Designing a restaurant - quick tips and tricks to improve your project.

Designing a restaurant is no easy task.

Whether you're an architect, interior designer or a restaurant owner that is looking to improve a space, we all know a restaurant isn't simple.

Buildings are all about people, and when you have a room full of them, it's hard to create a good environment.

The basic problem of designing a restaurant is how do you make a customer feel comfortable while providing the best service efficiency?

This article is going to be centered around that question. We're going to explore ways to improve workflow while creating a great environment for customers. We'll also focus on improving the overall appeal of a restaurant, whether it is a fast-food diner or an upscale restaurant.

This isn't an exhaustive guide, but we'll do our best to cover most of the topics.

People move and talk. A lot.

The hardest part about designing a restaurant is the constant interaction between moving, stressed workers and sitting, relaxed costumers.

When you're working and trying to be efficient, it's hard to be calm, especially if you're a new worker.

Make sure your spaces are "new-user" friendly, whether it's a new customer or a new worker.

Also, make sure that the entrance is strategically placed, avoiding collision with waiters and/or waiting customers.

How much room do we have?

The first question to ask is what space can be used and for what purpose. Usually, restaurants follow a layout where 40% of the space is occupied by the kitchen and 60% are dedicated spaces for costumers. But this isn't the case for all restaurants.

A restaurant's floor plan should organize the available space and the required furniture in an efficient way.

Consider the usable space before you start. This will help you understand the best layout for your project, making it easier for ideas to come-up.

Customer experience

Space requirements and costs are the limiting factors.

A restaurant design is heavily influenced by how much space is available. A small (or even narrow) restaurant can be a good idea, in some cases, but the general rule is that the bigger the space, the better. This means that maximizing the usable space is the first step, which allows for better design freedom in the following ones.

Spacing between tables should be more than enough to move around. However, this space depends on the sort of restaurant: a fast-food place will only need about 10 square-feet (almost 1 square meter) per person sitting, while a fine dining establishment will require almost 20 square feet (almost 2 square meters).

Make sure that ,sthroughout the whole space, the waiters can see the customers, so that they can anticipate customers needs.

Space will also depend (or influence) on a lot of other factors, which we'll talk about next.

Did you know: The French aristocracy crumbled after the French Revolution. Chefs, who were once employed by noble households, found themselves jobless. So, many of these displaced workers decided to open up their own establishments and offer prix fixe (fixed price) meals to the masses. The idea spread to other countries, and is now a common sight. Oh, and the word restaurant is french.

Human comfort

A restaurant's space should have enough space to sit, stand, walk-in and walk-out comfortably. If it misses any of these requirements, the experience isn't comfortable for the customer.

Humans have a strong need for personal space, and if you're crashing onto others on your way to the bathroom, this need isn't being met.

Comfort is also influenced by thermal comfort, indoor air quality (humidity control and necessary ventilation), acoustics and lighting.

Quick tip:
The minimum space between occupied chairs should be 18 inches (around 44cm).

Thermal comfort and indoor air quality

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems are incredibly important in a restaurant. When you're cooking, there's an increase both in temperature and humidity. This is something that can spread to the eating area and make customers feel uncomfortable.

Making sure that costumers can breathe easily, as well as having a warm environment, goes a long way towards creating a name for your restaurant.

The ideal temperature on a restaurant should be something around 69 to 72º Fahrenheit, or 20.5ºC to 22ºC.

Smells also play an important role. You can use an open-kitchen design to spread the smell of food if it's appropriate. In this particular case, you can invest in a great, silent, cooking extractor. This will absorb most cooking smells, but not all of them, leaving a slight aroma on the air.

If the project is the same kind of a coffee shop, grind some coffee near the windows. If it's a bakery, leave some flour bags open. Use scents that trigger hunger to your advantage.

Quick tip:
Use scents, but pay attention to the type of smell. A slight smell coming out of the kitchen can be a pleasant thing for some, but not for everyone. Someone that hates a certain food, or people with a greater sensitivity to smells, like pregnant women, might feel nauseous from cooking oils or spices.

Colors as a way to influence eating behaviours

Color is an extremely powerful tool for influencing customer behaviours.

In a restaurant, colors can be used to stimulate or suppress hunger. If you want customers to make different choices, like in a buffet restaurant, then using different colors is a must.

Explore the graphic below to find the corresponding effect to each color.


Increases blood pressure and heart rate, thus increasing hunger.


Increases mental activity and creates a sensation of comfort.


