Whether the best restaurant design is overtly ostentatious or decidedly understated may be an irrelevant consideration. Every design, after all, has its own logic and aesthetic.
What a restaurant wants to create is an experience which pays homage to the city they are in—bringing out an emotional and visceral response—while transporting guests to a unique environment that they don’t want to leave. The interior of any great restaurant is a microcosm of the larger city landscape in which it sits. Restaurants, after all, are the lifeblood of city economics, culture, and social activity; a representation of what each city has to offer.
The ambiance and environment of restaurant design will always affect the guest’s perception of attentiveness. The more comfortable guests are the more time and money they’re likely to spend. And, maybe most importantly, it’s the determining factor if they decide to come back.
Many of the restaurants rated in the top 15 lists for design do exactly this: bring out the best of the city they’re in.
Below on the right is a preliminary look—with six months of data collected—at the 2018 restaurant design ratings for New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Renzell is in eleven cities around the country—each with its own culture, aesthetic sensibility, and unique restaurant scene. In examining the Renzell data, we have found that the restaurants that reflect their city in their architecture and design excel in the design ratings. We spoke with a few restaurants in Chicago—Fulton Market Kitchen (#10), Brindille (#15), and Dusek’s Board & Beer (#13)—and Del Posto (#2) in New York about embodying their respective cities into their design.
At Fulton Market Kitchen, the restaurant is more than simply a dining establishment. The entire space serves as a “showroom for cutting-edge design and living,” points out Daniel Alonso, the proprietor of Fulton Market Kitchen. Each week a local artist takes over the space as studio and gallery for a revolving art exhibit that aligns with the galleries and boutiques that make up the neighborhood. “Fulton Market Kitchen is a portal of collective creativity, integrating various art mediums and styles with imaginative cocktails and cuisine to create a new experience for Chicago’s evolving culture.”
For others, it’s all about the architecture. The team at Brindille—owners (and cousins) Carrie and Michael Nahabedian and architect (and Michael’s brother) Tom—are all life-long Chicagoans and “inherently influenced by our surroundings and the beauty of the city,” explained Tom. And that inspiration paid off: Brindille, and Tom, won a James Beard Award for design a few years back for a space that is “like being transported into a thrilling urban novel set in Paris during La Belle Époque, by way of Chicago today.”
Other times the architecture comes to you, as with Dusek’s Board & Beer, which embodies not only the city but the historical architecture of the 19th century Pilsen Hall. Dusek’s has preserved many of the design elements of the original building, including the stained-glass windows. According to Bruce Finkelman, the managing partner at 16″ on Center, the idea was to have “the historical feel of walking into a place from long ago. The building embraces all of the changes and struggles the city was going through at the time.”
And for New York’s Del Posto, the feeling of timelessness is key, says GM Jeff Katz: “Like much of this historic city, Del Posto was designed to feel as if it had always existed—classic and storied—even on the day it had just opened.”
The goal for Del Posto, or any of the establishments working to make their restaurant design evoke a sense of place, is for “guests to understand, immediately upon entering, that they are in for more than just dinner.” As Tom Nahabedian pointed out, the hope is for the guest to recognize “not only the quality of the design and its ability to transport them, but also how symbolic it is with the entire dining experience.”
New Yorker’s are used to close quarters but we appreciate our elbow room, too. The luxury of stepping into a big room—think Eleven Madison Park (#1), Daniel (#3), and Jean-Georges (#6)—is often matched with perfect table spacing. (We once witnessed the service staff at Perry St. lining up tables with rulers and string before service began.) All three of these restaurants score in the top five for how “appropriate the spacing of the tables was to the format of the restaurant,” as well as “overall layout of the restaurant.” So stretch out a little.
We’re, ahem, a little sheepish about bathroom talk, but there’s no doubt that a clean and elegant bathroom goes a long way in improving guest experience. Restaurants in Chicago, such as Grace (#2), Alinea (#3), The Boarding House (#7), and NoMI (#8), excel across the board in the design category, but they are leaps and bounds above the competition in “quality of the restroom (design, cleanliness, accessibility).” Everyone’s got to go at some point.
The eclectic nature of San Francisco can be seen in the range of restaurants which score well in design. From the indie-cinema vibe of Foreign Cinema (#6) to the more refined Coi (#12), it can be difficult to find a through thru line of what defines the San Francisco aesthetic. But everyone appreciates a comfy place to sit—it may, in fact, be the number one restaurant complaint across the board—and Quince, Greens, Spruce, and Prospect, drive their design scores with high ratings in “comfort of seats.” Take a load off.