An attractive, well-functioning front of the house can serve as a major draw for customers.

TheGardenRoom MiaYakel110119 41The Garden Room. Photo by Mia YakelThe temporary shutdown of on-site dining likely has consumers missing the front-of-the-house environment at restaurants, which provides an integral part of the dining experience. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, operators were adapting front-of-the-house spaces to accommodate their growing pickup and delivery businesses. Comfortable, well-designed areas provide an immediate connection to the space and draw consumers in, whether it’s a couple of hours for a fine-dining meal or just a few minutes for a pickup order. Operators can maximize those experiences with redesigns or new decor ideas that make the area more functional and attractive. Here are a few of the trends emerging in the front of the house.

The Waiting Game

The shift away from on-premises eating has resulted in many restaurant operators rethinking their layouts to handle the influx of third-party delivery drivers or even their own in-house delivery teams. A common intent is to keep takeout customers away from the waitstaff traffic flow.

Buffalo Wild Wings Prototype

Introduced in January 2019, this interior design concept features an extension of the waiting area, called the Dugout. A private viewing area called the MVP Room includes game consoles and self-pour beer taps. This 11,000-unit chain’s redesigned bar area is made out of materials from recycled basketball courts.

Buffalo Wild Wings Interior delivery

Buffalo Wild Wings Interior with waiting delivery area

Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken, Durham, N.C.

Eliminating a cash register at the Durham, N.C., location of this 16-unit chicken-and-biscuits chain provided room to install two tablet ordering stations for takeout customers. Behind the counter, the chain installed a third tablet station dedicated solely to third-party deliveries and added additional warming equipment.

Rise Delivery

Feeding Off-Premises Consumption

The social distancing requirements aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 suddenly made takeout food a critical part of the business matrix for many restaurants. For some operations, though, that approach — including premade meals or items for home prep — has long been an essential factor in their operations.

Prime + Proper, Detroit

This upscale steakhouse offers customers the opportunity to take home cuts of meat that the culinary team butchers in the restaurant’s in-house butcher shop. The jewelry case-style display sits at the front of the house for easy access by customers who simply want to pick up their purchases without dining on premises. The counter has become “a focal point of the dining room,” says Ryan Prentiss, executive culinary director of Heirloom Hospitality Group, the restaurant’s owner.

 Prime + Proper jewelry case of meat

Prime + Proper Dry Aging

Porch Swing Restaurant, Mesquite, Texas

At this contemporary casual-dining restaurant, a Southern-style takeout pie shop doubles as a waiting area for the main restaurant. Beyond selling whole pies to go, there’s a bar counter and stools for customers who want to enjoy a single slice of pie or a milkshake on-site.

Porch Swing interior


Anyone who was around in the 1970s remembers how fern bars became synonymous with places frequented by singles and decorated with enough foliage to resemble a tropical jungle. Nowadays, the smart use of plants can reinforce the idea of freshness while adding a splash of color to the decor.

AvoEatery, Dallas

In a restaurant devoted to the avocado, it only makes sense to have plants as one of the major decor themes. Potted plants line the shelf above the bar, and their strategic placement throughout the front of the house helps accentuate the (avocado, naturally) green decor. The Avocados from Mexico trade group partnered with Trinity Groves, a mixed-use development which sponsors a Restaurant Concept Incubator program, to launch the restaurant.

Avo Dining area

Avo Bar

Avo Restaurant seating

The Garden Room in The St. Regis Atlanta, Atlanta

At this upscale hotel restaurant and bar, plants serve as more than an additional decor item; they are the decor. Wooden trellis-style wall coverings and antique furniture add to the feeling of being at a Southern garden party at the turn of the 20th century.
Photo on left by Patrick Heagney Photography;
photos below by Mia Yakel.

Atlas Pavillion12033 EditPhoto by Patrick Heagney Photography

TheGardenRoomMiaYakel110119 02Photo by Mia Yakel

TheGardenRoomMiaYakel110119 16Photo by Mia Yakel

Sitting Up

Whether you call it loft, mezzanine or balcony seating, the idea of multilevel dining areas remains popular. As these pictures show, upper-level seating cuts across all segments of the industry.

Lee’s Market @ 4th West, Salt Lake City

This grocerant features an elevated seating area for about 100 customers over the accessible seating area and the back of the house. “When you walk in the store, you have a clear view of the mezzanine and you see the way to get up there,” says John Scheffel,  vice president and  director of visual design for the Tampa, Fla.-based ArchitecturePlus design firm. Owned by Lee’s Marketplace, the site is one of six of the chain’s grocery stores in the  Salt Lake City area.

the Loft Retouch

The Loft Mezzanine

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Dunwoody, Ga.

A dramatic curving wooden staircase leads diners up to the mezzanine  dining area at this upscale steakhouse chain, with 16 locations nationwide. Two-top tables overlook the main dining room, with an additional private dining area upstairs. The chain’s Century City location in Los Angeles, includes booth-style seating on the upper level, along with private dining areas. Top photos by Marc Mauldin Photography

 Del Friscos 2nd Lvl Main Dinning verticle v1Photo by Don Riddle Images

DelFriscos Archways 013019 MMP 62621Photo by Marc Mauldin Photography

Words to the Wise

Many operations use wall graphics with words as front-of-the-house elements that reinforce the restaurant’s concept, promote community involvement or even just help direct traffic flow through the restaurant.

Golden Corral, Prototype

Greensboro, N.C., was the first location to incorporate the new design for the 483-unit Golden Corral buffet chain. A fireplace in the center of the dining area brings a more homey feel to the front of the house and anchors the dining area. Fun phrases and large graphics of food and prep items play off the friendly, inviting theme. Oversized station identifiers also help direct customers to their desired serving areas.

 Golden Corral Seating Area2

Golden Corral Fireplace wideshot

Mixt, San Francisco, Cow Hollow neighborhood

This nine-unit fast-casual chain is built around the concepts of sustainability and natural ingredients. Infographic-style charts on the walls help reinforce the chain’s foundational ideals of recycling and community responsibility, while providing customers something to read while they wait for their orders. Plants also emphasize the chain’s natural theme. Photos by Dean Biryini

Mixt DJBPhoto 171103 0014 1tifpPhoto by Dean Biryini

MIXT San Ramon Dining Jose QuinterosPhoto by Dean Biryini