Monday, August 4, 2008

Our New Jingle

Just a quick :10 second commercial spot to promote our catchy new jingle for our other website, It kinda sticks in your head, so beware!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Size Matters

A caveat of good design, "When working in a large space, the introduction a few large, select pieces, are always better than filling a large space with small pieces". This becomes even more evident in the large space of a restaurant. Unlike residential design, where the separate areas serve distinctly different purposes, the common guest areas of a restaurant should share a cohesive unity.
Visual comfort, puts the guest at ease, producing a state of relaxation that sets the tone for the dining experience to follow. In a large space, design should seek balance. Common areas should exhibit an equal sense of importance and comfort.
Upon entering the restaurant, the guest, (with the exception of a smoking area), should not feel the need to request one area of the dining room as more desirable than another. The room, regardless it's size should appear as a singular area.
Utilizing larger artwork on walls, large lighting arrays and reoccurring motifs, gives the observer a sense of spacial openness, which in turn adds to the aire of comfort. If a guest can appreciate the visual touches from across the room as easily as from where they are seated, they are, in effect, sitting everywhere. Each and every seat is the best seat in the house.

These design decisions should be made early on during the initial design process. enabling the electrician to provide necessary connections for larger lighting arrays and proper illumination of the larger art pieces. I have experienced, time after time, restaurants that missed the importance of these simple design tips, instead, considering the process as a simple matter of decoration, and then attempt to fill the large area as an afterthought, the overall look being cluttered, disjointed and confusing. Not an environment for a pleasurable dining experience.
Great design considers all at once, all as one. From the eye of the viewer, inside looking out, as well as the view from the outside looking in. When all variables are considered, there can never be the unfortunate outcome of afterthought.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Rule of Numbers

I have found with many first time restaurant clients, that they have very grandiose yet impractical ideas about how much seating they will have, when opening their new restaurant. There are several constants that should always be taken into consideration early on, when designing a dining area.
For the sake of example, let's look at a fictitious project, now in the state of an empty box. Logic tells us, the more seats we have, the more guests we can seat, the more money we can make per seating turnover. Well let's add these variables into the equation.
1. The more seats you have filled, the larger the kitchen needed to serve the guests.
2. The larger the kitchen space the smaller the dining room can be.
3. The larger the kitchen, the larger the kitchen and waitress staff.
4. The larger the general staff, the more parking space needed.
5. The more of the parking space used by staff, the less parking space available for guests.
6. The more guests and staff combined, the more restroom facilities will be needed.
7. The more restroom space created, the smaller the dining area can be.

These are all critical considerations that need to be balanced early on, before beginning any thought to table placement.
Let's take a more critical look at variable #7. A.D.A. restrooms, (American Disabilities Act) requires a larger entryway with a minimum of 5'-0" turning radius for wheelchair users. This makes a rather large overall difference in the size of what was once a standard restroom. If not taken into consideration, plan on subtracting an additional 150sq' from your dining floorspace.
Having subtracted for kitchen and Restroom space, the following are additional areas that will determine the actual space available for seating.

1. When laying out tables, a minimum of 3'-0" space needs to be allotted between the seat backs of one table to the seat backs of the adjoining tables. This loss of space can be minimized by placing rows of tables on the bias, or in a diamond configuration.

2. A minimum of 4'-0" is recommended between rows of tables to accommodate not only your food laden waitstaff, but also the movement of guests.

3. One or more waitress stations, depending on the size of the restaurant, will be needed to provide for the needs of seated guests. Providing coffee, tea, soft drinks, water, additional flatware, napkins and the like. these areas need to be close enough to the guests for the server to anticipate the guests needs, but creatively cloaked, as not to be a visual distraction.

4. An adequate sized waiting area adjacent to the hostess station should always be provided for the comfort of the guests in wait, as well as the privacy and comfort of those guests dining. This area will also become useful for those guests taking cell phone calls.

So we can now get a fair approximation of the available dining area remaining. Maximizing this space is now key to maximizing seating numbers.
Booths are always popular with guests, but a group of two sitting at a booth for four will monopolize two excess seats for that turnover. A better way of creating maximum flexibility and the desired atmosphere of having booths is by utilizing the banquet.
A banquet (ban-ket') is a long bench, upholstered much as the bench of a booth, running the length of the dining room. an assortment of 2 and 4 top tables spaced 4'-0" apart can be placed facing the banquet and backed with dining room chairs. This orientation gives you quite a few options for any sized group. Tables and chairs are simply slid together along the banquet creating 2 tops, 4 tops, 6 tops, whatever is needed, without the unnecessary loss of additional seating. this configuration also takes up less floor space than a row of booths while providing more available seating.
Corner booths which accommodate 5-6 guests can be used at each end for large groups, as these larger booths are rarely taken by couples.

