Designing a Restaurant: Front of the House


Without a good atmosphere, your food and service will not be fully appreciated. A successful front-of-the-house (FOH) design will suit your concept and match the tastes and desires of your intended clientele. You should already be performing market research, looking at demographics, psychographics and your competition. This will help you create the atmosphere that will attract the kinds of customers you really want. » Learn more about Target Marketing

If you are renting a location, in order to avoid costly renovations, you can choose a design and layout that accommodates the existing space. In this situation, space limitations should be your first consideration. If you are building your own restaurant, you will need to think about interior design as you work with your general contractor, architect, electrical engineer or food service consultants.
» Learn more about Buying vs. Building a Restaurant

The Basics of FOH Design

Before designing your restaurant, you should consider comfort, style and seating capacity. How many customers do you want to have in your dining area at one time? How do you want them to feel? These factors will determine the layout and design of your front-of-the-house area.

The first decision you must make is how many different spaces you want to create in the front of the house. Your FOH design can encompass the following areas:

  • Main dining room
  • Private dining rooms
  • Bar area
  • Patio dining area
  • Entry and waiting area
  • Server stations

As you form your designs, keep in mind that the look and feel of your restaurant should support your branding efforts. After a while, people begin to associate your restaurant’s design with your restaurant’s name. So it is important that your restaurant interior matches or goes well with all of the rest of your restaurant’s designs, including advertisements, takeout packaging, menus and exterior restaurant décor. » Learn more about Restaurant Branding Design

Setting the Right Tone

Before you begin designing your dining area, ask yourself what kind of emotional tone you want to create. Your designs will be very different depending on how you want your customers to feel. After a while, the “feel” of your restaurant will be incorporated into your concept. For example, a warm, intimate Italian bistro will have a very different atmosphere than a casual, energetic Italian brasserie.

Creating Intimacy

With a small space, the intimacy is already there, so achieving an intimate atmosphere is just a matter of using dark colors, low lighting and private seating layouts. With a large space, creating intimacy is more difficult. For high ceilings, use lines angled upward to draw the eye up, or hang fabrics, lamps or chandeliers to lower the ceiling. Curtains or “nooks” can be used to anchor tables and create a feeling of privacy.

Creating Warmth

To create an intimate setting, steer clear of metals and glass, which feel sterile. Instead, try to incorporate these elements:

  • Fabrics
  • Yellow or golden electric lighting
  • Fireplaces and candles
  • Warm colors and tones
  • Wooden furniture and molding

Creating Energy

The following elements can contribute to creating an atmosphere of excitement:

  • Fabrics
  • High contrast in colors and textures
  • Moderate use of mirrors
  • Diverse lighting
  • Upbeat music
  • Tables closer together

You can also use an open dining room, slightly louder music and a more crowded layout. You can strategically place mirrors to enhance your lighting and reflect the dining room to create the illusion that there is more space and a larger crowd. A bar that spills into the dining area can also help to generate energy.

Creating Elegance

If you want to achieve elegance, do not overdo it on the decorating. Design elements should be simple and well tied-together. Each table should be individually lighted with candles, tealights, table lamps or hanging lights.

Creating Comfort

You can use sofas, cushioned seating, upholstered booths and a spread-out table layout to create a comfortable atmosphere.

Creating Casualness

You can try to incorporate these elements to create a casual, unpretentious atmosphere:

  • Roomy seating
  • Mounted televisions
  • Upbeat music
  • Hodge-podge or make-shift décor
  • Casual staff uniforms

Using slightly brighter lighting will also tend to create a more casual effect.

Dining Room and Seating Layout

There are many dining room layout options available. You can have multiple dining rooms that flow together, a dining room that is partitioned into isolated spaces or one big open dining area. You can also have separate dining rooms to accommodate private parties. Whatever dining room layout you choose, the placement of your tables and seating is equally important, and it impacts your customers’ spending. » Learn more about Planning a Restaurant Seating Chart

Dining Room Décor and Atmosphere

The style, decorations and sounds in your dining room will influence the mood of your customers and support your overall restaurant design. Music, acoustics, seating, lighting flooring and wall decorations should all match your concept and encourage customer comfort and satisfaction. Plants, flowers, tabletop décor and fabrics can all make great additions to your restaurants interior design scheme.
» Learn more about Dining Room Decor and Atmosphere

Bar Area

If you have a bar and make it the centerpiece of your restaurant, so that it spills into the dining room, it will add a sense of energy to the space. The lighting in the bar can illuminate your collection of liquor bottles to show off the variety of your drink offerings. Locating the bar near the waiting area is another excellent choice, since customers will appreciate the chance to order drinks while they wait for a table.

Patio Dining Area

During warm seasons, patio dining is a great way to expand your dining area and take advantage of beautiful weather. Use outdoor furniture and market umbrellas to block the sun. You can also use outdoor heaters to extend the life of your patio into colder months. If your patio area is large, you may need a separate bar, or you can design the bar to span both the patio and the indoor dining area.

Entry Area

Waiting Area

With the exception of quick-service and reservation-only establishments, almost all other restaurants should hope for the best and provide their patrons with a waiting area. Many restaurant owners hesitate to incorporate a waiting area, thinking that it is a waste of valuable potential table space. However, keep this in mind: that table space is only valuable if the restaurant is full, and that is exactly when a waiting space is needed to accommodate the overflow. If your restaurant remains full most of the time, customers will appreciate the waiting space. If your dining room is not full, that space was not so valuable, anyway.

Consider including the following in your waiting area:

  • Benches
  • Reading material, such as newspapers, magazines and books
  • Good reviews and articles about your restaurant posted on the walls
  • A bar area, so people can order drinks as they wait


Whether or not your restaurant needs a waiting area, you should consider including the following near the entryway:

  • Host podium. This is where customers are greeted upon entering, and their name and party number is taken. The host’s podium should be close to the door and waiting area, so customers do not have to search for it.
  • Coat check. During cold winter months, customers may not want to have their cumbersome coats at the table.
  • Merchandise. By displaying your merchandise and gift certificates near your waiting area and cash register, you will encourage customers to view the merchandise, so they can buy it on their way out.        » Learn More about Marketing with Restaurant Merchandise
  • Mints, packaged foods and baked goods. Offering mints and gums, pre-packaged foods and baked goods in a display case near the cash register can encourage impulse buys of packaged sauces, desserts and other foods as customers make their way out.

Server Stations

In larger restaurants, server stations should be strategically placed throughout the dining area, so servers can more quickly meet the needs of the customers. There should be about one server station per three servers. Stations can be stocked with the following:

Hiring a Professional

The above guidelines can help lead you in your design decisions. However, hiring a professional restaurant design consultant or a certified interior designer is never a bad idea. Consult your local phone book to contact interior design consultants in your area. Be sure to ask if they have any experience in restaurant design, and if they have pictures of it in their portfolio. Interior designers who are only qualified for home design may hurt your restaurant more than they help.

Guide your professional designer in the process of designing and decorating your front of the house to ensure that the design is suitable for your market and supports your restaurant’s concept and branding efforts. » Learn more about How to Develop a Brand for Your Restaurant


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