What it takes to design a successful business not only a beautiful space  

This is the second (2 of 4) in a four-part series of articles that make up the restaurant design guide focused on exploring what it takes to design a successful restaurant business not only a beautiful space. In this article I discuss, Design Concept, The Brand, The Layout and Kitchen Design.

Article 1 of 4Article 2 of 4
Various Design Functions
Project Lifespan
The Design Brief

Design Concept 
The Brand 
The Layout 
Kitchen Design
Article 3 of 4Article 4 of 4
Emotional Design
Visual Merchandising, Styling and Art
The 2sqm Experience 
Proper Detailing
Cradle to Cradle (Circular Economy Model / Sustainability)

The Importance of MEP 
Designing with Maintenance in Mind 
Site Conditions 
Designing to Budget and Value Engineering 
Local Codes & Landlord Requirements
Project / Design Management 


Design Concept 

Make sure you have a design concept, not only a combination of design elements that look good together. Aesthetic harmony is crucial to a successful design project, but we are in the business of emotions and experiences. People get connected to a story. You get temporary and transient appreciation and perhaps infatuation when you walk into a place that looks nice. What you are after is a deeper connection with your customers. To put it in today’s social media language. Do not be in the business of likes, be in the business of loves. You want customers to fall in love with your restaurant. People can like something that is aesthetically pleasing but fall in love with a concept and story that connects with them. 

You need to link the design concept to the brand story and make sure all elements are working in harmony to tell that story. From brand, to interiors, to food and the service delivery. 

The Brand 

The brand is a very important element in creating a restaurant. Too often, I have seen branding isolated from the process of interior design. More alarming is when you limit branding to logo, menu and collateral design. It is with great branding strategists and thinkers, that I had the best conversations that led to innovation and commercial success on projects. While I will dedicate a separate article to focus on this vast, exciting, and somewhat divisive topic, I just wanted to highlight the following points in this article. 

restaurant branding elements food business design

Who comes first branding or interiors?

When asked: who comes first brand or interiors? The answer I give is, it depends. In many projects time does not permit one to come before the other and they often get appointed simultaneously. This makes integration and collaboration between the two vital. Idea sharing workshops and exchange of visions can lead to phenomenal results. If the project has the luxury of budget and time, I would suggest the branding experts come on board first for an initial strategy / research scope. 

The Storyline  

Good branding strategists are the ideal storytellers who have their finger on the consumer pulse. They can bring your project to life, and connect it with consumer aspirations. 

Colour Research

This is where you will have a lot of cross over between interior and branding agencies. Spend some time on this stage and embrace the impact colours have on mood and ambience. 


Do not underestimate the influence of this step on the overall success of the business. Just by holding a menu, the customers should know who you are as a restaurant and what to expect. A menu is a sales tool and should be designed to maximise revenues while telling your story at the same time. 

Digital Presence Strategy

In the past, the digital strategy was limited to a static “page layout” and aesthetic direction that was part of the branding package. Things have drastically changed since then. I recommend you focus on this strategy from the beginning. Start with the content building from day one, even during the development stages of the brand. Embark on community building and engagement as early as possible to create intrigue, excitement and anticipation.

Interiors Integration (Environmental Branding)

Some of the best success I have experienced on projects was when the branding team integrated with the interior design component. This is where you can truly emphasise the brand storyline, positively impact ambience, hit the emotional design queues, and resonate with your target audience. You can do this through various applications such as wall graphics and art, upholstery design and patterns, and internal signage installations. 

Consumer Insights and Trends

In my “Business of Food articles” I talk about “know who you are cooking for”. The same is true here. Know who you are designing for. By “know”, I do not mean a typical demographic mapping or categorisation by age sex income etc. Truly understand their behaviour, their aspirations, their interests, their mimicry tendencies, their tribal affiliations. I have found that great branding agencies can help a lot on that front. 

There is an abundance these days of logo design collectives or services that pitch cost effective or even do-it-yourself logos. Branding agencies are not just logo designers, and a brand is not merely a logo. Having a true branding expert on the project can often inject it with life and weave a storyline that connects with the target audience. The sooner you have them on board, the better the outcome. 

The Layout 

It is very difficult to single out the most important design element from the above list, as they are all vital. They all have to come together to produce a space that delivers a memorable experience and functions as a profitable hospitality business. If I were to single out a component that helps transform a space into a business, it would be the layout. That is one reason I include it in the Design Brief document. 

An efficient and well conceived layout can:

  • Enable an efficient work flow 
  • Deliver a comfortable dining experience
  • Maximise financial returns 
  • Attract and accommodate more customers
  • Minimise employee numbers 
  • Increase engagement 
  • Allow operator flexibility 
  • Control mood and ambience 
  • Create energy zones

That layout requires:

  • Multiple iterations and explorations
  • A sequential approach to spatial allocation 
  • Systematic approach from macro to micro
  • Multi-disciplinary input 

This might sound old school for many readers, but my favourite approach is the one that starts on paper. Simple yet effective. Tracing paper roll, and a bunch of coloured pens / markers can do wonders. 

With layouts, size does matterThe advice I give is, the smaller the better. 

