Furniture is often the biggest part of a fit-out budget—and crucial in setting the tone of a restaurant or cafe. Here, design experts share their tips on furnishing your restaurant—getting your tables, chairs and other pieces just right. By Lynne Testoni
The furniture in a restaurant or cafe has to look just so—achieving that magic mix of comfort and style at an affordable price.
With so much hype out there (especially on social media) about the latest hot spot, it’s easy for owners to get caught up in the noise to be fashionable while neglecting the end game: producing the goods.
And this is where choosing the right furniture in your restaurant or cafe comes in.
Adelaide interior designer Ryan Genesin says that it’s important for restaurateurs to remain true to their core brand and avoid the pressure involved in jumping on the trend bandwagon.
“There will always be those who want to be on trend and those who want to buck trends,” he says, adding that times have changed, and owners can’t just jump on the latest trend to create a buzz about their restaurant. “I don’t think it’s how it is anymore. It’s not as easy as seeing a trend that everyone is going to follow.
“We would always push our clients’ brief further and understand what they are getting at,” Genesin continues. “At the end of the day, just because they like it at their home doesn’t mean it’s going to work in a commercial environment. It’s our job to teach them what their demographic is and how to get to their potential market.
“Sometimes certain furniture types might be too uncomfortable and too hard, or too plush or too luxurious, so it won’t suit the use that it is destined for. It’s quite important for us as designers to understand the business use.”—Ryan Genesin, director and interior designer, Genesin Studio
“Sometimes certain furniture types might be too uncomfortable and too hard, or too plush or too luxurious, so it won’t suit the use for which it is destined. It’s quite important for us as designers to understand the business use—you are basically short-listing a furniture type that will suit the business,” says Genesin.
Rachel Luchetti of the architecture and design studio, Luchetti Krelle, says it’s less about specifying the latest must-have in hospitality projects, and more about meeting the increasing demands of the end customers, particularly for larger venues. These need to have a variety of areas within the venue, each with different furniture needs, yet the venue still has to have a cohesive aesthetic.
Luchetti creates different zones in venues through designs, to allow her clients to offer flexible seating for their patrons.
“You want to appeal to different people on different levels,” she says. “Not every customer is the same; you have to profile each one and think of what they want to see. You might have a businessman who likes sitting at a counter on a high stool without a back on it.
“However, if you ask a woman who’s catching up for a cup of tea with some friends what she’d like to sit on, it would be a nice sort of banquet or a lounge. And you’ve got young people who love food and getting cosy. We need to use furniture as a tool to help break up the space so it isn’t monotonous.”
Luchetti’s favoured materials are generally natural—timber and leather, in particular—but she says she often uses a relatively new man-made material called Crypton, which comes from the US and is marketed as stain-, moisture- and odour-resistant.
“You want to appeal to different people on different levels. Not every customer is the same; you have to profile each one and think of what they want to see.”—Rachel Luchetti, co-owner of the architecture and interior design firm, Luchetti Krelle
Crypton’s hard-wearing properties mean that it is ideal when Luchetti is looking for a lighter shade or linen-look fabric, but with the necessary durability for commercial use. “Crypton fabric is from the US, where they use it in hospitals and nursing homes because it’s completely waterproof,” she says. “We use it a lot for heavy-duty hospitality.”
Designer Tom Reid of DesignOffice says he likes to add in interesting details when it comes to choosing furniture for a hospitality project. He says restaurant patrons have the time to notice good design elements when they are in an eating space.
“We always talk about wanting to put a good emphasis on the things people touch and the things people see,” says the Melbourne designer. “You need that level of detail because in the hospitality environment, you might be sitting there for a couple of hours at a restaurant. You do notice a minor detail on a chair. You do notice a bullnose on the tabletop.”
Reid says that when he is specifying furniture, he looks for “interesting details, such as a stitch or seam.
“Just finding something about a table or chair or a piece of furniture that gives it a little quirk, I suppose, or a little point of difference from everything else.”
He says that selecting furniture is a bit of a balancing act—making sure that the space is not too busy and not too overworked. He likes it to look relaxed and authentic. “There’s a lot of effort going into it, but it must seem effortless to the customer,” says Reid.
Furnishing facts for furnishing your restaurant
Tom Reid: “It’s all about the time people will spend there. If it’s a cafe and you’re just coming in and having a coffee, that would dictate maybe a stool that doesn’t have a back and is more like a perch. Whereas if you’re sitting in a cocktail lounge and you’re going to be there for a few hours, you probably want a nice supportive armchair that is soft and comfortable and which you can lean back into for a few hours and drink your cocktails. We always take into consideration the amount of time we expect someone to be using a piece of furniture because that will completely dictate the finish.”
Rachel Luchetti: “A lot of clients get really excited about the prospect of going to China and getting something at a fraction of the price and shipping it out themselves. But what we’ve found is although there are some people for whom that’s quite successful, there’s no recourse really for the quality. We’ve had issues, for instance, where we’ve specified stainless steel because it’s on a seaside setting and then you end up with chairs rusting and corroding because they used mild steel, and there’s nothing you can do about it. We do try and steer our clients away from doing that unless they’ve got a really tried-and-tested supplier. I’d say look for warranties and some professional suppliers that will give you some after-care service, as well.”
Ryan Genesin: “Furniture is often the first thing to be leaned on for cost savings. It is a big-ticket item when it comes to a whole project, because there’s lots of it. But at the same time you have to make it commercially viable so that comfort and safety is there. Sometimes people go to cheap brands but we will always try and work with people that we know have original designs and that still can be cheap—it doesn’t have to be expensive. We will always keep original design wherever possible. Also, natural materials are quite important.”