The basics of good Hospitality Design

A successful restaurant or café lives or dies by its food offering, value and service, not by its aesthetic alone. A new hashtag-worthy design may attract the Instagram crowd in the short term, but for longevity it is the regular clientele who keep going back for the food that make a successful business.

Clever and very often simple design can enhance the business proposition. So much is common sense it is surprising how many restaurants and cafes get it so wrong.



  • Kerb appeal – the restaurant needs to look great from the street, making you want to go in – if it is a quiet night an empty cavernous space has no appeal. Alternatively a discreet, mysterious entry can build anticipation and the initial sensory experience.
  • Arrival and being greeted is the start of the experience, so this should be very obvious and placed so you are not crowding someone’s table.
  • The overall layout should be easily understood, so you can find your way to the toilets without getting lost. No one wants to dine next to a toilet door so these should be tucked away yet easily accessible.



  • Romantic dinners versus office parties can be tricky. Ideally the space can accommodate intimate groups – think booth seating – as well as larger parties, with tables that can be pushed together and even banquette seating that can accommodate varying numbers.
  • Ideally a separate private dining room can cater for special occasions and to maximise flexibility the room can be opened up at other times for general dining. The ability to cater for a variety of functions is the lifeblood of many restaurants so avoiding too much built-in seating or furniture maximises floor space and flexibility.



  • These days many people turn to their phones to pass the time until their meals arrive. People-watching can also be entertaining, but a restaurant can provide its own theatre and action via a lively kitchen with food being plated for the pass, and this can also give an appreciation for the effort that goes into the preparation. (As long as the kitchen looks great and the view is not of someone washing greasy dishes.) This can be extended by bar-type seating directly onto the kitchen so there can be contact between the chefs and the diner.
  • The bar and drinks preparation, especially cocktails, can also provide a theatrical element as well as a strong visual, and, like with the kitchen, dining at the bar is a great concept for modern casual dining.
  • Fixed elements can also enhance the theatre – a dramatic wine wall, bar bottle display, artworks and a view.



  • So important to the dining experience is good mood lighting. I dined in a very salubrious Hong Kong restaurant so dimly lit that the waiters handed out torches to read the menu. Getting the balance between well-lit tables and a warm ambience is key. Too brightly lit will be uncomfortable for everyone.



  • Like lighting, noise and acoustic treatment is paramount. The move in recent years towards all hard surfaces and very limited upholstered elements has created a lot of very noisy cafes and restaurants. No one wants to dine in library hush but equally you want to be able to hear the waiter clearly and hold a discreet conversation. There are myriad options to help minimise this – ceiling panels, upholstered walls, soft furnishings, carpet where appropriate, acoustic light fittings, window treatment and subtle background music.



  • The semi-industrial meets Scandinavian palette of brickwork, black steel, concrete floors and blonde timber that started in the modern coffee shop has largely had its day. New trends in interior design are moving towards a more decorative, plush and eclectic look. Richer colour palettes and greater comfort in furniture and upholstery with a more classic look. Pretty much anything goes, but above all the décor should complement the food on offer and should extend to staff dress and inventory.


  • In these times of COVID-19 and social distancing the hospitality world is going to take time to find a new normal. As restaurants and bars gradually reopen, packed dining areas will be a thing of the past and the expansion of external dining will be the initial push. This has its own challenges – limiting exposure to wind and rain, excessive cold or heat, and limiting time for birds to take over the tables! Furniture will need to be robust and easy to clean quickly, and the emphasis will be on great table service.
  • Modern radiant heating panels are great on cooler days below an awning, and there is nothing better than eating or drinking outside on a fine evening.

Considering the above elements will go a long way to ensure any hospitality venue – be it a restaurant, bar or café – will be a memorable experience for patrons, and a place they return to again and again. Although, of course, choosing a chef and menu will also be critical – I’ll leave that part to the culinary experts.

Adrian Downes is Director of Interiors at Thexton Smith Architecture and Interiors. With 30 plus years of experience designing incredible hospitality, hotel and commercial spaces, Adrian has a wealth of expertise to share with his clients.

Thinking about a restaurant remodel or starting a new venture? Give the team at Thexton Smith a call or email for a free, no obligation chat about your ideas, and let’s see if we can help you get started. We’re approachable, knowledgeable and passionate about what we do.