Beyond COVID-19: How the pandemic will shape restaurant design

As the pandemic continues, there is a change in how we live our lives in all aspects. It is commonly referred to as the “new-normal”.  With this restaurant/bar concept we focus on a rooftop design, as outdoor spaces are proven to be safer in preventing virus spread. Could this be the “new-normal” in restaurant design?

Floorplan of restaurant

RESTAURANT / BAR

This floor plan depicts our Room-within-a-Room™ philosophy, which is critical today, not only for social distancing but for the security and safety of the guests and staff. As you walk through the space, you can see the fiancée meeting the parents of the bride for the first time; a group of guys getting together in a room to play games and watch sports; the book club that meets every month; family gatherings; the couple out for a date; the single business travelers wanting a drink while catching up on emails and the happy bar fly wanting to socialize with others.

Rendering of bar with rectangular counter in centre of the space with hanging storage overhead.

The bar limits direct contact between the bartender and patron with a deeper counter surface and a conveyor system behind Plexiglas. When the drink arrives at the allocated seat, the small glass panel will retract into the bar and redeploy once the drink is safely in the hands of the thirsty customer. To separate the bar guests, there is a glass divider panel between each grouping of two people. The dividers can be lowered to allow groups of three to four to sit together. In addition, the glass will be digitally interactive where menu items can be ordered, and where weather, sports and the latest news can be viewed. 

Throughout the restaurant, individual booths give off a sense of being ensconced in a comfortable cocoon with full wall surrounds, a Hepa filter cleaning the air inside. These booths are popular as they add privacy and an air of exclusivity.

The Room-within-a-Room™ concept works well as the world slowly transitions to the “new normal”. It offers customers the comfort and security needed to enjoy a night or day out from isolation. Also it provides instant recognition by the guest that these individual spaces distance them from other guests, making it feel safe to enter. To top it off, it has multiple unique pockets of interest that creates a fun roof top bar drawing people to this hot spot.

9 tips for Resilient Restaurants

2020 has taught us all a lot of tough lessons—even ones we couldn’t have possibly prepared for. When it comes to restaurant owners, one of the biggest takeaways from 2020 is the importance of having the flexibility to adapt to situations as they arise. Many restaurants throughout the industry have shown a great ability to do exactly this by incorporating resilient design into their restaurant layouts. During a time that has made it tough for even the most stable businesses to stay afloat, restaurants have surprised us all with their creativity and drive. And in return, communities have come together to help support these businesses.

Over the past year we’ve seen restaurants adapt in order to succeed, by doing things like:

  • Switching to a delivery/takeout-centric model.
  • Creating outdoor dining spaces
  • Making changes to their interior design to meet guidelines and promote safety
  • Finding creative ways to sustain their revenues and business
  • In this post, we outline some restaurant interior design tips that will help you create a beautiful space, while still giving the flexibility to adapt and change depending on what’s thrown your way.

1) Create flexible seating & displays

This one is pretty standard, so it’s likely you’re already doing this if your restaurant layout allows for it! A great way to create a resilient interior design for your restaurant is to incorporate flexible seating and displays. The need for this flexibility has been highlighted more than usual with social distancing being a requirement in restaurants and commercial spaces for the foreseeable future, however, it’s important to make sure this is a part of your restaurant’s design at all times.

Flexible seating options of four top tables and bar seating in a bright, plant-filled space.

When design is done well it should have the flexibility to change and adapt to accommodate whatever new situations arise.

2) Make designated areas for takeout and delivery

Image of exterior cafe takeout window open with a white fabric awning above.
Source: Katrín Björk domino.com

With takeout and delivery currently on the rise, the restaurant industry is seeing the importance of having a designated area for the pickup of these types of orders. Yes, this will help with the current need for social distancing, but that’s not all—this is a form of resilient design that is applicable at all times. It can help to reduce crowding at the front of your restaurant while people wait for their orders, and it also makes for an overall better experience for your patient customers.

