Whether it’s a special occasion or an escape from doing the dishes, dining out today is all about the experience. From the smell of the food to its flavour and origins right through to the lighting and floors, restaurateurs and bar owners are aiming to generate an atmosphere. One reaches their customers at an emotional level. They want to create an experience – something to remember, and something to come back to.
The desire to step away from reality is a driving force behind the latest trends in dining out. With Brexit, Donald Trump, climate change and so many other worrying things going on, comfort, familiarity and a touch of decadence are what designers are looking for when they plan bar and restaurant décor. Menus are going back to home-style classics with a gourmet twist, and it often works to bring the sizzle and the warmth to the fore. Open kitchens, open fires – or perhaps even an open fire pit – all help achieve that sense of homeliness, with the latter chiming perfectly with the current vogue for barbecue flavours.
Comfort and cosiness
Design and décor play off that warm sense of comfort in a wide variety of establishments, but the rustic look so common in recent years isn’t quite right anymore. Instead, simpler and sleeker spaces are doing the trick. Influenced by concepts like ‘hygge’ – the Danish notion of cosiness – designers are looking to minimalist wood panelling, plain but comfortable furnishings and mood lighting, which can be adjusted using a smartphone app. Rich, natural textures mingle well among mild tones in the furnishings and paintwork.
Meanwhile, pubs are looking to the past for their inspiration. Researching the history of the building, then expressing that through the restoration of original features and the right artwork brings further inspiration to the décor. Art Deco or Edwardian, Georgian or Restoration; it’s exciting to create spaces that allow customers to escape into the decadence of the past for an hour or four. In many schemes, wooden panels and flooring will brush aside 21st century realities in décor in order to celebrate a pub’s true heritage without a hipster chalkboard in sight.
Richer colours and textures
The post-industrial look with all those stripped floors, white walls and exposed brickwork is starting to look tired, and is giving way to richer colours and textures, with more focus on nature than ever before. Just as popular gin bars are introducing a variety of fresh botanicals to invigorate their spirits menus, greenery is creating a softer, calmer atmosphere in the bars themselves. With it come natural lighting and textures. High ceilings, craft-inspired fittings and wood or stone floors perfectly complement the introduction of living walls and even water features. It’s the perfect counterpoint to a built environment in which glass, concrete and steel dominate.
Dalloway Terrace, London
Some restaurants and bars are taking that connection to nature even further in their zoning, with continuous indoor/outdoor eating areas. Heated outdoor spaces make this possible even in the colder months. Zoning is becoming ever more sophisticated in general, with walk-in communal eating and drinking areas at the fore, formal dining deeper within, as well as spaces where conversation is facilitated ahead of music or televised sport. Restaurant designers are paying more attention than ever to acoustics through careful choices of flooring alongside crinkled and fluted fabrics as well as patterned wall coverings.
Luxury and a light touch
Lighter and brighter materials and textures are making an impact in the most luxurious restaurants as well. While pubs might be looking to the past, more upmarket destinations want to feel modern, inviting, relaxing and classical all at once. White oak flooring and furniture surfaced with marble in exotic greens and pinks makes a striking change from the darker settings we’re used to at the top end of the market.
From living walls to coloured marble, open fire pits to hygge comfort, the key thing to remember when designing a bar or restaurant is that you’re not looking for inspiration yourself, you’re aiming to inspire the customer. In the era of Instagram visual impact is a crucial part of creating the perfect experience. A Guinness mirror and a neon sign aren’t enough and probably never were. Find something unique for that selfie opportunity and your customers will spread the word for you.