restinstapic With so many restaurants and menu items making Instagram appearances it’s no wonder design represents a fast growing component of a restaurant’s success.

“Restaurateurs from the mom-and-pop establishments to roll-out brands have come to the realization that design may be one of the most important factors for success in an increasingly competitive industry,” says Dwayne MacEwen, principal, DMAC Architecture. “Our clients these days are always looking for new and innovative ways to boost efficiency and save on labor costs by adding more custom components in the kitchen — the beating heart of any restaurant operation.”

Technology, of course, is a hot button among restaurants these days. “This makes our challenge as designers unique as we create spaces that deliver an experience that they would never have eating at home or in the office,” MacEwen says. “We take into consideration how they would interact in the space to ensure they feel not only welcomed but also have a space to encourage social interaction with family, friends or colleagues.”

MacEwen’s team looks to create sensory moments throughout a space, such as finding the right lighting, even for the restrooms. It’s all in the details. “Patrons should look better in the restroom mirror than they would in their bathroom mirror at home,” he says.

Mood Changers

Many restaurants are exploring more open floorplans that blend bars, open kitchens and dining spaces together, and that blend dayparts together so restaurants can extend revenue from breakfast through dinner and beyond. “Restaurant design has become much more communal blurring the lines between a space to dine, work, and socialize, and as designers, we want to ensure that they spend more time in these spaces,” MacEwen says.

This offers new challenges and design opportunities when the goal is to create a singular space that can seamlessly transform in order to host guests looking to have an informal meeting over breakfast or lunch to one that offers a great happy hour and then becomes an elegant space for dinner or even a nightclub space. Changing the mood of a space with lighting design and a sophisticated lighting control system can help create these natural transitions.

Restaurants of the future also redefine what authenticity means. Steve Starr of starrdesign, points that authenticity depends on the view of the customer. “Are you designing an authentic ramen shop in New York like the ones in Tokyo, or are you going to design it so it’s a New Yorker’s view of what a ramen shop is?” he asks. “In some cases, designing the restaurant with a New Yorker’s view in mind is what gives the space more character. It’s all about knowing your audience and making it more relevant to them, rather than requiring the space to be truly authentic to an original form.”

Private and Privileged

VIP access and exclusivity seems to be a burgeoning theme in the future of restaurant design. Places like Palizzi Social Club in Philadelphia and Overproof in San Francisco follow a members-only format. And then there are members-only bars like the one inside Vestry in Los Angeles, Cold Drinks at China Live in San Francisco, and Commons Club Chicago at the Virgin Hotel in Chicago. Andrew Freeman & Co. considers these outlets the latest iteration of speakeasy-style design.

In addition, the gamification of restaurants and bars leveraging virtual and augmented realities will likely continue this year. At the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Innovation Summit in Dallas in November, Jane McGonigal, a video game designer and advocate, highlighted the gamification trends taking shape in the restaurant industry, from loyalty apps for customers, tableside tech, and employee-engagement programs. It’s yet another take on immersive experiences through restaurants.