These tips, along with the mandatory requirements listed above, should give you the maximum seating numbers allowable to the size of the structure.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lighting Considerations

Siena Trattoria

Dining room lighting, from a design standpoint should define, in shape and spectral color, a major portion of the room's design motif.
Generally, overhead, pendant, track or directional lighting is permanently affixed to the ceiling in a static fashion, beaming downward to the table tops below as if the tables themselves were bolted directly to the floor.
Knowing that seating flexibility in a restaurant is an absolute premium, the required act of combining several two tops or four tops, with one or more of the other, to accommodate larger parties, can have a dramatic effect on the overall visual balance of a previously well designed room.
I have visited, on many occasions, an otherwise stellar restaurant, illuminating an improvised table for eight, with one, 100w pendant while two additional, matching pendants beamed their attractively expensive glory onto an empty spot of floorspace.

There are creative ways to insure harmony and balance of design, as well as providing sufficient practical lighting for the dining guests seated below.

1. Think Light Not Fixture.
This is a fantastic opportunity to add an original design twist to set your restaurant apart from the competition. Envision the area that needs to be illuminated, determine the amount of light (in wattage) that will be needed. With this information in mind you should now design how you want to use reflectance, diffusion, collective radiance and any number of lighting techniques to unify the lighting in the specified area. Your goal at this point is to meet your lighting parameters for the specified area, thereby avoiding dedicated lighting being determined by table placement.

a. Reflectance- Think of a flashlight, behind the bulb you will find a bowl shaped reflector,usually semi-sphereical. This configuration will concentrate all available light from the bulb into a conical beam that streams directly out from the reflector. This is a fairly narrow configuration with an intense output.
Now, if you flatten the bowl of the reflector into a larger more shallow bowl, the light output will be less intense as the same amount of light is cast in a much larger area. We'll call this a pool of light. The diameter of the pool is determined by the wattage of the bulb, the area and depth of the reflector and the distance from
the reflector to the surface to be lit. You can now determine the distance required between lights to connect the separate pools of light into a harmonious area of controlled ambient light. Save this concept as we continue.

2. Think color.
Consider a rainbow, a spectrum of all possible colors split from clear light. Notice I did not refer to it as white light, for light is not white. It is clear light devoid of noticeable color. Clear light is indeed a mixture of the full color spectrum of available light. Please follow me on this one as it will soon become important.
The psychology of design in a restaurant environment is pretty straight forward. We humans are a fairly predictable bunch. When we want to eat, we seek an environment that is calming, relaxing, and familiar. Our brains can be manipulated by color to suggest perceived warmth and even stimulate the appetite. A soft honey-gold to rose colored glow, (see photo above), reminds us visually of the sunset at the end of the day, inducing subliminally a desire to relax, to enjoy ones meal. Indeed this particular frequency of color actually makes the food itself look richer and more appealing.
These psychological cues often play a large part in how fantastic a meal is, in a successful restaurant, whether this is perceived in the mind or on the tongue is rarely given a thought by the guest.
I have recently seen a shift in lighting design towards using cobalt blue lighting for dramatic effect. I myself have used this motif on three very different restaurant environments, Beware of how you use this. Unbalanced blue lighting can make the beautiful caramelized color so desired on a steak, roast poultry and fried food, look deathly gray. This unappetizing effect is easily remedied by balancing the cobalt blue with the aforementioned honey-gold to rose hue creating... Yes, you guessed it, clear light. Myself, I generally add a little more of the latter to regain the positive psychological effects.
color pooling is also a great way to define separate areas of a room without the need for walls and dividers, leaving a comfotable open design plan. Save this concept with the last and we will continue.

3. Now Think Fixture.
So now we know how much light we need, the wattage, the distance between bulbs, the distance to the surface to be lit, even the color psychology needed to complete the designated dining area. We know we are creating a solid mass of controlled light that is not tied to the placement of the tables below, and we also know that at this point we can create, by design, a fixture array that can be a sculptural statement, defining the motif of the dining area.

Examples in practice.
Nicola's Italian with a twist is a great example of a custom lighting array designed specifically for the room.

Notice the suspended sculptural lighting arrays, the design was based on the curved reflector surfaces on the underside of the clouds. The light pools created by the four arrays constructed all merged at their outer edges, ensuring even lighting throughout the entire dining room.