If your restaurant layout allows for it, one of the best options is creating an actual take-out window like the one pictured. Turn a regular window into a space where people can easily pick up their online orders or make a quick purchase as they’re passing by. It can even be used by outdoor diners as a spot to place orders to speed up the ordering process.

3) Make use of moveable partitions or moveable glass dividers

The use of moveable glass dividers is a great way to ensure social distancing and give peace of mind to both customers and employees of the restaurant. They give a clear separation between diners without making them feel boxed in. The ability to move these glass walls /partitions is key as it will allow for flexibility—if tables need to be pushed together to seat a large family, the barriers can be moved to fit around the new seating arrangement. A great way to achieve this flexibility is to install tracks or wheels at the bottom of the glass dividers for ease of movement.

Glass divider partitions in a retail space.
Source: Satkartar Glass

And who says partitions or dividers need to be boring? For example, you can be creative by using fluted or reeded glass to create more of an architectural statement. In addition to being beautiful, these glass partitions create privacy for diners while still giving a more open feeling by allowing light in.

4) Be creative with your restaurant’s empty space

Implementing social distancing in your restaurant doesn’t have to be boring. Try doing something interesting instead of simply having six feet of empty space between tables. This can be as simple as putting a plant or a prop in between tables, or something more out of the box such as having mannequins seated in between. If you’re looking for more creative ideas and strategies for your space, hiring an interior designer will definitely help! Just look at this fun and super cute example of restaurant Maison Saigon and their stuffed pandas.

5) Add a display for impulse buy items at the entrance/waiting area

Shelves of take home items and prepared food in a restaurant.

With limitations on the amount of people allowed in a restaurant at a given time, along with the increasing amount of people resorting to takeout, it’s likely that people will be waiting at the entrance of your restaurant for longer than usual. Why not take advantage of this by creating a display to show impulse items such as take home meal kits or sauces, gift cards, branded merchandise, home and kitchen goods, snacks or treats.

If you’re looking for more creative ideas and strategies for your space, hiring an interior designer will definitely help! The ideas are endless and you can really have fun with this one.

6) Hand out free samples or coffee for those waiting in line

We’ve all experienced this before—the waiting game for one of our favourite restaurants. With capacity restrictions and social distancing in place, many restaurants, coffee shops, boulangeries and alike are experiencing long wait times. One way to keep those loyal customers in line is to hand out free samples.

Heck, you can even offer your restaurant guests a cup of coffee or tea while they wait outside—this will be especially appreciated during Toronto’s cold winters! Not only does this help them enjoy their time in line, but it also may assist in line drop off (keeping people around for longer than they’d usually like to wait).

7) Utilize social media to get traffic to your store

Hand holding iPhone about to take image of food.
Source: Paprica Burgers in Brazil

Social media is often where people go to learn more about your business. Well, that, and Google. One way to draw more foot traffic to your restaurant is by hosting flash deals, giveaways, and even fun window display shows or activities. For example, you can say the first 15 people at your restaurant on a given day will get something free. This can also help to spread the word about your business, grow your social media presence, and in turn increase your profits.

8) Infuse touches of the story around the store

Unless you’re a local mom and pop shop that has already grown roots in your community, most restaurants need to stand out with their interior design. This doesn’t mean every restaurant needs to have wacky colors on the walls, but it does mean that your interior design should be intentional and reflect your unique brand.

Remember, the design of your restaurant has to tell a compelling story. The best way to improve your restaurant’s interior is by infusing your story into the various elements, finishes, spaces and create moments of awe.

9) Provide pods or dedicated zones for “private” nooks

Dining booths with small laters and bench seating.
Source: Restaurant Fabbrica in Bergen

A great solution for implementing social distancing in a restaurant setting is to provide pods, or create “private” nooks for diners to eat. Not only will this separate diners from one another to help stop the spread but it will also provide a more intimate dining experience for them to enjoy. Yes, creating pods, or “private” nooks can help with the current need for social distancing, but this type of resilient design is beneficial in many other ways as well. This type of seating is a great way to create some privacy, and promote a more intimate dining experience. Below is obviously an exaggerated example of what pods can look like in a restaurant, but you can still have fun with your layout to make it feel more safe and cozy for your visitors.

