There’s more to hospitality than just good food and drink — millennial venues are doubling as architectural attractions. 

From the number of Insta-worthy venues popping up around Australia, it’s clear design is becoming a critical factor in a restaurant, café or bar offering. Sure, you can have stellar food, but if diners are expected to enjoy their meal in an uninspired venue, they’ll most likely find a place that can do both.

Hospitality spoke to creative director Mark Simpson from DesignOffice, director of Y. Studio Yaron Kanor and director of interior design at SJB Jonathan Richards about the role of design in hospitality; the considerations every venue should know and why you should never skimp on lighting.

Importance of design

Switched-on operators have been engaging architects and interior designers to create venues that are memorable and successful. “Australia has a really strong hospitality theme,” says Simpson.

“There is good awareness through media, restaurant reviews and people’s interest in design. People are seeing eating out as an experience that’s about more than just food — it’s about the space.”

Kanor agrees, and believes good design is far-reaching. “Awareness of great design has definitely increased through industry competition,” he says. “Hospitality entrepreneurs know a well-designed venue will positively affect staff performance, customer experience and overall functionality.”

First steps 

Zoning, purpose, developing a functional floor plan and considering acoustics are all critical factors when commencing a project. “The most important element for venue owners is functionality,” says Kanor. “Venues must function at the highest level possible for them to succeed long-term.”

Zoning is a must in venues of all shapes and sizes in order to establish spaces with purpose. “If you create a venue that is continuous and there’s no variation, it can become very bland,” says Richards. “There are opportunities to create smaller spaces with a different feel or personality so a bigger group can go in and feel comfortable being louder and a couple can also feel comfortable.”

For Simpson, zoning can be established through the use of furnishings. “It’s good to have a mix of seating types — high and low, comfy seats and lounges,” he says. “During the design process, we talk about where you would sit and we always try to avoid a sea of the same chairs and tables. You need to provide a variety of spaces where everything is not at the same level.”

Spending time in the space and understanding acoustics can also play a role in attracting or losing customers. “The acoustics of a space define it for a lot of customers,” says Richards. “There are times where you want a loud buzz and bounce to the sound, but if you’re not careful and you select materials without considering noise and sound, it can become an unpleasant experience. There are lots of nice ways of using upholsteries, timbers and materials that add to the look of a space in terms of personality, while softening sound.”


Lighting is a make or break factor that’s often overlooked and undervalued. The ability to control mood and adjust lighting throughout the day can easily take a venue from day to night. “I find the most underestimated consideration is lighting — a space rests on its quality of light and can be killed if it’s too bright or dark,” says Richards. “We often try to avoid downlights and too much ceiling lighting. At 12 Micron, there’s a lot of natural lighting, and we draped rows of backlit linen panels from the ceiling. You don’t see the source — just the illuminated linen panels — and all the other lighting is from the joinery, so you’re illuminating the display without mindlessly throwing light on the floor.”

Similarly, Simpson avoids downlights and focuses on creating ‘glow’. “We try and use warm colourations and dimmable lighting,” he says. “It’s the glow that comes off the surfaces such as the timber, concrete or tables. We use tiny pin lights that give a pool of light on a table, almost like a candle as opposed to lighting the table. It affects people’s mental perception. If they feel comfortable, they spend more money and they come back.”

Small changes

The good thing about clever design is that it doesn’t have to break the bank. DesignOffice recently worked on Marta in Sydney, helping the venue transition from its previous life as Popolo. “We helped them do an overlay,” says Simpson. “They kept the kitchen, toilet and the bar. A lot of it is texture, lighting, acoustics and feel — 70 per cent of the furniture is the same. We put in a new high bench at the front and we changed the flow without moving any plumbing.”

For Kanor, it’s a combination of superficial and functional solutions. “Lighting, lighting, lighting,” he says. “Paint finishes, furniture and accessories including botanicals and signs are a cost-effective way to create a refreshing change.”

Richards encourages venues to carefully consider the types of materials utilised. “There are lots of great venues made with simple steel and brick,” he says. “There are some great designers and architects who are cost conscious and come up with creative ideas about spending money on places that give the best impact. In hospitality, it’s about the arrival and the front of house and deciding where to spend the money. It might be on the seating or the lighting — it’s about being clever.”

This article originally appeared in Hospitality’s March issue. Subscribe here.

Image credit: Tatjana Plitt

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