The Engineering Behind Restaurant Design

restaurant design engineering


The United States has around 925,000 restaurants, and there are new ones opening every day. In 2015, for the first time Americans spent more on dining out than groceries. For the 12 months to March 2016, a total of $157.5 billion was spent at restaurants and bars, and $151.8 billion at grocery stores. This illustrates the change in emphasis in malls from retail to dining. Malls are becoming lifestyle centers and not merely places to shop. Technology is playing a greater role than ever in the restaurant Design Engineering of new restaurants, with both audio engineering and lighting technology becoming crucial to the success of restaurant ventures. People expect a greater level of design from restaurants today.

Opening a Restaurant

Cornell University has looked into the restaurant business and has concluded that 26.16% of restaurants fail inside the first year of trading. The second year is not much better with 19.23% failing. Even the third year is risky with 14.35% closing. One way of increasing the chances of survival is to assemble the best possible team at the design stage.

Restaurant Design Engineering factors to consider include the following:

· Electricity supply

· Water supply

· Sanitary and grease waste

· Gas supply


· Cooker hoods, ducting design, and venting

· Fire alarm and sprinkler design

When thinking of opening a restaurant it is essential to establish whether all the services required are available or possible to install.

Building Codes

Attempting to subvert or ignore building codes is very unwise and a suitably qualified engineer should ensure compliance, especially egress codes which define how many exit routes there are from the building.

Accessibility Issues

Likewise, taking short cuts on meeting accessibility requirements, to save space, can ultimately result in a lot of extra expenditure.

The Restaurant Type

The type of restaurant envisaged has consequences for the Restaurant Design Engineering required for construction.

Fast casual restaurants

The design of this type of restaurant should facilitate the correct customer traffic flow. Which would be door > service counter > payment > beverages > seating.

Quick service restaurants

These restaurants operate in smaller spaces which reduces the initial cost of opening. Key to this will be the kitchen design, which will compress the maximum amount of kitchen equipment into the smallest possible space. The seating follows that same pattern. The maximum amount of seating that can be fitted into the smallest space.

Full-Service Restaurants

These restaurants do not have a service counter, instead will feature server stations located close to the seating area. Most space is devoted to customer seating and it should feature wide aisles, including paths to the kitchen.

engineering for restaurant design

Common Restaurant Design Engineering Problems with Commercial Spaces Used for Restaurants

The foodservice industry is notorious for the complexity of regulations and these regulations are taken very seriously. Legal consequences of non-compliance or inadequate compliance can be harsh. It is therefore essential to consult with a qualified restaurant engineer before progressing in a new restaurant opening.

Commercial spaces are rarely in a condition that makes them suitable for restaurant use unless that was what they were originally designed for. They will usually be lacking essential; features that a dedicated restaurant require. Regulations are different from state to state, so for this article, we will use New York City codes. For restaurants located elsewhere, business owners should check with a local expert.

No Kitchen Exhaust

All commercial kitchens should be fitted with exhausts that direct the fumes to the roof, or any other area that the building codes allow. They must be fitted with an oxidizer or precipitator to control emissions.

Water Supply is not Adequate

Perhaps you were unaware that commercial kitchens require water that is hotter than other commercial premises. This means that the premises will need a dedicated system to provide hot water.

No Grease Traps

If the commercial space was not originally built as a restaurant space, then it will not have grease traps. This will require the floor to be dug to provide the required grease traps.

Inadequate Electricity Supply

Refrigeration and cooking, in a commercial kitchen, takes a substantial electricity supply. Most general commercial spaces will not be fitted with adequate power to meet these needs. The power supply will probably need upgrading.

Insufficient or non-existing Gas Supply

Large cooking appliances require a lot of gas to function correctly. A general commercial space is unlikely to have an adequate supply, if indeed it has any gas supply.

Cooling Facilities May Not be Adequate

The heat generated in any commercial kitchen may require any existing cooling system to need upgrading.

Limited Height

A general commercial space may not currently have enough headroom to incorporate hoods, ducting, and other kitchen equipment.


restaurant engineering planning

Restaurant Design Engineering in the Age of the Pandemic

We are entering a new age where the current pandemic has put many restaurants out of business. Some of the closures have been directly due to lockdowns, where the restaurant is forced to close, but other closures are simply because people no longer feel safe in restaurants and consequently are eating at home more, be it takeaway food or home cooked.

This has forced those that design restaurants to take into account the possibility that the current pandemic will not quickly go away, or that future pandemics may occur. Having seen the devastating effects of this pandemic a prudent restaurateur is quite likely to want to have a restaurant engineered in such a way that it is more resistant to this scenario.

