Safety Requires New Creativity in Restaurant Design
Jun 18, 2020 Featured, Hospitality Businesses

Safety Requires New Creativity in Restaurant Design

Both restaurants and their patrons have been hit hard by COVID-19. For restaurant owners, the shutdown and need to change how they do business has been extremely costly.  Many question whether they can survive.  For patrons, the important shared experience of dining out has been taken away and is coming back with a whole different feel.

What we know, however, is that our love for preparing and enjoying amazing food and drink has not diminished.  We want our restaurants back!  We also know that restaurant owners are among the most resilient and creative of business owners.

So how can great design help restaurants not only survive but also flourish?  The trick is to design for safety first, but never forget the overall experience.  While we often talk about the customer experience, the employee experience is equally important for retention and high levels of service. Having employees who know they are being protected as well as having a space and procedures designed for safety leads to increased employee satisfaction and an enhanced customer experience.

Exchange Zones

Restaurants already have safety protocols in place.  Post pandemic thinking takes it to the next level. Experts recommend establishing clearly identified exchange zones to help safely flow food, supplies and people within the restaurant. For example, guests would have one main entrance where they can be checked in and directed to a wash station and temperature check before seating.  Ordering systems should minimize the use of surfaces.  Front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff should have lockers for personal items, a designated employee restroom, and their own wash and temperature stations. 

 Seneca Restaurant – Designed by Sensory Six. Photo: Brian Jones Photography

Indoor Seating

Dramatically limiting indoor seating is not financially viable for restaurants.  That means creative solutions are needed that provide a variety of seating types and configurations.  For example, booths can be adapted with higher barriers and better ventilation. Tables add flexibility since they can be put together or moved apart for different sized parties.  High tops, bars, and counter seating become problematic to adapt under distancing guidelines.

Creative Use of Outdoor Space

Creative use of outdoor space that promotes social distancing can help increase seating capacity.  Many local planning departments are easing restrictions on the use of sidewalks, alleyways and parking lots for both outside seating and contactless curbside pickup options. Roofs also offer expanded outdoor seating space as well as rooftop gardens for herbs and produce. Outdoor space needs to be both highly functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.  Bringing in the feel and design of the inside makes the outside space feel like an extension of the restaurant.  Functionally, there are many choices in tough, weather resistant tables and chairs that can be easily cleaned and sanitized. The most important component is smart climate control.  Radiant space heaters, propane fire pits and modern commercial tents are a few ways to extend dining beyond the summer months.

Cantina Restaurant – Designed by Sensory Six. Photo: Shawn Lachapelle

Ventilation and Sanitation

One way viruses transmit is through stagnant air. Adding natural ventilation like open doors and windows is important as well as installing more fans and air purification devices to circulate and clean the air.  Placing sanitation and cleaning supplies at points of physical interaction is critical.  In the past, these items were often hidden from customers.  Now their visibility adds a feeling of trust and safety.


One of the things we often forget is communications.  To build trust among customers as well as help enact new protocols, restaurant signage is really important.  Restaurants should consider creative incorporation on the walls, floors, and tables that let customers know exactly how they are handling PPE, temperature testing, ordering, social distancing and cleaning. This is also an important time to get customer feedback in order to tweak the customer experience for maximum safety and enjoyment.

We are here to help. This is an opportunity to do it right, and we would very much like to help.  Call us about how we can help with safe, creative and smart restaurant redesign and new design.  We understand exactly how restaurants work and can get you where you need quickly so you can focus on all the other things to make your restaurant profitable.


Cover Photo – The 408 – Designed by Sensory Six- Photo: ShawnLaChapelle

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