Published June 20, 2022
Restaurant floor plans have always been an important element of the hospitality business. Whether designed to create a unique atmosphere, allow space for table side preparations, or to accommodate large family gatherings, successful restaurants carefully plan their spaces to suit their customers. This has always been the case but is now more important than ever. Where indoor aesthetics and sit-down dining experience used to be at the center of design choices, new service models and opportunities for creative comforts are key challenges impacting restaurant owners’ layout decisions in 2022.
Service models continue to evolve in the restaurant industry. From sit-down dining, to drive-thru, to fast-casual, to curbside and contactless, customers’ changing lifestyles have always pushed restaurants to reconsider and reconstruct what dining can be. The last two years have begged for change, completely reshaping the foodservice industry. As owners look to merge new safety precautions with pre-pandemic dining expectations, there are a few design trends to watch for.
As take-out and to-go orders soared in 2021—with many dining room doors closed for more than a year, if not permanently—kitchen space became the window to the future, leading to what is now known as the blended kitchen. These shared kitchen spaces allow multiple virtual foodservice brands to prepare, cook, package and serve food from the same storefront. With more restaurants exploring the virtual brand model this year, blended kitchens are expected to continue popping up.
In the same vein, restaurants that adapted to the “new normal” via temporary pick-uppickup windows are looking to make to-go a more permanent part of their business. As such, an increase in restaurant floor plans with purposeful pick-uppickup windows—even among restaurants still offering the traditional sit-down experience—is an expected design trend for 2022.
Fast casual service models—and restaurant layouts that suit them—are another design change looking to pick up this year, providing guests with an easy and quick way to order and eat however they choose.
In order to stay afloat the past two years, restaurateurs had to think and act fast. To provide guests a safe, comfortable option, makeshift outdoor dining spaces grew on sidewalks, in parking lots and anywhere else there was room, seemingly overnight. While an outdoor dining room floor plan has been commonplace in specific regions of the country—think of temperate outdoor space in cities like Austin, TX, or Southern California—diners across the U.S. have come to prefer these outdoor options.
What are some of the essentials to create an outdoor service area? Weatherproofing is obviously key—whether through rain or dust or other natural elements, furniture can wear down, especially with a lot of use. Keep your outdoor space lively with weatherproof furniture and fixtures that don’t lose their color—there are a number of plastic materials made to look like fabrics that can really brighten up an outdoor space with little maintenance. Additionally, you may want a heavier table number holder or vase on the table to keep things held down on windier days. Finally, creating a pathway from your kitchen’s expediting area that servers can navigate to your outdoor space is key. Work as best you can within your restaurant’s design, or redesign your restaurant, to allow for the same quick, high quality service you allow indoors. Look for many restaurants to double down and make outdoor dining a permanent part of their new layout in the future.
Even as diners return to dining rooms looking for some semblance of normalcy, comfort levels may linger. As restaurants adjust from the rigidity of carefully placed footprint stickers and face shields to fully seated dinners and welcome smiles, layout and design choices can provide added comforts. For instance, creating restaurant floor plans with intimacy through defined spaces offers both subliminal safety and coziness for diners, while welcoming them back to the pre-pandemic date night of choice. Fine dining restaurants have traditionally focused on this form of restaurant layout, with higher seat backs on booths, slatted wooden screens or carefully crafted alcoves. These are just a few ways to elevate both standard and fine dining rooms to meet guests’ new expectations and old cravings.
Many restaurants and customers alike relied on drive-thrus during the pandemic, so much so that the service model formerly tied to “fast-food” has become an integral part of a broad range of foodservice businesses across the industry. With more drive-thrus cropping up every day, restaurant owners are also taking the liberty of finding new-and-improved ways to use them. Additionally, a number of dine-in restaurants pivoted to curbside during the pandemic, essentially adding the drive-thru model to their existing structure.
While customers aren’t necessarily pulling up and putting in their orders, they can order online or by calling in. The restaurant can process the order either via the online payment or via mobile payment technologies provided by the restaurant’s vendor. In fact, some vendors are able to provide POS technology that allows the restaurant to identify the customer by make/model, car color and license plate. In 2022, everyone can be a drive-thru restaurant. So, whether an owner is building a multiple drive-thru layout with specific uses for each lane (think pre-orders vs. active orders, or pickup only options to keep in-house diners as the priority for a host) or finding a way to keep curbside as an option in their traditional restaurant structure, drive-thrus and curbside service are here to stay.
While new layouts are leading this year’s restaurant design conversations, interior design and aesthetic should not be disregarded. Customers increasingly look to feel safe and comfortable in their dining experiences. Clean, modern aesthetics in the kitchen and dining room, along with cleanliness throughout the restaurant space, and the ability to create outdoor dining spaces are all trends looking to make guests feel at ease as they re-enter tomorrow’s restaurants.
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