Usually associated with happiness and energy, improves moods.


Brings in tendencies of healthy choices and abundance.


Associated with sensations of being happy and carefree.


Calms the body and induces sleep, similar to lavender.


Associated with unpopular foods like eggplant or other purple foods.


Reminds of burnt/overdone food, or caramels and chocolate.


Causes the appetite to diminish, great for gourmet restaurants.

Scents as a way to provide sensations

Scents are an incredible way to trigger memory-associated sensations.

Smells are very closely linked to memory and the perceived emotions. Certain foods that we've eaten as a child are associated with great memories, which associate themselves with certain smells.

Some smells have a great chance to trigger certain emotions. We'll explore them, one-by-one:


Relaxation and calm.


Reduces stress and anxiety.

Baked bread

Comfort and happiness.


Associated with alertness.


Relieves depression

Talcum powder

Safety, security and nostalgia.

Apple /

Spacious sensations


Alertness and refreshment


"Light creates ambience and feel of a place, as well as the expression of a structure”, said Le Corbusier. "LET THERE BE LIGHT!" said someone that walked into a poorly lit establishment.

Lighting is a topic that deserves a guide on itself. We'll try to keep things simple.

Moods are directly affected by lights. In fact, the energy we have is directly affected by it. White, bright lights help us feel more energetic and awake, while warmer lights might make us relaxed and tired.

The first focus should be the intensity of the light. You don't want a place that is so bright that it makes you squint your eyes. But you also don't want a place where you need to hold your phone's flashlight so that you can see the menu.

There are three main types of lighting:
Ambient lighting
It's the general illumination of the interior of the building.
Low lighting, like lamps on tables or LED lights at floor level, can help you create a lounge or bar environment, where people tend to lean close to each other. On the other hand, bright lighting is a great solution for fast-paced, lively moods. This can be used as a strategy for places where you want customers to stay the least time possible, like pizza joints or fast-food chains.
Task lighting
Task lighting is what helps customers and employees to do what they do. A customer should be able to read the menu and waiters should be able to see the places they're walking through. In a place that's generally low-lighted, you'll want to introduce task-specific lights that will help the activity flow of the restaurant.
Accent lighting
Lights that help you draw attention to specific areas. For example: if you're at a sushi joint with an open-kitchen, you might want to make it stand out. Accent lighting is useful to direct eyes towards what you want people to focus on, while avoiding what you don't want.

Not-so-quick tip:The psychology of lighting is extremely useful for different purposes.

Bright lights help you increase customer turnover, facilitate traffic and overstimulate guests, creating tendencies to eat much more than intended.

Low and warm lighting, on the other hand, creates a relaxing and comfortable experience, increasing the chances of ordering extras, like another bottle of wine or expensive dessert.

In short: if you want a restaurant that doesn't say "come here, get your food and get out" but still feels like it, go for bright lights.
If you want a place where you would take someone on a date, go for low, warm lights.


In a restaurant, one of the most important factors is the overall noise level. People talk a lot, fans are working, waiters are constantly moving around, etc.
Before we start talking about noise levels, there's a distinction we need to make between acoustic insulation and acoustic treatment.
Insulation is what stops the sound from travelling to different, separated places. If, for example, you want people to not even realize there is a kitchen, focus on the insulation between the dining area and the kitchen. Glass wool and mass-loaded vinyl are a great solution for airborne noises. If you have noises that come from vibrations, like someone walking on a second floor, what you want is an absorvent, porous material, like cork or closed-cell polyethilene.
Acoustic insulation is usually placed between floors and walls, or even around noisy machines like extractors.
A great acoustic treatment creates a great acoustic environment. It consists of sound absorbing (or sound diffusing) materials which absorb and spread sound waves, avoiding excessive noises. Acoustic absorption is useful to remove excessive noise. General rule is that if you have too much noise from people walking around and talking, you should go for acoustic absorption. If you need a better sound quality for musical purposes or improving the general sound-quality, you'll need diffusion and the help of an acoustic technician.
Acoustic treatment can usually be approached in four different ways: absorb, block, cover or diffuse. This is a lot to talk about, so we wrote another article that talks about it.

Treating a room is harder on places with high ceilings and hard surfaces, like cement, which are highly sound-reflective. Usually, you'll need sound absorbing panels or even acoustic clouds to cover these walls and ceilings.

You can also just furnish the room with as many things as you can. Generally, most materials provide some degree of sound absorption, no matter how low. Although this might make the place feel overly decorated, it's the quickest and lowest-cost alternative. If you're going to do this, use soft, porous materials like textiles, cork or even some plants.

