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What does design say about your restaurant?

3 min read


It might be what’s on the plate that counts, but many restaurateurs will spend as much time choosing colors, accessories and furnishings to complement food as they will designing the menu. The latest issue of Architectural Digest pays homage to innovative design, including a slide show of 12 restaurants worldwide whose designs stand out.

Eateries on the list include Tori Tori in Mexico City, whose futuristic front glows an energizing blue; OZONE in Hong Kong, which has Vegas-like, over-the-top marble bars and crystal-dripping chandeliers; and Sur Mesure in Paris, a weirdly white-on-white restaurant with, yes, more white.

Many startups don’t have the budget to pull off some of these innovative looks, but successful ones figure out how to create a look that complements the menu and adds something vital to the ambiance. Global consultant Aaron D. Allen offered a primer for would-be restaurateurs looking to create the right look, addressing budgetary issues. The rule of thumb, the firm said, is that restaurants cost between $85 and $300 per square foot to build, and design should run about 10% of that budget.

Balancing pretty and practical

Aaron D. Allen also addressed creating a design that reflects a restaurant’s theme and balancing beauty with practical concerns that come with running a foodservice establishment. One key consideration is noise, an issue covered by Minneapolis’ Star Tribune, which found that restaurateurs struggle to strike the right balance of sound. A pleasant hum of chatter creates energy and excitement, but the buzz should never be so loud that patrons can’t hear one another or feel the need to shout to be heard by companions across the table.

Design elements such as a tin ceiling, hardwood flooring and an open kitchen can add much to the look of a restaurant, but the noise they bring must be mitigated by elements such as heavy drapery, furniture and tablecloths, which can muffle the noise. “There is a fine line, and there are places that are too loud and older friends are turned off,” said Heidi Woodman, owner of Heidi’s in Minneapolis.

Looking to show off your design?

Architectural Digest already picked its favorite designs, but it’s not too late for eateries to win acclaim for their innovative look. Restaurateurs and architects have until May 4 to enter the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles chapter’s Restaurant Design Awards, a contest that honors the best design in these categories.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafes/Bars
  • Lounges/Nightclubs
  • People’s Choice

Architect Mark Rios and celebrity restaurateurs Michael Voltaggio and Evan Kleiman will choose the winner in the first three categories, and the public will vote to determine the People’s Choice winner.