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6 Design Tricks To Get Guests Through the Door

There’s only one shot at a first impression, which means restaurants need to appeal to guests before they even walk through the door.

In order to wow passersby and create a positive experience before any food or drinks are served, restaurants need to channel their inner designer and serve up eye-catching decor that excites guests about the dining experience ahead.

The right exterior and waiting area can greatly impact service, especially during busy periods like lunch and dinner hours. As Harvard Business Review notes, most restaurants deal with their largest volume of diners at peak times, and this waiting period can quickly “create customer dissatisfaction.” Establishing a beautiful environment that stimulates the senses can keep diners enamored while they wait, which makes them much easier to satisfy in their subsequent interactions with staff.

So how can restaurants attract potential customers — and distract them once they’re on the waiting list? By making sure initial visuals are eye-catching, stimulating, and informative.

There are three main areas to consider when rethinking design, starting from the farthest point of the property and working inwards:

  • Outside area (this includes the outer perimeter and anything that surrounds the structure, whether it’s grass, vegetation, or maybe just a parking lot or city street)
  • Transition area (the front main doors and surfaces surrounding it, as well as front-facing walls, and can also include a back garden or outdoor seating near an entrance)
  • Waiting area (wherever guests sit or stand while waiting for a table, whether it’s just outside the front door, inside near the host stand, or a bar area with extra seating)

Assess how guests first perceive a space by walking in their shoes: Observe the front of the building and entrance with fresh eyes. Notice surroundings as well as the initial experience of first opening the door. Then take into account the visual elements from every angle from floor to ceiling.

Once these points of view are evaluated, the transformation can begin.

Outside area

1. Whenever possible, incorporate greenery to the outdoor space. Take advantage of natural vegetation. If all that surrounds a space is concrete and bricks, invest in low-maintenance potted plants, and make sure to incorporate brand color into pottery. There’s endless research on the positive effects of plants on mental and physical health, so having accents of greenery will work wonders. Also, barrels and other structures work nicely for a rustic effect — and they allow for a nice pit stop while guests are waiting with a drink in hand. More on that later…

2. Signage is another important component and should be visible even to cars driving by. Besides the obvious name of the place, menu options should be made available for view without having to come inside. Provide information wherever possible while keeping with the theme — and not going overboard with too many words. A chalkboard is appropriate for cafes and pubs, while refined signage in an elegant font should be used for finer dining.

Transition area

3. The door itself needs to be pristine. Make it a priority in the host’s duties to constantly check for fingerprints or smudges and clean accordingly. If it needs a fresh coat of paint, or maybe a color that pops, invest in the paint and make the change. Always reinforce the brand with logo colors or a color that is in harmony with the restaurant’s food and service style. Vibrant neon colors work for fun, casual places. Neutrals can add a contemporary edge. Go with a red door for a noticeable pop.

4. Walls that surround the main entrance need special attention. Outside walls should draw the eye towards the door, so create patterns and add colors and decor that reinforce the theme and increase in detail the closer they are to the entrance. This goes the same for inside: Surfaces near the main door should include artwork and food-inspired elements that capitalize on guests’ excitement and appetite.

Waiting area

5. The waiting experience can make or break the entire visit, so this process and setup must be handled with care. Provide plenty of seating and places for guests to perch. Provide easy access to the bar area, and consider sectioning off a part of the bar specifically for guests on the waiting list to come up and order a pre-meal beverage.

6. There should also be items that will keep guests occupied. By the time their name is called, they should feel like the time flew by. Things like trivia cards, fun facts, and children’s activities for kid-friendly establishments will help parties interact with each other and keep up the mood until the main event begins. Cracker Barrel does this well at their tables, providing triangular peg puzzles for guests to solve as they wait for their food to arrive. Why not incorporate something similar to waiting areas before service even begins?

It’s all about the details

Regardless of budget or space, any decor should be thought out, and each decorative piece should serve a purpose.

Think about where guests look, where they are most likely to gather, and what they will be feeling as they walk by or enter for the first time. Design with the intention to communicate what’s inside to guests outside. Sometimes all it takes is a little imagination to create an atmosphere that forces guests to take a second look and hopefully judge a book by its cover — at least in this case.