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Rethinking themed restaurant design

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By Judy Henderson

We’ve all been to a themed restaurant; perhaps you’ve salivated over smoked beef brisket served by a gentleman resembling John Wayne, or you’ve tucked into moussaka beside a mural depicting Santorini on the Aegean Sea. There’s certainly a place for these kinds of restaurants but as a modern hospitality designer, I tend to shy away. Good restaurant design, in my opinion, doesn’t try to replicate the Wild West or a picturesque Greek island town – instead it evokes an emotional connection to the menu’s origin.

Let’s take Greek, for example. First, forget the wall mural. I’m a modernist, so my approach would be to deliver a modern Greek restaurant using geometric patterns – the key pattern being a classic – associated with Greek art and architecture. I’d consider taking the pattern, scaling it up and using it on the bar. I may even include subtly back lit laser-cut steel.

The cerulean blue and white that makes Santorini so stunning is often used too literally on the ceilings and walls. I’d be inclined to use that colour combination in ways that would surprise – a fabric theme, perhaps? Your choices of tableware can also speak to your theme in subtle ways that leave guests feeling they’ve had an authentic culinary experience.

My process is to first create a mood board – an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc., intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept. Let’s take a BBQ restaurant, for example. Again, perhaps ditch the idea of having your servers wearing Stetsons (they’ll thank you for it). A quick internet search will return pictures of Clint Eastwood and covered wagons, but where I gather inspiration is from the of the colour of the earth, the texture of raw canvas and unfinished wood.

We’re not trying to replicate the frontier; instead we want to evoke the simplicity of American slow-cooked BBQ. I’d use the colours and textures in a modern way, perhaps using the unfinished wood on the walls and the canvas as seat coverings. Look to the architecture of your space to guide you and to further shape your ideas.

One main tip is to evoke, not replicate. As we travel the globe sampling culinary delights, it only takes a few clues to take us back. I need my thali meal served on a metal plate – I don’t need to be staring at a photo of the Taj Mahal as I eat. Have fun with your theme – take inspiration from texture and colour and use your materials in surprising ways.

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