Restaurant Design Considerations: Front-of-the-house

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA, ADMG

Great restaurant design is a delicate and thoughtful balance of design ideas, technical considerations, and operational concerns.  Each is orchestrated and integrated in order to create an overall customer experience, from the minute he or she sets sight on the building to the moment when they step back outside.  The following are some points to consider when thinking about the design of your facility.

Exterior Image

  • Preconditioned expectations can be overcome by presenting an image that is beyond expectation.  Just because you are a cafeteria style establishment doesn’t mean you need to look like a high school cafeteria!
  • The façade must stand out.  Use of iconic elements such as a particular roof style, particular colors, use of images and symbols make your establishment stand out and memorable.  The gambrel roof of Dairy Queen or the Pizza Hut red roof is recognizable no matter where you are.  What is your icon?
  • The importance of signage is paramount.  With today’s printing and manufacturing technologies signage is affordable and just about anything imaginable in possible.  Signage if often the most recognizable element of any establishment.  Make sure it is given careful consideration from the start.
  • Landscaping can communicate levels of formality.  Appropriateness is determined by image, price level, screening needs, and climate of the establishment.


  • Solid facades vs. opaque or transparent.  Glass doors vs. solid wood and the hardware used. Graphics, vestibules, detailing.  Each offers a very distinct impression and all play an important role in your customer’s arrival experience.


  • The placement of a hostess immediately upon entry is not always the answer.  The customer expectation of greeting is linked to the psychology of service type and must be carefully considered.  Whether or not a waiting area included is another consideration, and whether or not it is just for waiting or used as a secondary sales area.  Lighting and temperature control must be thoughtful especially in colder climates.

Seating, Tabletop, Napery, Flatware, China, Glassware

  • All must be appropriate to the aesthetic, service level, durability, workflow, the list goes on.  Ergonomics are of utmost importance, especially at the bar.  Careful considerations of dining sight lines, floor materials, table mix, and materials are the keys to success.  Avoid gimmicks and novelties and leave room for flexibility and change as operations evolve!

Walls, Ceilings, Floors and Lighting

  • The walls define space, provide interest and function in areas of acoustics, display and storage.  Consider materials, colors, detailing and heights carefully, as well as durability and protection.  Ceilings are too often neglected and must be thoughtful.  Carefully weigh material decisions with mechanical and lighting requirements, acoustics, and space/volume considerations.  Ceilings can have a dramatic effect when done properly. Flooring should be easily cleaned and maintained, be safe and durable while still aesthetically pleasing.  Consider life cycle costs, acoustics, and safety!  Finally lighting; direct vs. indirect, zoning, ease of operation, energy efficiency and power requirements must be analyzed.  Not to mention the possibility of breaking the budget if you are not careful!

Above are some basic points to consider when working with the design team on your next dining establishment.  The points are basic at best and hopefully provoke thought.  The most important thing to remember is that each is important and must be considered, weighed, balanced and integrated to ensure the success of your operations!


1 Comment

Filed under DESIGN, IDEAS

One response to “Restaurant Design Considerations: Front-of-the-house

  1. This article is nicely laid out, and I think you hit all the important points of restaurant design. I think it’s good to note that a restaurant owner doesn’t need to hire an expensive designer or seek out the help of a restaurant supply store to achieve the FOH design. They can follow some simple guidelines, look at some examples for inspiration, and shop around for the best prices. The final look will come together if they stick with the same theme and always keep their restaurant’s brand at heart.

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