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.
Furniture as Art
From his vantage point as vice president and director of design for api(+), in Tampa, Florida, Tom Henken sees a resurgence of mid-century modern furniture style. He describes it as “reinterpreted, with a lot of mash-up going on,” in which overstuffed chairs are placed “almost as an art piece in a museum.”
Henken suggests these staged pieces may be traditional in style or ultra-modern, or even add a “reactionary” element. “A large piece of furniture may not be great for turning tables, but it creates a halo effect that sets a mood, giving patrons an environmental brand cue,” he says. “It could be a pair of chairs, maybe a settee, a couple of mid backs, but it’s set there almost as theater.”
The purpose, he says, is to provide a point of difference, and likens the furnishing to something that is used as a centerpiece.
Another popular trend that Henken points to is fusion—a concept readily evident in menus—but also exerting an influence over materials, architecture, and furniture, where design elements are often “reflecting the mixture of cuisine you’re seeing in the new restaurants.”
For instance, he says a prevalence of finger foods portends a transitional dining segment—one that promotes an attitude of: “I’m not here for dinner, I’m just here for drinks.” This type environment begs for small pedestal tables and moveable components that may be repositioned impromptu style to serve groups, creating a flexible space where patrons come together to share and sample food and drink.
“The Green movement is also definitely visible in finishes in the newer restaurants,” he continues, “especially for restaurants that are into a nouveau cuisine that’s off that meat-and-potatoes circuit.”
The Wine Loft also features an open-air patio, a glass wine vault, lounge-style seating, and an illuminated bar that uses programmable LED lighting to change the atmosphere of the restaurant at night.