How Ambiance Initiates The Dining Experience

ambiance dining experience
At Red Rooster Harlem, the pass through creates a unique sensory experience and provides a view of the hearth oven.

Article contributed by Seth Prager, Vice President of Project Solutions, elite|studio e

Think about your favorite place to eat. Maybe it’s a fun place to hang out and watch a TV; or it’s dimly lit space with candles on each mahogany table and a floor to ceiling wine bar that’s perfect for a date; or it’s a coffee bar where you can curl up on big arm chair and read on your own. Each of these destinations serve a purpose and the vibe customers have upon entering is intentional.

“As a design/build firm, we are charged with creating an experience. It doesn’t matter whether we’re working on a work café, a juice bar, a restaurant or a club, we are responsible for taking the desired ambiance and executing it,” said Natalia Rosenthal, Associate Director of Creative Design at elite|studio e.

The hustle and bustle of Red Rooster Harlem in Manhattan, NY, is a great example of an intentional lively ambiance.

According to the restaurant’s website, award-winning celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson envisioned a place where guests could hear live music, both well-known local talent and world renowned voices. When designing the equipment, millwork and kitchen, elite|studio e and the foodservice consultant worked hand-in-hand to ensure it wouldn’t be too noisy, but that an open kitchen was somehow included.

The solution was to build two kitchens, both operating, but with different purposes. On the main floor, the custom hearth oven became a visual focal point from the dining room into the kitchen and the view also provided a pass through for plates. The lower level kitchen is entirely out of sight and used for back of house preparations. The sights and smells of food preparation, along with the music, are all part of the ambiance Red Rooster has to offer.


Another example of intentional ambiance is the restaurant at the AON office building in Chicago, IL.

ambiance dining experience
By playing with the seating layout in your space, you can create different environments for customers to enjoy. At Alexion’s conversion bar, this allowed employees to work and refresh.

Proposed to be on the first floor, the tapas and wine bar planned to be used for business meetings during the day and allow for street traffic during evening hours. Keeping this in mind, the space needed to have a sophisticated feel. The use of dark woods and navy blue convey a sense of nobility, an association that dates back to the British Royal Naval uniforms from the 1700s. Behind the bar, an old library style ladder was incorporated with two purposes – to continue that sense of sophistication and to reach beverages stored on high shelves. In addition, the wine barrel bar and ceiling envelop current trends and provide customers with a sense of authenticity. Using the right décor — materials and colors — is vital to creating the desired atmosphere and a unique environment.

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Lastly, let’s look at how the thoughtful planning of furniture and layout can create a great looking room that provides several functions. Inspired by the speakeasy trends of the 1920s, elite|studio e designed this conversion bar (from coffee to alcohol) for Alexion’s corporate headquarters. The features in this space include a hidden room, multipurpose seating and the opportunity for catering and private parties.

ambiance dining experience
Embracing the traditional speakeasy, the green telephone booth leads to a private dining room and meeting space at Alexion.

When designing a multipurpose space, it’s always important to consider how your layout will affect the ambiance and create the best customer service experience. In this case, the hidden space or speakeasy room, which is located through the phone booth door, was designed for private functions and executive meetings. It allowed for the main space to still be used throughout the day by employees and provided a separate meeting space when necessary. If the speakeasy room wasn’t booked, the phone booth door could be left open providing additional seating.

Continuing the multiple uses of this space, a counter was designed on the wall in both the speakeasy room and main coffee bar. In the renderings, it is displayed with condiments providing daily use, but it has the components necessary to be used as a hot and cold buffet and beverage bar for events.

The largest component to the ambiance in this space, aside from the timely finishes selection, is the furniture layout. Dedicating time to the furniture layout is critical to establishing a configuration that’s both visually engaging and functional.

ambiance dining experience
Creating a sophisticated look for this office building’s wine and tapas bar lead the Creative Design team to select rich colors for all the finishes.

At Alexion, clustering similar furniture types creates a variety of experiences. The variations include soft seating for relaxation, counter seating for those wanting to dine alone or enjoy the experience of drinks being made throughout their visit, bar height seating for groups, booths with dividers allow traditional diners to stay awhile or some privacy for those who wish, and traditional café tables can be pushed together for group seating or enjoyed by as few as two people.

Before beginning the layout and design of any project, the concept and the story behind it need to be established. “The furniture placement, aesthetic and function of your space all work together, they create a flawless experience for your diners and set your space apart from others,” said Rosenthal.