In short:

If your restaurant has a lot of noise that comes from the kitchen or from the outdoors, improve the insulation in doors, walls, and ceilings.

If your place has too many people talking at the same time and you'd like to diminish the overall noise, use sound-absorption (or just fill the place up with porous materials)

At last, if you need great sound quality for music and events where there's talking, search for a good acoustic technician that can tell you what you need.

Also , this article on the different behaviours of sound can be useful for you. Or even this one, that explores sound absorption a bit more.

Tip for bars: Usually, booming bars with excessive noise (over 85+ dB) have an increased amount of alcohol consumption. If you have a club, bet on diffusive treatments, which will improve speech comprehension and distribute the sound evenly. This improves sound quality when the party is still going. Plus, diffusive surfaces can have a good aesthetic look if you can find something that's in line with your project.

Efficient use of space

The most difficult part of designing a restaurant is creating a good balance between workers and customers, which have two conflicting "vibes". Let's start with furniture.

Think of the capacity in terms of tables instead of chairs. If it's a family restaurant, it's better to have a lot of large tables instead of small, two seater tables. Try to understand what the typical customer will be like and define the furnishings around this

If the place you're designing has a big counter, use it to create staff-to-customer engagement. Place high-seat chairs and create a small bar or a place where a single person can eat and, at the same time, create a relationship with the waiters. Staff relationship is one of the key things in making a customer a regular.

Take your waiters comfort into consideration. It's difficult to work efficiently if you're constantly bending over tables that are hard to reach, or trying to move between people. If possible, create corridors that are so wide that two waiters with busy hands can walk by eachother without a problem.

Your floor layout should allow for customers comfort and enjoyment while maintaining an efficient circulation pattern. In short, keep in mind the way people travel in your restaurant. Understand the patterns: if someone walks in the front door, where will they prefer to sit? Is it near a window? Is it near the TV? You can use these elements to "concentrate" the customers in an area, as people prefer to sit nearby outdoor spaces or entertainment areas.

Tip #1: Organize the rooms furnishing so that some versatility is allowed. Think of things like placing two seater tables right next to bigger ones, so that you can place them together quickly for bigger groups.

Tip #2:
Increasing the number of seats in the same dining table will create better social interactions and effectively distribute customers. If possible, keep a big, space efficient table for this sort of groups.

Tip #3: keep the line moving.
A small place with long lines will feel even smaller. Create alternatives for lines, like a street selling point or a self-ordering kiosk.

Safety (and kitchen design)

Now, the most important design aspect: safety.

Safety isn't easy to obtain while maintaining working efficiency.

A restaurant usually has some sort of theme, which means there are going to be certain types of foods being cooked there. A sushi restaurant prioritizes refrigeration, which usually isn't dangerous, while a restaurant that grills a lot of food, which involves the not-so-safe element of fire, will be inherently more dangerous. Speak with the chef and understand how the plates will influence the kitchen layout, and therefore influence security.

Windows should occupy, at least, 10% of the total floor area, so that the air in the kitchen can be easily ventilated.

Floor coverings shouldn't absorb greases and humidity, like natural wood floors do. Use materials that don't burn easily or cause water pooling, such as ceramic tiles with epoxy, polyvinyl sheets, or even concrete. Also, pay attention to slip potential, and treat the flooring according to this.

Entrance and exit doors should always be readily available. Understand the escape routes and, if possible, create an easy exit for workers and avoid cramming people together.

Sinks! Safety involves not only emergencies, but also hygiene. Place sinks in easily accessible places, so that waiters and kitchen workers can wash their hands quickly and frequently. There's nothing worse than going to a restaurant and getting sick from it. A 3-compartment, stainless steel sink should be placed in the kitchen.

Tip #1: If the kitchen entry door is big enough for two people, waiters will have an easier time transporting dishes. Plus, it increases safety.

Tip #2:
Create zones for each activity. The concept of activity based design should be helpful here. Separate areas that could have not-so-good interactions with other areas. A kitchen grill shouldn't be even close to an alcohol bottle, and yet this is a big cause of fires in restaurant kitchens.

Tip #3: use professional food equipment that is prepared for industrial use. Usually, industrial-grade kitchens have a great fire rating and durability, creating safety benefits as well as endurance.

The end.

Thank you for reading. We'll be launching more guides on interior design soon.
While you're at it, you can see some acoustic panels that could be integrated in your next project. Check them out!