One of L.A's most iconic restaurant designers tells us how to design your restaurant so that guests feel welcome and comfortable
As our online interactions expand, people are yearning for a sense of community and connection. According to Lee Igel, assistant professor at New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, “millennials are oriented toward teamwork, groups, and community.” Many people are searching for spaces that evoke a sense of camaraderie and community, and what better place to that than in a restaurant, where large groups of people gather to fill their bellies.
Restaurants are the ideal hub for community members to congregate and the design of a restaurant is a massive element in making the space feel welcoming and warm. Evoking a sense of familiarity is so important in design that even big chains changing approach, “What is different now from what we used to do is we are breaking away from a one-size-fits-all model and going to more flexibility, more variations, to end up with a more curated approach, Deborah Brand, Taco Bell’s vice president of development and design in a recent Curbed article.
So, how exactly do you evoke a sense of community in your restaurants design? We talked to one of Los Angeles’ most revered designers, Stephen Francis Jones, to find out. Jones is famous for designing some of the most iconic restaurants in L.A, including: Spago, La Brea Bakery and Bar Fly. He’s also known for his work internationally, but most importantly, he’s known for understanding every surrounding he works in and respecting the unique culture of every corner he comes across.
Why do you think restaurants are such an important hub of community?
Food is the one thing that everyone has to do and restaurants are one of the few “third spaces” we have in our lives. Restaurant spaces when created with community in mind, can be merged with other social spaces such as office spaces and co-working spaces. More and more the way we conceptualize what these spaces are, we can blur the lines and make it possible for people to achieve a balance of work and connection
How do we infuse community into design in our restaurants?
It starts with the developer and the attitude of the project, when you design a restaurant with the community in mind, you must try to understand and inherit the history of the area. What I’m seeing more is that cities are wanting to draw in the type of the restaurateurs that are part of the fabric of the community and they are discouraging big chains to gobble up all the best spaces. Developers, city planners and the local government must feel a sense of responsibility to create entry level restaurant opportunities. This can be done if developers and cities team up.
What is the relationship between this trend of seeing more and more tiny restaurants and communal spaces?
Tiny restaurants and communities of many tiny restaurants are providing more spaces that are attractive to people. They are not just restaurant spaces, but community centers that people want to come to. Grouping many different tiny restaurants around a central space is something that we are seeing more and more in cities. For example, the Steel Craft project in Long Beach. It’s a city and developer partnership that has allowed a lower entry level, for those who have the talent and passion to start a food business, but don’t necessarily have the capital. The community centric space is surrounded with a number of tiny restaurants that are made from shipping containers. These spaces bring together food, music and events so that communities have a place to meet and to feel a sense of connection
If you want to start a restaurant project that involves the community or attracts the community, what should you do?
- Be active in your community and let your community leaders know there is a demand for more community oriented spaces.
Have a good broker who knows what is going on, your architect can become a connector between restaurateurs and developers
What are some things to look out for if you’re interested in designing a restaurant you can duplicate?
When we come up a design for a restaurant we always add memorable design elements that would be translated from one space to another without needing a certain configuration. That way you can build continuity in different spaces if you choose to build new locations.
What are the most important tips to creating design that is unique to your restaurant?
First and foremost your concept and menu have to be strong. Is your concept recognizable? Does it standout. Then your design has to reflect your concept, while staying functional.
What is the most important question to ask yourself when designing your restaurant?
Decide if your concept is feminine or masculine and take it from there.
You have a lot of impressive projects under your belt, which ones were your favorite?
I love all my projects, but MB Post was especially close to my heart because it’s the community that I live in so I had the opportunity to design the place that I dearly love and create the space so it is part of the fabric of the community.