In this view we see three different types of specialized lighting. In the forefront, the round lighting is an example of diffusion lighting, in the middle right a multi colored example of reflected lighting and in the rear, the lighting clouds.

In this design rendering for Tony's Seafood, the blue wave shape to the left is a translucent series of polycarbonate panels which act as a diffusion panel for the halogen pin spots shining above. This panel will collect and spread the light evenly for the 40' run of the dining room, regardless of the table migration below.

Sorry for the focus, This is the actual panel with lighting. there is a matching panel on the opposite side of the room making a total of 80' of controlled lighting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Free Design Inspiration Resource

modernism magazine

Modernism magazine has been one of my favorite inspiration resources for modern design ideas. Published four times a year, it is filled with great information, images and resource ads.
a free online version of Modernism magazine is available for your online perusal as well as a free offline download version. You can find a link at the sidebar to the right, just click the cover.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sound Considerations

Mineral fiber Copper/Tin Ceiling at Siena Trattoria

More and more of my clients are opting for hard surface finishes. The advantages are obvious, long wearing and easy to clean.
Gone are the soft fabric window treatments, collectors as well as producers of dust and lint.
Tile floors, always the better option over food, stain and odor prone carpeting are becoming the norm in the restaurant industry.
The main disadvantage, requiring creative design solutions is uncontrolled noise.
From kitchen clatter, footsteps, Diner chatter and the like, the resultant din can turn an otherwise pleasant dining experience into a stressful visit, leaving guests with an unpleasant memory of your establishment.
There are smart design concepts that will help in most every situation.

I have designed recirculating water wall features in several of my clients restaurants.
Constructed near the kitchen entry/exit, these installations can greatly mask the tinny metallic and clashing sounds of the kitchen, while producing a comforting hush throughout the dining areas.

Large leafed foliage can break up sound waves bouncing around the dining room, with the added benefit of creating visual shielding adding perceived privacy the the diners experience.

Acoustic Materials
Pictured above is an example of a restaurant I designed, in which the motif called for a metal (copper) drop ceiling. This thin metal on metal frame ceiling would have added greatly to the inherent noise problems of a restaurant with a tile floor, hardwoods and a great deal of glass.
This actually created a very large area to where I could add, invisibly an acoustic solution to this restaurants sound problems.
I found a mineral fiber acoustic ceiling tile, that when painted with a metallic copper paint and brush glazed with a burnt sienna finish, beautifully mimics a real copper ceiling, while providing a permeable baffle for excellent sound control. see Armstrong

Nicola's Italian with a Twist note the lighted water feature far left and the canvas sound baffle behind the lighting clouds.

Nicola's offered yet an additional problem not too uncommon. The restaurant was designed to have a completely open ceiling.
Lighted canvas panels, grommeted and laced across the hard right angled corner softened the harsh sound pattern created by dinner conversation along this wall.
With the addition of a water feature in the far corner nearest the kitchen, this previously noisy area became the most desired section of the restaurant.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Welcome to Restaurants By Design.
This blog is dedicated to explaining the psychology of design as it relates to actual restaurants I have designed, as well as current projects in progress. I hope you enjoy your visit, and return often.

Michael A. Collazo
Chief Designer/Owner
Designer Media Productions

The Ice Bar at Harbormasters

Harbormasters, Designer Media's latest project went live July 1st. It is located on the harbor canal in Pleasure Island North Carolina. This restaurant boasts incredible views and a delectable menu of sizzling steaks and the freshest seafood.
Many considerations went into the design of this ultra modern restaurant/lounge. First and foremost, this location was previously a condemned restaurant dating back to the early 1970's operating under the same name. After 30 odd years of hurricanes and neglect, the property had suffered severe structural degradation and would have to be almost completely demolished and rebuilt.

Original bar prior to demolition

After the demolition of all existing interior walls, ceiling, and floors, the heavy wood pilings which held the remaining structure above the canal, were checked for deterioration and replaced as needed, leaving an open 5,000sq' shell.

Gutted structure

The long narrow shape of the remaining structure was broken down into the practical needs for kitchen size, ADA required restrooms and utilities. The remaining two ends were then designed into dining and lounge areas.

Harbormasters, "The Build"

Starting with a measured floor plan, a 3D CAD drawing was made of the building. These models are one of the most important steps in a successful design. Being able to step inside the model gives you a better ability to decide color, texture, architectural structure, lighting etcetera.
Best of all, many decisions can be made, as well as many changes, without the expense of labor, construction or materials.

Having finalized the design plan with the client, full scale construction plans were be drawn up enabling construction to begin in earnest.