A mash-up in restaurant furniture design is underway, fueled in large part by the Millennial generation’s penchant for sociality. Flexibility is the new watchword in restaurant seating and furnishings have become decidely eclectic and fun. Communal tables, variable table heights, and a riotous assortment of pillows, splashed with lime and pink tones, are definitely in. Uniformity in seating and tables is absolutely yesterday.
Full-serve operators, under the tutelage of a new generation of patrons, are even taking cues from quick-serve restaurants, says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic.
Younger patrons, who are immersed in social media, bring digital devices to the table wherever they go, sharing conversations and viewing digital media simultaneously. This flurry of social interactions at the table is driving design decisions for full-service restaurants, Tristano observes.
It’s all about facilitating social engagement, and Dean Small, founder and managing partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants, in Laguna Niguel, California, says restaurants have turned increasingly to communal tables fitted with a combination of high-top and low-top seating to increase the sociality of the setting.
“Flex seating and the impromptu shoving together of tables and booths create a communal-dining environment that younger patrons want,” says Small.
Melanie Corey-Ferrini, an experienced architect in Seattle, concurs, noting that pairing counter-height and traditional seating adds spice to the restaurant design. Another design tactic that adds visual spice is bringing in local flavor, and Corey-Ferrini sources up to 40 percent of the furnishings in a restaurant from local artisans. “Maybe we’ll have some key lighting opportunities over the entry point—something that’s different,” she says. “So, it’s kind of mixing up those strategic pieces that are unique, but you’re not doing it all over the place. It’s just in those focal areas.”
In one instance, for a multi-store operator who wanted to avoid a cookie-cutter look, she crafted a design where the base architecture was uniform—so the operator did not have to recreate the same design from scratch in every store—yet, the restaurateur could easily incorporate a local selection of art, fixtures, and furniture, creating an eclectic look and feel.