Restaurants walk a delicate line between art and craft. The symbiotic relationship between function and aesthetic is equally as delicate. In a restaurant, what is functional is not always the most beautiful option, and the greatest challenge for owners and the designers they work with is to find the balance between the two. Often, both sides can have misaligned views of a space…
Designers want beautiful (because it’s their name and reputation); owners want cost effective (because it’s their money). Personally, I want simplicity. Over-designed spaces feel forced, just like over-thought dishes at restaurants. The process should be fluid and organic. If it feels forced, the end result will as well. In order to avoid that, both sides must understand not just the goals of the space as a whole but also how to communicate them with each other.
Below, I’ve outlined some of the most important points on my table to attain that handshake over.
Storage is Ugly
But it’s also gold. Creative use of space is the key to success in restaurants. Anything that is decorative but also functional is key: a hutch or credenza with extra drawers; storage inside of banquettes; wall panels with cabinets behind; even using stored items as decorative items. At Dialogue, we used our window boxes to store our house made vinegars. We purchased matching bottles with consistent labels and used those as a functional decoration, turning our window shelving into part of our dry storage.
One of the biggest struggles for chefs in designing a dining room is relating the actual space to drawings. Three feet on a drawing can seem like a mile, so it’s important to understand the real-life feeling of a space. That’s where we need your help.
Make physical mockups of everything: fake tables to make sure service pieces fit; tape off bar areas to make sure there is room to move. We have even gone as far as taping off the entire restaurant when empty, just to see if it has the right feeling. Understanding how to move in a space is key and working with the designer to understand the traffic flow will save everyone in the long run. It’s easier to move tape than it is to rearrange a finished restaurant.
Live in the Space
One of the most difficult things in designing a new restaurant is understanding what it wants to be. It’s easy to look through pictures, concepts, drawings and check items off. Just because a lamp is beautiful, doesn’t mean it’s right for the project. It’s so important to spend as much time in the actual building as possible, to develop a relationship with the interior, and truly understand the feeling of the space as well as how it relates to the concept. Things typically tell you what they want to be or where they want to live, you just have to listen.
Understanding purpose and function of a space may sound simple and redundant, but it’s probably one of the most important things a chef and designer can consider. Remember to keep it front of mind. The space will have a lot of influence on what occurs within.
For example, we often use the analogy of a movie vs. a play when talking about a restaurant. In a movie, everything matters. If we are shooting a scene in a library, we have to consider what books are on the shelf, what the carpet looks like, the lamps on the tables off to the corner, etc. In a play set, that same library scene can simply be a table, a chair, a lamp, and a bookshelf. With a dim background, the mind of the audience will fill in the blanks.
Is the restaurant space a play or a movie? Where is the energy coming from? What is the focal point, and how does the space interact with the service and the food? It’s a tricky balance. When the food is very aggressive, a softer, more sparse and comforting dining room can balance the feeling of the overall experience. Understanding that relationship will help the designer to create something more fitting.
Chef Dave Beran worked his way up the ranks in some of the best kitchens in Chicago from Tru to Alinea, before opening Next as executive chef in 2011 (which won a James Beard award for Best New Restaurant in America under his leadership). Since then, Beran has researched, developed, and executed fifteen distinctive menus exploring cuisine from around the world, fourteen of which have received the highest 4-Star rating from the Chicago Tribune. He’s been nominated three times for James Beard awards, ultimately winning Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2014 and was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine that same year. In 2016, Beran bid Chicago farewell and the following year opened Dialogue Restaurant in Santa Monica, an intimate 18-seat open kitchen restaurant that tells a story through a tasting menu. Guests are immersed in an experience that plays to multiple senses and emotions. He’ll be speaking on the New Rules for Client-Focused Narratives panel at BDwest, 1:15-2:15, Wednesday March 13. For the full session description and conference agenda, click here.