First Impressions Stick: How to Create the Most Welcoming Entry to Your Restaurant
Picture it: Cold, wet, and rainy Seattle winter Friday night. You and your family want to check out that new Mexican restaurant that all your neighbors, coworkers, and the grocery clerk have been raving about. You head over there and as soon as that beautiful Terracotta tile facade peeks into view your heart sinks.
There are about 20 people milling about outside, all crowded under what seems to be a 2’ x 2’ roof canopy waiting for their table. You bite the bullet and push past the mob (why is the entry door so small?!) and get cozy with strangers all trying desperately to make eye contact with the overwhelmed hostess standing at their teensy tiny podium. Once you’ve shouldered your way to the island of hope you put your name in and retreat back to wait 45 minutes with the other patrons for that burrito you hope lives up to expectations.
We’ve all been there, right? Or the opposite scenario - we’re walking down the street looking for a place to grab a bite and see a ghost town through the window of a seemingly appealing restaurant. Why isn’t anyone eating there?? We quickly assume something MUST be wrong with that place and walk right on by.
It's been said that you never have a second chance to make a first impression, and that is definitely true for your customers. Nailing the entry sequence is key for the success of your restaurant, cafe, deli, etc. Don’t overlook any of the areas below when designing your entryway.
We once designed a restaurant with not one, not two, but THREE public facing entryways. The burger place opened to the street, interior retail corridor, and adjoining hotel.
Operationally it was a challenge to say the least. We analyzed the pedestrian traffic flow at each entrance to inform the signage, door size, floor treatments, etc. Taking the time to do our homework on circulation helped us make the right decisions on which entry to prioritize. Now the restaurant has a clear flow that guides customers right to their seats.
Think through the traffic flow of where your customers will be entering. How fast are people moving? Do you want them to slow down when they hit your storefront? Consider using a material beneath their feet that will cause them to pay attention. We love the way Tarruella Trenchs Studio used greenery between pavers to create a thoughtful entry procession to El Celler de Can Roca.
Consider the look, feel, and weight of your door hardware. Are you developing a quaint cafe inspired by the streets of Paris? Maybe an ornamental, smaller knob is best for you. A rustic lodge? Then perhaps a heavy metal textured pull is best.
Golden carried their circular design language all the way into the details of their door hardware in the Penny Drop Cafe in Victoria. The wood curves make it luxurious to touch, while the bent circle shape is tied through the rest of the design.
Metal door handle by Pullcast.
Design rule of thumb: Squish and Expand
Ok, so maybe that isn’t the technical term exactly, but that is what you want to do to your customers to make their entry sequence exciting. A very common approach is to create an intimate vestibule and hostess station with lower ceilings, moody colors, and rich textures.
Immediately beyond this cozy zone is a light and bright dining area with expansive views. Varying the experiences, views, and light of the spaces helps create a sequence that the customer wants to move through. Humbert and Poyet use this classic design move beautifully in their new Beefbar restaurant in Paris. The black arches set the stage for what is to come in the diner’s journey.
There are so many things you can do to amplify the customer’s first impression when they walk into your restaurant. If you only do one thing, decide how you want your customers to feel when they first enter. Calm? Invigorated? Intrigued? Make a list of the emotions you want to evoke, then work with a designer to bring that vision to life with materials, lighting, and texture.