In a recent  B.R.A. Tendances Restauration interview, I was honoured to be asked questions that went beyond food consumption to a topic many of us in market research can easily overlook: the importance of interior design to a restaurant’s success. 

While what’s on the menu is important, a good restaurateur knows that to attract and keep customers, fine dining and aesthetically pleasing interior design go hand in hand.

Today’s design trends include the modernization of restaurant decors, using simple and stylish designs. Natural materials, such as wood and stone, and clear, natural colours and tones continue to appeal to diners. Whatever design is chosen, it’s important to help the brand stand out with a strong and easily-identifiable concept. For better or worse, this visual identity becomes a big part of the restaurant’s brand, creating a reference point for the consumer. A visual identity must be defined according to the image the restaurateur is looking to convey (for both the interior design and the menu). For example, select a classic or modern look for more conservative fine dining, or a loft or factory style for the more offbeat, or lounge for the more chic. 

As we’re imagining the layout of an establishment, we must also think about the functionality and the “flow” for clients and servers. It is essential to clearly define the location of tables, counters, lounges and, yes, even bathrooms. Avoid making things complicated for the diners. 

When developing brand identity, nothing should be overlooked. Even the smallest details can make massive differences. The presence of natural flowers or living plants in the eating environment makes it more friendly and warm. Light is also important (ambient natural or artificial, and when it’s used), as is the music (volume and genre). 

And don’t forget to think about the concept you want to deploy. For example, a good plan for a fast casual establishment is to plan exchange or friendly areas, like around a bar in the middle of the room. For fine dining, concepts that promote intimacy work well. It is also necessary to know how to adapt the atmosphere to the types of customers you want to attract, knowing that they can evolve during the day (e.g., older men and women at lunch, and young people at the bar in the evening). 

And restaurateurs need to spend some time studying and experimenting with social networks, especially those that emphasize visuals over copy-intensive posts (e.g. Instagram). They must be careful to avoid posts that aren’t actual representations of their establishments. As we all know, catfishing rarely ends well, so it’s important to avoid the temptation of creating a virtually beautiful space that looks completely different in reality.

Of all the advice I can give, the most important is to remain engaged from start to finish. Outsource where it’s needed, but always be involved, and play a significant role in the planning of everything, from marketing, to ambiance, food, and service.