The shortlist for this year’s Restaurant & Bar Design Awards has been announced, with hundreds of entries from across the world showcasing the most opulent, innovative and eye-catching dining rooms.
Attempting to discern trends from the vast array of restaurants – of which the UK makes up only a small percentage – can be a daunting task so we caught up with industry veteran and London-based judge Tim Mills, CEO of Novators Hospitality Group.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on restaurant design,” he says. “While it is now fading away, the mindset is still there and we’re seeing more banquette and booth seating that gives people personal space, more outdoor dining, and dedicated motorcycle click-and-collect points.”
He says QR codes have remained popular and many restaurants have augmented their open bars and kitchens with sneeze guards.
Another change in the way restaurateurs go about designing their venues comes down to cost: “Rents and rates in the city are extortionate and the prices of everything are going through the roof, so restaurants are now spending around half of what they used to.
“This requires designers to be far more entrepreneurial – whereas once you would have gone in and bulldozed the place, now you reclaim what you can and tweak it to fit your vision. Consumers often don’t want to walk into somewhere shiny and new. Loyalty to restaurants is key so people don’t always want a refurb to reinvent the wheel.”
He says people like to see details that place a venue in its neighbourhood, a contributing factor to independent restaurants outperforming the big chains.
Spiralling costs have also pushed high-end bars and restaurants further afield: “While we’re still looking predominantly at the West End, we’re seeing trends towards the suburbs,” says Mills.
In terms of pure aesthetics, this year’s entrants tended to opt for softer, warmer colours and textures.
“Dining hasn’t necessarily become more casual but the new generation wants something relaxing – nobody wants to worry about whether they are wearing the right clothes, or if their shoes are expensive enough.”
Mix-and-matched furniture continues this journey away from stuffy formality, and many restaurateurs are using bright art pieces to add character and colour. This doesn’t translate to clutter, however: “A lot of the designs are really about simplicity, at all levels of spend. Simple design lets the food do the talking.”
In terms of colour palettes: “Sandy colours are looking quite popular. The great thing about those colours is they feel cool in the summer and add warmth in the winter so you hit two birds with one stone.”
Sustainability, of course, is a key trend, with restaurants increasingly preferring porcelain and tiling to expensive and environmentally dubious hardwood.
This links to another popular design note: foliage. More restaurants than ever have opted to deck out their dining rooms with greenery, which is both aesthetically pleasing and helps underline the local, sustainable message at the heart of many modern menus.
Art Deco remains hugely popular, although Mills has a word of warning: “We had art deco and our parents had it but I think the next generation of diners won’t want to be a part of that. Eating out used to be an occasion, now it’s mainstream – you don’t want to go into somewhere that feels over the top.”
• To view the full shortlist go to restaurantandbardesignawards.com