When a chef decides to open a restaurant, serious thought goes into developing the concept, perfecting the restaurant design, and crafting the perfect menu. It's important for the design of the space to give diners insight into what they can expect from their experience at the restaurant. A recent trend in design is to closely match restaurant decor with the type of cuisine that's served. This approach, when successful, can really transport patrons to another time or place. However, restaurateurs must plot out how to do this carefully in order to avoid coming off as inauthentic or even hokey. Here are a few restaurants that have successfully been able to align their design with the cuisine they serve.
Take one step into this quaint house and you'll quickly be transported out of the Midwest and into the South. Owner Charlie McKenna, along with executive chef Tony Quartaro, created a menu of upscale Southern cuisine—think cornmeal dumplings, buttermilk biscuits, and shrimp middlins beautifully plated alongside stellar cocktails. But perhaps what ties the restaurant all together is the impeccable design. "We chose the space itself since it emulates a charming house—as though you were transported to Greenville, South Carolina where I'm from," says McKenna. "The design embodies Southern architecture with many nods to the culture and traditions. I think diners want to feel completely immersed in the experience, and that includes everything from the cuisine to the design, lighting, music, and service." He adds that it's important that each detail is thoughtfully executed.
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry is one of the most renowned tiki experts, so when he decided to open his own bar and restaurant in New Orleans that focused on tiki drinks, he knew that the food had to be playful and the restaurant design had to be laid-back and feel like an escape. The result is a space filled with tiki poles, colorful lanterns, and relics from tiki bars across the world. The menu boasts a Polynesian-inspired menu, as well as Portuguese sardines, Filipino-style egg rolls, and a dumpling burger.
A recent addition to Chicago's bustling restaurant row, this Chinese-American dual-concept spot (restaurant on the lower level with a bar above) is a dramatic and sophisticated take on Chinese decor. "One of the biggest appeals of opening Won Fun and 2Fun Chinese was the decor possibilities," says owner Austin Baker. "Classic movies like Raise the Red Lantern inspired me to match the decor to the cuisine, and it was a lot of fun designing a restaurant with an open kitchen with two woks," he adds. "It has 280 red lanterns and red leather booths that make the space glow—you know it's a Chinese restaurant just from the way it looks."
These three examples are just a subset of what can be done if your goal is to match your restaurant design to the cuisine you offer. For a barbecue spot, it can be as simple as incorporating rustic decor, picnic benches, and reclaimed wood, and for an Italian restaurant, you can display old photographs from Italy alongside salumi, wine, and olives. The possibilities with this trend are endless, and you can customize your design to fit within your budget.