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Top Restaurant Design Mistakes to Avoid, According to Architects & Designers

Retail & Restaurant Facility Business | June 7, 2023



Ambiance and comfort, paired with good food and customer service, are the foundation of a successful restaurant. However, what many do not consider is the important role design plays in creating a dining destination that is thriving — not only does proper design create functionality, but it influences a customer’s overall experience. When designing restaurant spaces, it is important to consider even the smallest design details to avoid hindering project timelines and incurring added costs. Overlooking the following design mistakes can detract from the dining experience that is crucial to the success of a restaurant:

Errors in the floor plan. Mistakes in the overall layout of the restaurant can lead to poor service very quickly. It is important to design the floor plan with the service needs in mind, especially if tableside service or dessert carts are required.

Oversight in functionality. The location of switches, thermostats and fire extinguishers on the dining room floor where customers can accidentally interact with them must be considered. Intentionally designing in details like switch plates, while conceptualizing the interior finishes, elevates the design and so those details do not detract from the overall design.

Placement in lighting and acoustics. These elements are crucial to the dining experience, and any mistakes in those areas will certainly be noticed by the customers. Intentional placement of pendant lighting to align with the tables below needs to be considered as well as the use of acoustic ceiling tiles to reduce noise. These elements help create an enjoyable experience for customers.

Accounting for programming. Often, a space is chosen based on a desirable location and will need to be converted to function as a restaurant. Because of this, the structural capacity may not support the kitchen equipment load. As a result, menus must be reconceptualized to fit the exhaust and burner loads that the space can accommodate.

To prevent these mistakes from happening, we must ask the right questions from the start of the project. By going through the due diligence process, the design team can identify potential challenges and more accurately program the space to be both functional and beautiful.


While unexpected challenges and mistakes are inevitable, it is important to note that all errors can be fixed. This may take time as the restaurant learns how customers are experiencing the space. Small details, important for the customer experience, can be added after the fact once the pain points have been identified. For example, details like dividers near the kitchen door or hooks for bags and coats can alleviate some interruptions in the dining experience and make customers feel that they are taken care of. Additionally, soft openings are a great way to hone the service and see where edits need to be made. They allow the owner to know what the needs are and what details may be missing.


— Kevin Albaugh is a principal, architect and technical director with MBH Architects, while Celso Rivera is a studio director and senior associate with MBH Architects.


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