Restaurant Design Trends for 2021

Restaurant design, kitchens, and the dining customer experience has been changing over the past few years and with the COVID pandemic, it may be changing again.

The architects at EMPAD Architecture & Design have been designing both franchise and private owner restaurants over the past 17 years for various types of restaurateurs ranging from small quick service restaurants and drive-thrus to unique concept, full-service elegant dining establishments.  Some trending concepts over the past several years have included more open seating, high ceilings, and exposed structure concepts. These aspects create a modern yet interactive dining experience with a connection to the built environment. In addition, the open and visible cook line kitchens are a new age design so that the patrons can see the preparation of food and the cooking process.  Covered outdoor dining areas are always a great addition to the dining concept as well and we have learned their increased importance this year. 

Some states have their difficulties with outdoor dining due to the varied seasons and temperatures but most can be overcome with the use of covered areas, fans, heaters and a variety of other elements to maintain a pleasant dining experience. Patrons have always cared about the caliber of the food, but now it is as much about the dining experience as it is about the fare. The qualities of the space must complement the menu options to deliver an unforgettable experience. 

Getting Creative with Outdoor Space

One of EMPAD’s local clients is restaurant owner/operator, Chef Chris Ponte.  He has recently opened “Olivia,” a modern Italian restaurant in Tampa, and also owns and runs “On Swann,” an American fare restaurant also located in Tampa.  Ponte and the EMPAD team are currently designing the new location of his latest concept “The Ponte” in the new Midtown area of Tampa.  

We asked Ponte what his thoughts were in regard to recent trends in restaurant design. Ponte said, “I think it would be fair to say that more thought has gone into how we utilize our patio space and how we will think of outdoor dining going forward. As restaurant owners in Florida, patio seating can be seen as a less than desired component to our space specifically in the spring and summer months. With the current climate of the U.S., we are seeing more guests request outdoor seating and as a result, restaurant owners are beginning to work more creatively in how they design their patio space in a way where it can work all year-round.”

In addition to the known changes the pandemic has brought, restaurants have also modified their take-out, pick up, and delivery options.  Drive-thru windows are now becoming essential to many restaurants.  But this has also made restaurant owners re-think the design and flow of the kitchen and food pick up areas within their facilities. The pandemic has also made for a different dining experience for many existing restaurants expanding to available exterior areas for dining tables as much as possible, including courtyards, patios and even parking areas.

Emerging Trends

In a recent project completed by EMPAD in downtown St. Petersburg at the restaurant “Bodega,” an expansive operable glass window was used at the front façade to create an order/pick-up window. This trending concept, especially in dense urban settings where everything is walkable and there are lots of useable outdoor areas, allows patrons to make any nearby outdoor location part of their dining experience. This also allows restaurants, bars, breweries, and other local shops to collaborate and share patrons. Taking this concept one step further, there is also the “Hall Concept." This emerging trend in food and beverage service provides plug and play tenant bays that house multiple small kitchens and service areas and allows the user to sit and enjoy their meal in a common environment. It has evolved the mall food court into an upscale environment that shares all types of restaurants, bars, and craft breweries. This concept provides patrons the opportunity to sample fare from various locations or allow different dietary options for different individuals. 

Another trending concept EMPAD has currently in design is a multi-ghost kitchen concept that can lease individual suite spaces to over 30 different restaurants for food preparation, pick-up and delivery. This is a trending concept that is expanding to every market area which may keep the restaurant business thriving even more than before.