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5 Important Fast-Casual Restaurant Design Tips

Fast-casual sits solidly between fine dining and fast food. It has its own special design considerations, relying neither on the elevated atmosphere of a Michelin-starred restaurant nor on the standard red-yellow-and-orange plastic aesthetic that dominates drive-through eateries.

However nice it may be, decor that doesn't complement the menu is going to have a negative impact. Designing a fast-casual restaurant means combining the best of both worlds, with the look and feel of a fine dining establishment paired with the convenience and efficiency of fast food.

If that sounds challenging, it is. Fortunately, here are five design tips that can help you create the perfect fast-casual experience:


What kind of vision do you have for your space's interior? Take that and carry it outside. You want to catch the eye of passersby and make them want to come inside, which means extending your restaurant's overall aesthetic to its exterior. Even if you don't have a patio area for outdoor dining, put careful thought into your signage, landscaping, lighting, and any other exterior elements you may have control over. You'll attract more customers and increase your profits.


Large dining rooms can seat more people than smaller ones, so it might make sense to go with the most spacious dining room you can manage. On the other hand, a dining room that appears to be mostly empty doesn't look very enticing to potential guests. Don't splurge on extra space that may do you more harm than good.

Most fast-casual restaurants operate with a footprint under 4,000 feet. This gives them just enough space for seating while also creating the perception that they're highly in demand. It's also a boon for urban restaurants that may not be able to scrounge up enough parking spots for more patrons. Going smaller can save you money on real estate and may actually help attract more guests.

This is true for kitchens, too. A kitchen that's too small and cramped isn't efficient, but neither is one that's too large. Your employees should ideally be able to reach everything they need from their station with a minimum of movement. The less they have to move, the less likely they are to experience slips, spills, or repetitive stress injuries.


Take a look at your menu. Does it consist of pre-defined items, or are guests expected to customize their meals? Are they going to go right to the register and order, or will they follow their food as it's prepared right in front of them?

Fast-casuals take a little bit longer to prepare than fast food. This means that you'll have to manage wait times somehow. This could be a designated waiting area or a dining room that follows the flow of food preparation. You may also want to place fixtures like self-serve beverages near wait areas so patrons can occupy their time with gathering drinks, condiments, and flatware. Consider the differences between Starbucks, Panera, and Chipotle, for example.

This flow will inform where and how you place tables, counters, and other furnishings. Done right, it will help manage wait times for your patrons and keep things streamlined and manageable for your staff.


Picture a fast food place. Imagine its furnishings. You're probably visualizing a lot of yellow and orange plastic, right? Now imagine a fast-casual restaurant. You're likely seeing more brick, dark wood, and metal.

Higher quality materials denote higher quality food. This is part of an important visual language that you'll want to keep in mind when designing your space. On the other hand, this also means that many fast-casual interiors aren't particularly remarkable. The resulting "look," while effective, is also commonplace.

You'll want to hit the right spot between the bright, easy-care, crayon-colored aesthetic of fast food and the brick and wood feel of other fast-casual spots. Choose high-quality materials and pair them with unexpected elements. Try working with reclaimed or distressed wood for a one-of-a-kind feel. Find a unique theme that matches your menu and base your aesthetic on that. You may even want to commission local artists to create some of your decor.


Lighting sets a mood better than almost anything else. Fast food restaurants usually go with bright fluorescents, but fast-casual dining is better served by spot lighting and fixtures that create more drama. You don't want things to be too dark, but they should convey a relaxed, thoughtful, intentional atmosphere.

Make use of directional lighting to highlight counters, tables, and other fixtures. You can also use directional lighting to visually separate ordering, pick-up, and seating areas. Natural light is a bonus and another reason why you may want to opt for a location with a smaller footprint — it'll help that natural light go a bit farther.

On the other hand, if you have a south-, east-, or west-facing space that receives too much light during certain parts of the day, you may want to pick window dressings that will help mitigate it. Avoid dated-looking plastic blinds here and go for roman shades, wooden blinds, bamboo shades, or other treatments in high-quality natural materials.

Fast-casual restaurant design is about more than just decor. While thoughtful decorations are definitely important when it comes to communicating your vision, they're secondary to your restaurant's space, lighting, materials, and flow. The experienced professionals at ChefVue know the restaurant industry inside and out. They can help you determine what will make your space succeed and guide you through the entire design process.


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