Site Measures

We all heard this before, measure twice cut once, in the art of making objects and fitouts. I have come across craftsperson once who had this tattooed on his arm. Same is true with spaces. The first step prior to starting with the layout should always to take and verify accurate site measures. Do not rely on the drawings given to you by landlords. On many occasions, I have seen discrepancies in the actual site conditions that only surface during the initial stages of the fitout period. This can put a huge dent in the project timelines, not to mention the need to adapt designs and sometimes do compromises. The most damage that such discrepancies can cause are in the kitchen where every millimetre counts. Measure twice, design once, and avoid the need to redesign during the fitout period. 

Kitchen Design

The kitchen is the heart and engine of a restaurant. This is such a vast and specialised topic and will require its own dedicated article that tackles all its details. What I will outline here are some broad lessons I gathered over the years. 

kitchen design elements food business design

Space Efficiency

Space efficiency is crucial in any kitchen design. By that, I mean efficiency in:

  • Spatial allocation
  • Flow of people
  • Flow of ingredients
  • The number of employees required to man the kitchen and the various stations
  • Station design. 

One thing I can also say here is that most commercial, large scale project, such as hotels and the likes, can learn a lot from independent operators in efficiency of space utilisation. I believe that the driving factor is the mere fact that every square metre costs money to the independent entrepreneur. They try their best to maximise the utilisation of space and try to maximise the front of house space because to them, this is where they make their revenues. This equation is now changing with the eruption of the digital space, online deliveries, and ghost brands. All these factors need to become part of the dialogue and taken into consideration during the design stages of the kitchen. 

Design Calculations

While larger scale projects can learn from their smaller counterparts on how to maximise the efficiency of space utilisation, independent operators can benefit from benchmarking commercial type kitchens when designing their own spaces.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned early in my career was while working alongside a fantastic kitchen design team out of Germany. We were tasked with designing an industrial kitchen with a daily meal capacity of tens of thousands. This is where I learned how to follow every ingredient in the production process to allow for its movement, storage, preparation and dispatch. The team calculated everything from storage capacities, to equipment, and manning requirements. They based their calculations on recipes and output in terms of the number of meals. At such a large production volume, you cannot afford any bottlenecks. These are principles that can be used when you design independent standalone outlets. Base your design on output calculations and ingredient movements. 

Design Walk-Through/Presentation

Not all chefs can read drawings, nor is it their job to do so. There have been many occasions where I saw chefs walk into newly fitted out kitchens and start requesting changes. Designers stand in front of them stunned, trying to show them a signed drawing as approval, with the chef’s own signature on that drawing. The point here is chefs sometimes need help to visualise the space in 3D. Today, many designers issue 3D drawings of kitchens, which is a plus. To avoid last-minute changes on site, I recommend having walk throughs and holding workshops with the operating team prior to the finalisation of drawings. Which brings me to the next point, flexibility in design. 

Design Flexibility

Flexibility in the proposed design is crucial. No matter how many experts are appointed from day one, and the combined years of experience they all have, no one can fully forecast and visualise the future.Also, every chef has a slightly unique approach to how they like their kitchens set up. Designing for the unknown is always a smart approach and will future proof the operation. 

“By Others”

I jokingly say to project teams I collaborate with that I will open a company one day called “By others”. You read these words on many drawing sets and is often where items fall through the cracks. I would have a lot of business come my way the day I open that company. The point is, there are lines between the kitchen and interiors that sometimes get blurred. Sometimes, the ball gets thrown from one end to the other and ends up falling to the ground with no one picking it up. This could be anything from the kitchen finishes to the integrated front of house counters that have built-in kitchen equipment.  

Kitchen Designer

Finally, I will address who designs the kitchens. Ideally, a specialised independent designer is commissioned who can deliver the best outcome. As with everything else, not all kitchen designers are born equal. I had the pleasure of working with some amazing designers from whom I learned a lot. In other cases, there was a lot of agony and disappointment on the project because of the unprofessional nature of the appointed kitchen designers.

Too often, with standalone independent projects, the design of the kitchen is left in the hands of the supplier. While sometimes the owner/operator has no other options, there could be some conflict of interest in such a scenario. Things such as the brands of equipment specified along with their quantity and quality could sometimes be inflated to increase contract value. Moreover, there could be shortcuts taken while fabricating custom items, if there is no independent third party monitoring their work.  Carefully choose the design partner for the kitchen as they have a powerful impact on the success or failure of a project and the operation post opening. 

Kitchen Design Considerations 

I will leave you with some high-level considerations when designing a kitchen. 

  • Kitchen size 
  • Kitchen location
  • Open kitchen (theatre) or not
  • Employee flow 
  • Customer flow 
  • Ingredients flow 
  • Dispatch (inhouse and delivery)
  • Dirty plate return
  • Storage (dry, temperature controlled, and equipment)
  • Site lines
  • Noise levels
  • Air balancing
  • Food safety 
  • Local authority code 
  • Ceiling height
  • MEP installations 
  • Fire suppression
  • POS provisions
  • Pest proofing 
  • Finishes 
  • Adequate lighting
  • Details 
  • Site access
  • Project timeline (design and implementation)

Continue reading article 3 of 4

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If your enjoyed this article and found it useful then I would recommend you check out the following : 

THE BUSINESS OF FOOD What it takes to turn your food passion into a successful business 

RESTAURANT BUSINESS MODEL The building blocks of setting up and operating a successful restaurant 

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I am keen to hear from you. Listen to your stories, challenges and experiences in the industry. I would also like to know if you found this article useful and whether you had a specific question or subject you wanted me to tackle in the future. Get in touch with me


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