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Five things to look for in great restaurant interior design

© Daniela Exley Photography

16th January 2019

Five things to look for in great restaurant interior design

Guest blogger Phoebe Oldrey from Smartstyle Interiors in Tunbridge Wells looks at why a top dining experience out is about more than just the food

I’m not a foodie, but I do love eating out, and always have. My mother was an appalling cook, so she regularly used to take me out; sadly, back then, the highlight was normally Little Chef or Happy Eater (remember them?). My taste has since grown up a little, and I love getting out of the house and sliding myself into a restaurant.

It’s not just the food that I love, but the place; being surrounded by a beautiful building and a hubbub of people, but still feeling like my table is my own little oasis. Successful restaurants recognise that excellent food, great service and beautiful design all go hand in hand to make a brilliant business.

So, what are the five things that I think make a beautifully designed eatery?

Just as the clothes we wear are part of our identity, so too is the décor part of a restaurant’s. When we pick somewhere to eat, we’ll look for something that fits our eating mood, from ‘comfortable relaxed’ like Juliets, to ‘fabulous colourful and chic’ like The Ivy. Both have very different atmospheres, and you’d pick them for specific occasions, so your ability to know what kind of experience you’re going to get there all comes from how they’ve been decorated.

This isn’t something that most people spend time analysing when sitting down to enjoy a plate of steak and chips, but I’m a design nerd, so love checking it out. The table and service areas are really the key to how well a restaurant works, and how a customer feels when they’re there.

We all love the feeling of a vibrant place, but we also want a level of intimacy at the table we’re sitting at. We hate to feel like we’re in the way of the staff, near the entrance door, or – God forbid – close to the toilets. If you watch a restaurant fill up, there will always be favoured spots that diners run to, and places where people begrudgingly sit. A successfully designed restaurant will have every table feel like first pick.

The best restaurant designs work sympathetically with the buildings they’re in, as it shows off the original architectural features: The amazing mouldings in Zizzi give a real feeling of the history of the place. Incorporating the legacy of what a site used to be is a clever twist; Framptons have the original safe door from when it was a bank – one of my favourite pieces of design in Tunbridge Wells.

Sound is the overlooked key to comfort. It’s easy for a busy restaurant or bar to have a painfully tinny noise to it, where you need to strain to hear and shout to be heard. It may just be that I’m an old fart, but I find it so uncomfortable that I often have to leave and go somewhere else.

The funny thing is that it’s nothing to do with how many people are in the bar; it’s about how many hard surfaces there are. Marble, metals and plastics bounce sound around and make it harsher, while upholstery, curtains and wood ‘drink it in’ and take the painful edge off – that’s the difference between a bubbly vibe and a painful din!

The rise of the #toiletselfie on Instagram means that your lavatories can’t be over looked! The designer restaurant commode Instagram pic leads people booking a night out to question, ‘If the loos are that amazing, what must the rest be like?’.

However, before social media even brought us this phenomenon, I’ve always thought that the restroom should be as welcoming as the front of house. When stepping ‘behind the scenes’, you don’t want people to leave with an image of somewhere that's uncared for; after all, if the hygiene in the toilet is low, it does make me question the cleanliness in the kitchen!

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