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, but Covid-19 has been especially difficult on the restaurant industry. Through all this, one thing that has been amazing to see is the resiliency that restaurant owners and workers have shown, and their ability to adapt to a difficult situation.

By incorporating some of the above tips into your restaurant’s interior design, you’ll be able to safely welcome restaurant-goers in style, no matter what life throws at you. If you’re based in the Toronto GTA and are looking for some restaurant design assistance, we’re here to help!

Sansa Interiors was born out of a passion to create spaces that are comfortable, functional, and inspiring. We take a holistic approach, which enables us to study and explore each interior space differently. Every client is unique, and every design should be unique, too. If you’re interested in learning more, send me a message, and let’s find a way to help improve your space.

Nothing strange about the design for this java joint

Strange Love Coffee is a growing Toronto-based coffee shop focusing on providing a unique coffee experience by utilizing specialized treated water and one of a kind roasts which are hand picked by a Coffee Sommelier. The intent was to create a space that communicates Strange Love’s obsession with quality coffee experiences in a setting that helps drive revenue. Our client leased a humble corner in a busy section of Toronto’s PATH Network, off the main corridor sandwiched between dental offices. 

Interior Designer: Tatiana Soldatova, ARIDO
Design Firm: Syllable Inc. 
Photographer: Revelateur Studio

The site was awkwardly shaped and hidden from view to the people passing by during their busy commutes to and from work. The two key challenges were to fit a complex coffee production program within a triangular 275 square foot space, as well as drive passerby attention to an easily overlooked spot. We were required to integrate a 26’ counter space into an 8’ storefront where five staff would seamlessly produce 1,500 coffees per week. We chose not to fight the existing site and insert a traditional linear counter. Instead, the team used the shape of the site to inform the design. 

The counter follows the main feature wall and bends inward to extend counter space –this approach maximizes linear workspace and, functionally, breaks apart the baristas from cashiers while creating additional space for patrons to order. The cafe’s production line was carefully studied and barista equipment was arranged to minimize travel and movement for all staff. This counter was also mounted on hidden wheels to allow easy access for workers. 

The second challenge was drawing customers, corporate professionals with stressful jobs, to the cafe. Located below a main staircase with a staid wall, it’s easy for potential patrons to miss. 

Our team diligently built a positive relationship with the landlord to convince them to permit a floor-to-ceiling sign by the staircase wall to entice patrons. A loud and inviting custom wallpaper adorned with tropical plants introduced a biophilic experience into a small space with a restricted budget, and Strange Love Coffee became a tropical retreat within the PATH.  

As a sophisticated re-engineered mineral water is one of the secret ingredients behind Strange Love Coffee’s award winning recipe, we celebrated the filtration system by creating an illuminated display that showcases the raw industrial beauty of the system itself. 

The shop has a weekly rotation of custom roasted coffee, which is placed at the front counter where the Baristas can proudly introduce the different roasts. Additional products on open display atop custom wood shelving with brass hardware are available for purchase.

From the bold material finishes, a flexible counter which snakes through the awkward site, water filtration and produce showcases, we created a space that puts the client’s story on display and entices passersby to stop and smell the roasts.

Flexibility is the key at this museum restaurant

Open for lunch service, the existing restaurant at the Gardiner Museum was relatively unknown, attracting mostly elderly patrons. Upon entry, spectacular city views were overshadowed by a cold, uninviting aesthetic, and the narrative of Canada’s National Museum of Ceramics was lost. Many people knew the space for its quality event service; with the ability to clear the space and create a spectacular setup for events with off-site rentals.

Interior Designer: Dyonne Fashina, ARIDO
Design Firm: Denizens of Design
Photographer: Larissa Issler

The new restaurant partner – The Food Dudes – provided a clear mandate – create a space that can easily convert between daytime restaurant service and evening events, and engage a new demographic while keeping the existing patronage happy.

