How to design a venue that reflects your brand ethos

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Restaurant owners and managers have a lot to think about when starting up their business. The brand name, the menu, which drinks to serve, and much more. However, one of the main elements that contributes towards establishing a successful restaurant is the design of the venue itself. From the moment that guests step through the door of your establishment, they are walking into much more than a mere seating area. They are being immersed in an atmosphere, surrounded by an aesthetic and introduced to a brand ethos that can be evident in everything from the lighting to the materials you use for your menus.

This might sound like an overstatement, but trust me – it’s not. Over many years of visiting bars and restaurants, speaking with owners, and following the latest trends in foodservice innovation, I’ve been fortunate to visit many beautiful venues, and in this time is has become very evident how much the design of a venue influences diners’ first impressions.

And it’s not just me who thinks so. A 2014 study by RIThink found that restaurant design was actually one of the primary influencers of customer satisfaction. As Restaurant Engine explains, “To stand out in an already crowded industry, your restaurant has to provide not only good food and service but also a unique dining environment to enhance customer satisfaction.” Similarly, Street Directory claim that “Your interior designing theme will decide your customer's mood, that mood will decide their selection of cuisine presented in your menu.”

The venues that make the mort impact upon diners are those which reflect a sense of identity and intention – those that communicate your brand ethos in every detail. Whether you have a specific theme or are simply tapping into a particular set of lifestyle ideals, this has to be reflected in the design of your space.

But how can this actually be achieved? I’ve seen it done many ways over the years, but there are definitely a few elements that restaurant and bar owners consider when designing an immersive front-of-house space.

First, there are the basic questions to consider. How many guests do you want to be seated your dining area or bar at one time or in your bar? This will be a decider on how many tables you will need to arrange in your space. What is your price point? If it’s high, pick quality furnishing and materials that reflect this. Then you have the more creative considerations. How do you want guests to feel when they’re at your venue? Relaxed and at home or pampered and indulgent? These experiences will each entail a very different kind of interior design.


Friends sitting at a bar

One of my ultimate bug-bears with ill-considered restaurant and bar design is a lack of consideration of space in a venue. Of course, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but one of the quickest ways to make guests feel uncomfortable is by misjudging the amount of room you have to fill. Few things interrupt the flow of an intimate dinner than being sat only a foot or two from the neighbouring table. Perhaps a little too intimate! However, in other venues such as speakeasy-style bars, an excess of unfilled space can make a venue will awkward and unpopular.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, and the indicator of which way you should lean is in your ethos. If you’re opening a café that you hope will be established as a community for locals to meet each other, you can include communal bars and benches to encourage interaction. If your market is more aimed towards couples celebrating special occasions, this might not be so appropriate. Acoustics are also worth considering here - is your venue going to be loud and echoic, or will you muffle it with soft furnishings? The atmosphere may well depend on this.


Restaurant lighting

One of the key elements of any interior design is the lighting. These days, with the revival of the industrial-chic aesthetic, old enamel lamps often feature in hip establishments, and indeed, capitalising on the wave of understated styles such as filament bulbs can help to add a dash of modernity to a space.

However, the power of natural lighting ought not to be underestimated. Try to install large windows in any venue. These will not only reduce your electricity bills because of the natural sunlight they bring in – they also give your restaurant or bar a more open feel. Natural sunlight also stimulates the brain in ways that artificial lighting cannot, promoting a sense of wellbeing in diners. However, in bars, you may want to create a cosy, den-like vibe – in which case, warm lighting and candles may be a better choice. Whatever you choose, do so wisely – if you successfully ‘set the mood’ for a premium experience with lighting, the customer satisfaction is sure to follow as guests drink or dine in the glow.


Restaurant kitchen

As the writers of Successful Restaurant Design claim, the interior of a restaurant is a complex system that depends on all of its parts to function correctly. The front and back of the house are meaningless without each other, so, whilst each individual space should function according to its role and have its own unique atmosphere, each area should also as relate to the whole.

Try to foster a sense of continuity by carrying on your brand ethos throughout your venue. For example, if a key focus of yours is freshly-prepared food, ensure there are no microwaves in your kitchens – even if they would only be for heating up staff members’ lunches. Bringing design motifs into the back-of-house areas will also work to uphold a sense of ethos and accountability in staff, encouraging them to maintain the mind-set they would have in customer-facing situations at all times. Guests can sense when front-of-house staff are truly invested in their jobs, creating a holistic experience in which staff spend their time in spaces that also reflect your ethos is one key way of ensuring this.


Ithaa Restaurant Maldives

Once you have nailed down the basics of space, lighting and continuity, you are free to get creative with your restaurant design. This is where a real impression will be made. Those restaurants that get people talking by way of their design are often the ones that are situated in unusual locations – a prime example being the underwater Ithaa Restaurant in the Maldives, where guests can gaze at 180-degree panoramic views of vibrant coral gardens and rare marine life as they dine on the six-course set dinner menu. This may not be attainable for every brand, but do try to choose your venue wisely. ‘Repurposed’ spaces, for example, are very popular at the moment – from old warehouses to underground cellars, these areas can be taken advantage of with thematic decorations reflective of the building’s history.

Whatever space you are working with, manifesting your theme in the design is a great way to create a holistic, customised dining experience for guests. It doesn’t necessarily have to veer into the realms of kitsch (although a touch of novelty can often spark the imagination of diners) but something as simple as adding greenery to a restaurant that prides itself on organic produce, or antique glasses in a period-themed bar, can add real interest.

Bringing the outside in

Hutong at the Shard is a fantastic example of the impact that blurring the boundaries between the inside and outside environments can have. This Sichuan and Northern Chinese restaurant fuses ersatz Old Beijing glamour in the way of rich red lanterns with illuminated trees growing from floor to ceiling for a truly enchanting effect.

Retro appeal

Bob Bob Ricard restaurant in London is loosely based on The Orient Express and takes the theme of old-style travel to the next level. Rich blue and gold hues and an all-booth seating plan make diners feel truly ‘old money’ as they dine in this time capsule of a venue. Gatsby-esque regalia in its truest form.

Festival chic

Cinnamon Bazaar in Convent Garden is the perfect example of a restaurant crafting a relaxed yet chic atmosphere in an unpretentious manner. The gorgeous swathes of material, lanterns and climbing plants suspended from the ceiling are enough to make the space truly special. This transports guests in mere moments to the Asian Subcontinent as they dine on delicious Indian dishes.


Image credits: Alexey Potov (Wikimedia Commons)