841-Project_Noir_Cuisine_Stuttgart_Germany_by_Raumspielkunst_Architectural_Design_and_ConceptsProject Noir Cuisine, Stuttgart, Germany by Raumspielkunst Architectural Design and Concepts

The inside of this eatery is completely visible and appealing from the street.

Big windows can be a big boon for a ground-level eatery. Unless, of course, your food is bad and no one comes inside to eat it. A deserted-looking restaurant, as we all know, has quite the opposite effect on would-be customers.

Good hospitality design requires a clearly identifiable image.  That image has to read from the outside as well as the inside.  So many restaurants make this mistake: they remodel their interior, do a full-on overhaul, and it looks beautiful, elegant and refined. Unfortunately their facade is terribly reminiscent of a meat packing plant.  The inside and the outside just don’t match.

If it’s a biker bar on the outside you don’t want chintz on the inside.  In fact, it’s in the same vein as the previous point: people want to know what they’re getting into.

All that being said, sometimes a purposeful contrast can be just as effective. Some of the most impressive restaurants have intentionally masking exteriors, and that generate the impression of a “diamond in the rough”. When done well, this contrast can make the customer feel like they’ve uncovered some sort of secret oasis.

Airiness, Clarity and Empty Space

Some restaurants want their customers to feel cozy and enclosed in an intimate space. Low ceilings and dark colors will work well for those restaurants. The small dining room at the end of a winding path can be appealing.  For the most part, though, you want to allow for clear lines of sight and lots of visibility.

It’s nice for a customer to see where their waiter is, where the bar is, who else is eating there and even what other customers are eating. An airy atmosphere — high ceilings, all that jazz (maybe even actual jazz) – and you feel you are dining someplace special.


Lighting is the most critical and the most overlooked of of restaurant design fundamentals.   We take a subconscious clue from the light level in a food establishment.  Bright lights overhead, maybe a fluorescent buzz definitely fast food. Soft light creating a glow at each table and it’s a place you want to linger. Good lighting sets the mood, softens faces, makes the food look better — even taste better.

It’s all about lighting. But even lighting is just one design fundamental among many. A well-designed restaurant will be a harmony of design choices made with the customer and restaurant’s “brand” in mind. In the end, like all design, it’s all about making people feel good.

Unfortunately, we have yet to find a design that makes people feel instantly hungry. Someday we’ll discover that secret, and the world will dine at our table.