A restaurant is able to offer a wide range of appeal to the senses. The quality of your food appealing to your customer's sense of taste, the delightful smells wafting from the kitchen appealing to your customers sense of smell. But many restaurants fail on appealing to the primary senses, when the customer first enters and looks around to see what kind of place it is. Don't underestimate the design and decor of your establishment; it sticks in the patron's minds a lot longer than you'd think!
Mistake 1: Furnishings that look cheap and tacky.
Within the holy triad of bar, booth and table, it's the tables that are the most vulnerable to looking tacky. Unless you're running a small cafe or deli, the square table on a single pole with four shabby chairs around it just isn't the inviting place to spend time. You don't have to go overboard on the expense; there are bargain table and seating sets that look great. Booths, however, are the best, inviting your guests to relax at their leisure, where they'll be inspired to stay and order desert or a cappuccino.
The best bet is to offer variety in seating. A bar for the business people dashing in for a quick breakfast, tables for the large families with an entourage of children, and booths for the leisure set and intimate couples and friends. Actually sit down in each seating piece, stay seated for a few minutes, and notice how comfortable or not it is. Perhaps your hard chairs are why guests aren't staying beyond the main course?
Lastly, rips and tears in the fabric need to be repaired or the piece needs to be replaced. Don't grumble at the cost of replacing a booth seat; be glad instead. Restaurants that go out of business never live long enough to see their chairs wear out. Duct-tape repairs are inappropriate everywhere but truck stops in the Southern states.
Mistake 2: Bad light.
I've been in restaurants where for all I could tell it used to be a funeral home. Windows, looking out at a hopefully gorgeous view, do wonders to make your environment more inviting. Besides natural light, you will need to think about lighting fixtures. Here, the ideal is bright enough to read by - not just for menus, but for today's single person bringing in a book, newspaper, or paperwork from school and office. But also not too harsh; the lighting should be soft enough to hide blemishes in the face of your sweetheart.
Remember that at some point, the lamp, being the brightest object in the room, will snag the gaze of your patron while they're waiting on their eggs benedict. Try to make sure the lamp fixture is attractive and clean. It seems funny, but even the cleanest restaurants I've seen forget this detail. Nothing like looking up to catch an eyeful of a dusty lampshade with a spiderweb and a few dead moths right over your table.
Mistake 3: Bad carpeting.
Who knows what gets into restaurant owners' heads when it comes time to pick out a carpet design? You see this all the time; an otherwise sensibly decorated establishment whose floor covering sports a pattern not seen since Haight-Ashbury in the late 60s. It is a floor, not a bargain-rack muu-muu. Tiling and linoleum doesn't suffer from this problem like carpeting does. Pick a carpet design that is quiet and muted, while going along with the rest of your business' motif.
Mistake 4: No interior divisions in the seating section.
Even one private room for parties will give you a boost in income, as everybody from family reunions to social clubs and business teams will appreciate having an exclusive area to book for an occasion. Lacking that, even a partition or two or planter boxes work to divide the seating space, helping to drown out the noise and give your guests some other visual stimulation than another chewing person gazing back at them.
Today's restaurant scene no longer has to deal with smoking/ no-smoking sections, as the smokers have now been either ordered outside by law or been badgered out into the fresh air by the disapproving cries of the clean-lunged. But what about other annoyances? The persistent cell phone addict, the crying babies, the cracking baritones, the giddy laughter, and the noisy laptop? You don't have to segregate the space into established zones, but breaking the space up with a few dividers gives guests a chance to pick their own section - even if it isn't officially so.
Mistake 5: The muzak.
Unless it's a bar, music is to be only background noise that fills in the spaces between conversation. It should neither be too loud nor too quiet. Subliminal effect is the key here. It should be present, but almost never noticed. The exception is if you're going for authentic ethnic atmosphere, in which case music of the same nationality as your menu will be part of the sensory canvas. In that case, turn the speaker up one, and only one, unit. With apologies to Spinal Tap, your speakers should most definitely not go to eleven.
Mistake 6: Too cold!
Of course, it's sweltering in the kitchen, and your waitstaff is generating a lot of heat bustling around the tables. But people never like to keep their coat on for dinner. Living-room temperature is best for a restaurant seating section.
Mistake 7: Mis-match decor.
We've all had the experience of entering a restaurant housed in a building that's been through several owners. The ghosts of restaurants past is showing in the odd nooks and crannies. Chinese buffets that used to be IHOPs, waffle houses moving in where a Mexican restaurant moved out, or a liquor store that's been converted into a sidewalk cafe. We all understand that real estate is expensive enough, without quibbling over the fact that the perfect spot to be the future home of your French restaurant just happens to be a knock-out replica of a Turkish mosque.
But do, by all means, strive to remove every trace of the building's former past before you lay on the furnishings for its present incarnation. Ferns and potted palms are not native to a Canadian environment, the charming Bonsai trees in the planter boxes just won't make it in your South American decorating scheme, and that glorious Mediterranean mural is just going to have to be painted over if your steak house is to be taken seriously. A restaurant that looks like you just flew in and set it up gives patrons the chilling feeling that you might be ready to fly out again just after the next Health Department inspection.
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