Purposeful Restaurant Design

Follow through on your brand promise with decisive interior design
Bob Case, Chief Creative Officer | John Zapf, Associate Creative Director

If you think your restaurant’s brand design begins and ends with a clever logo and advertising campaign, think again.

Great signage and an engaging marketing program might encourage consumers to sample your restaurant, but those won’t keep them coming back or telling friends. The essence of your brand’s design is what happens inside the restaurant. Call it ambiance, a composite of elements that affect all the senses.

Great food doesn’t make a memorable or successful restaurant. It helps, of course, and without it you’re likely to fail. But research shows that purposely designed ambiance and service are significantly more important in determining restaurant preference and how much a customer is willing to pay.

A study by the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business found that food quality is very subjective; an alluring ambiance and excellent service can trump a mediocre culinary experience. Perception plays a role, as well—consumers are willing to pay more at a French restaurant than Chinese or Mexican because they believe French food is more labor intensive.*

The best and most successful restaurants have a well-defined concept. From the cutlery selection to the color palette, and from lighting to music, the orchestration of a brand’s essence is what makes you feel good, what causes the food to taste better, and what conveys comfort.

We call this brand follow through—extending the design inside the company (in this case, a restaurant). At its heart, a brand is a promise, a way of saying, “This is who we are and what you’ll get.” That’s why it’s so important for the brand design to be carried through into the restaurant, imbuing everything consumers experience.

Synchronized restaurant design aims to provide a customer with a very specific sensation the moment they step inside. This vibe might manifest itself in several ways, such as feeling like home or being in another country. 

This sensation is difficult to describe, but you’ve surely experienced it. You entered a restaurant and felt good. Everything was connected and had a reason. But creating a unique and pleasant ambiance isn’t just window dressing. It’s a design strategy that can transform a restaurant from surviving to thriving. Here’s compelling evidence.

  • A study by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration found that a high Zagat restaurant rating correlated with favorable views of an eating establishment’s interior design. In fact, décor was found to be more important than service.**
  • A well-documented study in RIThink discovered that 57% of consumers are willing to pay higher prices at a restaurant designed according to their preferences.*** 
  • In their groundbreaking research featured in Nature, Nanette Stroebele and Dr. John De Castro discovered that a restaurant’s lighting can affect food intake: “Warm light appears to make people more comfortable, leading to them staying longer in the location, which leads to increased food intake, whereas glaring light decreases the amount of time people spend in the eating location.” **** The same study reveals that color can influence a patron’s behavior, as well—customers judged coffee from a blue pot as mild, while the exact same coffee served from a brown pot was deemed too strong.
  • A surprising study in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services revealed that a pleasing ambiance can often overcome shortcomings related to inadequate food and customer service.*****

The next time you’re having an amazing dining experience, take a moment to look around the restaurant—there’s a good chance that creative designers are responsible for your enjoyment.

Sweat Your Restaurant's Details

The food tastes great. Check. Your staff is well trained to provide superb service. Check. But don’t forget these design-related elements that can help bring customers back

  • Color scheme. There’s a lot of science behind color selection. Some colors have been proven to increase a person’s appetite. Others can support a home-like feeling.
  • Spacing. Too many tables can make people feel uncomfortable. Too few may convey that the restaurant is in trouble. Some table-spacing strategies can subtly encourage customers to eat quickly and leave.
  • Lighting. Are you trying to create a romantic environment? Turn down the lights. Do you want a hip place for millennials? Make it bright.
  • Décor. From the style of chair to what adorns your walls, the design of your restaurant communicates just as much as the food you serve.
  • Sound. Like lighting, the sound your customers hear can make all the difference. Music can help define your ambiance. And the flooring and ceiling height can determine how quiet or noisy your restaurant is.
  • Staff. Don’t forget your employees. Pay attention to how they dress. From the colors they wear to how clean and pressed their clothes are, they will convey your restaurant’s personality.

 

*: International Journal of Revenue Management, “Revenue Management, Hedonic Pricing Models and the Effects of Operational Attributes”
**: Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, “How Restaurant Features Affect Check Averages: A Study of the Toronto Restaurant Market”
***: RIThink, “Interior Design in Restaurants as a Factor in Influencing Customer Satisfaction”
****: Nutrition, “Effect of Ambience on Food Intake and Food choice”
*****: Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, “Effects of Physical Environment and Locus of Control on Service Evaluation”

 

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