top of page


  • Daniel Umscheid

Appetite for Design

If you’ve ever watched an episode of the beloved ’90s sitcom “Friends,” chances are you’ve seen the cast of 20-something characters sitting on that plush orange couch in the middle of Central Perk enjoying a cup of coffee. With its exposed brick and homey décor, the eclectic café was warm, cozy and inviting, making the viewer feel as if they were sitting in their living room alongside their closest friends.

When it comes to designing spaces in the food and beverage industry, everything from the lighting to décor to menu configuration can impact business. With so many factors influencing customer experience, designers and architects are tasked with the delicate balance of appetizing artistic design and functionality to bring a company’s brand to life.

Visualizing a Layout

Different restaurant concepts require different layout approaches, each uniquely allowing patrons to flow through a space with ease and making it clear to the customer whether to visit a hostess stand, approach the counter to order, or seat themselves.

At the recently completed Louie's Wine Dive in Nashville, guests are greeted by a custom designed and fabricated wine wall, setting the tone for a wine-themed dining experience. We also worked with the restaurant owner to create a one-of-a-kind 30' tall backlit wine bottle display that anchors the bar and is a focal point within the restaurant.

The guest experience comes first and foremost, and the overall design helps shape that experience. Restaurants must be careful to include the proper distance between tables to give customers privacy while allowing servers to easily deliver food. Should tables be too close together — or too close to the kitchen — diners may feel crowded or rushed, which would impact experience and discourage patrons from staying for that next round of drinks.

Many new restaurants are exploring an open-kitchen concept, which allows customers to see their food being prepared, creating a unique connection to the food and the chef preparing it. This was a key ingredient we incorporated into our recent Hawaiian Bros Island Grill project where authenticity was key. We helped two brothers prototype a fast-casual Hawaiian food restaurant concept in Belton, Mo. The open, airy space includes an open kitchen and a mix of comfortable booths and tables of varying heights and sizes, including a custom-made surfboard table.

That kind of accommodation is not only important to help parties of all sizes feel welcome, but also sets the tone for the diner’s experience.

Staging an Atmosphere

One of the most important aspects when designing a restaurant space is tailoring the atmosphere through the infusion of color, lighting, acoustics, smells, comfort and temperature—all of which impact customer behavior. Diane Weintraub Pohl writes about the psychology of restaurant design in Westchester Magazine:

“It’s how all these elements converge that either makes or breaks the space. And those elements, as anyone who’s ever undertaken a renovation knows, take money, time, and, above all, analysis. There’s the aesthetics – décor, ambience – and then there’s the nuts and bolts: traffic flow for both customer and staff, bar placement, restroom proximity, server stations.”

Stephen Zagor, dean of business and management studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, believes the best restaurants stimulate all our senses. Warm colors — like red, orange and yellow — are considered stimulants, while pale green, blue and purple are considered “appetite suppressants.”

Our Baltimore office recently designed a boutique space for Turning Natural, a Washington, D.C.–based juice bar, at MGM National Harbor hotel and casino. We showcased the company’s “natural” aesthetic by using dark tonal wood elements, slate flooring and plant walls, while incorporating bright oranges, yellows and greens reminiscent of fruits and vegetables to reinforce the company’s nature and wellness theme.

More Than a Feeling

Combining these design elements can create spaces that encourage eating and socialization, and also yield environments that create a multilayered experience related to the brand.

In Little Rock, Ark., we are working on Strike House, an exciting new bowling-themed entertainment environment. The 26,000 square foot adaptive reuse project hosts a 12–lane bowling alley, event space, bar and restaurant with expo kitchen and many branded design elements.

The Hawaiian Bros space incorporated surfboards pitched outside as if they were resting in the sand, plenty of windows for natural light, blue-green color schemes as a nod to the ocean, sophisticated floral-inspired wallpapers, and Polynesian patterned floor tiles. Hawaiian Bros offers their customers more than just a meal — they’re taken on a journey through the McNie brothers’ fondest Hawaiian culinary memories.

The story must continue to unfold through collateral like the menus and packaging to whet customers’ appetites — and consistency remains key. We recently helped the co-owner of Happy Food Co. do just that. The company provides grab-and-go meal kits packed with local ingredients that are pre-chopped, pre-measured and ready to cook for those on-the-go. We helped him design the look and feel of the packaging and refrigeration units, utilizing the right brand imagery, materials and design to tell his company’s story.

There’s a reason that “Friends” fans are still visiting the Central Perk replica set in Hollywood. The café evokes feelings of comfort and familiarity that viewers want to return to, even more than a decade later. That kind of meaningful design is what we strive to create for our clients, establishing an emotional connection that will keep customers coming back for more.

Recent Posts
bottom of page