Our goal was to provide the flexibility of multi-purpose with the aesthetic of a fixed-in-place restaurant.

The new design reconnects the space to the Museum’s focus while paying respect to the building’s architectural features. This meaningful concept influenced all aspects of the restaurant from the food and plating, to the branding and name. Clay itself is at the root of every detail, with inspiration taken from its properties and the process of clay making.

The minerals of clay tell the colour story, with rich terracotta hues, stoneware neutrals, and vibrant porcelain whites. Turned wood furniture and organic forms make subtle reference to the artifacts and tooling typically found inside a ceramist’s studio. 

Man serving wine behing a modern looking bar

Perhaps the most compelling addition is the custom bar. The front bar is clad entirely in durable commercial grade porcelain slabs, while the back bar integrates display opportunities to further extend the museum’s shop offerings – both a sales tool and an aesthetic choice. Smart planning decisions were implemented to create an optimal layout for the restaurant that could easily adapt to events. Modularity and compactness were key considerations due to the strict one-hour conversion timeframe. Existing storage was limited so locking storage solutions were integrated into the bar millwork.

Furniture and custom elements were strategically selected for optimization of storage space and efficiency of the teardown process. Folding dividers and mobile planters act to provide privacy and delineation within the space without the permanence of fixed partitions. Soft seating in vibrant hues define the bar/lounge area, while a more muted palette is used in the open dining area. 

All chairs stack on dollies, tables are flip-top with nesting legs, and the host and services stations are mobile on casters. These pieces adapt well for use during cocktail parties, lectures, and wedding receptions. It was important to have the functionality of multipurpose furniture, without the mundane aesthetic. The end result is a remarkably versatile space that does not compromise on design.

Village markets serve as inspiration for this modern juice shop

Village Juicery is a Toronto-based producer and distributor of raw, 100% organic cold-pressed juice and related plant-based food and beverage products. With five existing street-front locations throughout the city, Village Juicery has established a customer focused and community-driven reputation, with an emphasis on education supported by registered nutritionists.

Interior Designer: Ashley Rumsey, ARIDO; Stanley Sun, ARIDO

Design Firm: Mason Studio

Photographer: Scott Norsworthy

In their new location in Yorkdale Shopping Centre, the first to leave the streetscape, the space required the same atmosphere and brand experience as other locations, while meeting the demands of a high-volume store.

In their previous stores around Toronto, specific finishes and details have become markers of Village Juicery’s interior environments. Humble materials including naturally oiled wood, soapstone and repurposed industrial materials reference the raw and unprocessed nature of the products. The design team set out to maintain this established palette while incorporating new materials to meet higher standards for durability and maintenance.

Terracotta chimney flue liners clad the bar face and merchandise shelving, adding warmth and natural tones to the space, while the integrity of solid maple wood and natural soapstone are brought together with thoughtful joinery techniques to reflect the purity of the products.

A textured porcelain tile covers the wall surfaces, emulating corrugated metal and provides the refinement and durability that the site requires. Using village markets and exterior environments as inspiration, the floors are a natural slate stone in moss green to compliment the rich terracotta and maple wood tones. This interior/exterior environment is further emphasized by the awning that clads the exterior facade of the shop front.

Interior design is key to expressing the brand experience

The design for Picnic Food’s first street-front shop had to reference previous iterations, in subterranean concourses, in a refreshed experience.

Interior Designers: Ashley Rumsey, ARIDO; Stanley Sun, ARIDO

Design Firm: Mason Studio

Design Team: Marti Hawkins, Intern ARIDO

With more expansion in mind, an adaptable design needed features that would be both easily replicable as well as physically identifiable as key symbols of the brand experience. Repeated linear woven wood textures recall textiles commonly associated with picnics and become an iconic design element for future locations. The communal dining table returns on a trestle base while the lime and watermelon brand colours are present via with greenery in terracotta pots.