According to the Zagat Future of Dining Study, 84% of customers say they are far less likely to visit a restaurant if it is operating at full capacity. At the beginning of the pandemic, many restaurant brands started to build a lot of plexiglass cubes to protect their customers. The problem is that nobody wants to eat in a fishbowl.

One definition of engineering is: “the action of working artfully to bring something about.” This is how Engineers are involved with Restaurant design.

Foyers are always somewhere that become congested, with people waiting for their tables. We are approaching a time when there will be no need for the foyer as technology will allow diners to wait in their cars until they are notified through their phone that their table is ready. They can then walk straight in and take their seats.

When we look at seating, the design of the seating area needs to be revisited. When creating new seating areas, designers will look at solutions that are not fixed. The current pandemic may or may not come to an end soon. Creating internal architecture that is optimized for a pandemic situation may result in a costly redesign in the future to take away the barriers. Far better to hang discrete partitions that separate diners while necessary, but may be removed in minutes if the situation alters and public perception changes.

Subtle changes to everyday features of a restaurant are part of this Restaurant Design Engineering. Replacing door handles and push pads with foot operated pads that open doors, allows what is often a hot spot for bacteria to be done away with. A rotary door frequently disrupts entry and exit and causes congestion. It will be preferable to have an alternative to the main entry point for egress, resulting in less congestion.

The choice of interior construction materials can also play an important role in reducing the spread of a virus. For example, copper tiles provide a naturally antibacterial surface.

There was a piece on National public Radio a while ago that if you are in a loud restaurant it is a bad sign because aerosols spread, through projecting the voice, to compensate for the noise, will increase the number of droplets of any virus expelled from the lungs. Now we know that a loud environment makes people anxious we need audio engineers to explore ways of reducing sound levels.

There are so many ways that an engineering approach can be used in the design of restaurants that can cope with this new world. Yes, this pandemic may end soon, but who knows if there will be more appearing. A prudent restaurant owner when planning new outlets will be wise to have restaurants that are designed to handle these problems, environments that can change in minutes to suit the current climate of opinion.

So, while I put a sub-heading of Restaurant Engineering in the Age of the Pandemic, I should really have left out the reference to the pandemic, because engineers can learn from current events and incorporate the lessons into the regular design.

Restaurant Design Engineering

In previous generations, people opened restaurants and paid very little heed to any idea of a theme, or concept. They just opened a restaurant and served food. Maybe a restaurant would acknowledge some local delicacy and feature it on the menu, but that would probably be it.

Then a generation ago the idea of the “Themed Restaurant” became the big thing and restaurants were opened where you dined in something resembling a railway carriage, a Roman ruin, or a Polynesian village. A lot of attention was paid to the environment, and the costumed serving staff, but unfortunately, they did not invest the same care and attention into the food and in producing good food.

Today we have moved on from those days. Most of the themed restaurants failed as people realized how bad the food really was. Now restaurateurs have learned and plan all aspects of a restaurant in great detail to ensure that it serves the needs of the customer.

Earlier we discussed how some companies are learning from the current pandemic in planning future restaurants. They learned, and the people doing this learning are the engineers who bring technology, interior design, and psychology together to build restaurants that work and still meet the food standards regulations, whilst remaining profitable.

If there is a theme today it has to be adaptability. Today restaurateurs exude confidence and offer, seemingly with ease, a very appealing experience. It seems so natural and the public does not have the slightest idea that it is all the result of putting into practice concepts that have been devised to provide a given response. Once a concept is selected, equipment designed specifically for that concept is installed, and the décor is carefully thought out to provide the optimum look for that theme.

Behind the scenes, professionals are ensuring that the technical equipment, the regulations, the building, and staff all come together in just the right way.

Much of this is brought under the umbrella title of “Branding.” Branding is the combination of advertising and design elements that people begin to associate with the concept. On a very simple level, what colour do you associate with Coca-Cola? Red of course. Take Pepsi Cola and they have blue. It is no mere accident. Someone has put together a whole plan that lists concepts, colors, and features that must be associated with the brand. These days every restaurant is branded and every element of the restaurant is pulled together to portray exactly what the designer wanted to achieve.

So, to finalise, we can say that every element of a new restaurant opening, down from the empty shell where the restaurant will be constructed, through the connection of appropriate utilities, ensuring building codes and food regulations are complied with, these are all engineered to get optimum results. The branding and the interior design are all part of this process, which is built around the type of cuisine that the outlet offers.

It is an all-encompassing process that requires expert knowledge to implement, and will typically involve a team of professionals working together to make it all happen.

Just one final example. Think about Starbucks. The coffee machines are located on the counter so that the staff can converse face to face with the customers while they brew the coffee. This was a revolutionary move in Restaurant Design Engineering, brought in as part of what Starbucks was engineered to be. Before that coffee machines would be on the back wall and staff would face away to make the coffee. Something so simple made Starbucks so very different.