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RESTAURANT DESIGN POST-PANDEMIC: AN Exclusive Insight from Top Hospitality Designers

June 8, 2021

Last week A&T Group Interiors attended the international interior design trade show INDEX 2021 at the Dubai World Trade Centre. As always, the 3-day event was packed full of designer installations, industry talks and exclusive exhibitions to truly connect its attendees to the interiors community. 

If the pandemic has proved one thing, it’s that as humans, we need interaction with others. The appetite for people to go out to eat could possibly be described as stronger than ever, and with the help of reduced capacity, social distancing measures and protective screens, there is no doubt that we have witnessed the restaurant industry in Dubai begin to bounce back post-pandemic. In the long-term, however, do restaurant owners and operators need to rethink the interior design of their outlets? Here’s what the experts thought below...

Not necessarily, according to Justin Wells who noted that in his experience, operators and owners of F&B establishments are currently at a crossroads deciding if the cost of changing their offering is actually worth it, or even totally necessary? Although he did note;  “I am however of the opinion that the timing is right to upgrade, uplift or even re-position F&B offerings as dining demands and needs are shifting.”

Poojah Shah-Mulani, added: “Small restaurants might not have survived 2020 but the bigger names are out there, and bigger and better than ever. People want to go out, it’s part of life. F&B is an industry that combines everybody. People are going out, restaurants are full, it’s even difficult to get a table in some places.”

It was mutually agreed by the panel that in their opinion the interior design for restaurants would not need to drastically change in order to be successful post-COVID. Over the course of the panel discussion, they aimed to distinguish the difference between short-term impacts, and long-term trends that may be useful to assist owners and operators to future proof their restaurant interiors and be more capable of surviving a similar event in the future. Here are the long-term trends, prompted by the pandemic, that the INDEX 2021 panel of interior design experts believe will be seen in future dining experiences.

Space Optimization

The panel suggested that it is likely that future restaurants will be designed with a slightly smaller capacity for seating, and each diner will be seated at a slightly increased distance apart. 

“Reconsidering personal space and distancing is already changing how we, as restaurant designers, are envisioning new projects,” says Sneha Divias.


Sneha Divias shared her thoughts on this topic and expressed that she believes adding partitions within the interior design of restaurants will continue to be an important factor. “Whether it’s even just to form a more psychological division between tables, I feel that restaurant design in the future will likely include the use of static, or moveable partitions. Ideally it should actually prompt restaurant designers to get creative with screens, booths, higher-back chairs, or private dining rooms.”

Flexibility in Design

The panel unanimously agreed that in the future, restaurant owners and operators must have the capacity to pivot quickly when presented with unprecedented challenges. They drew light to the fact that currently, nobody knows exactly what the future holds and that means that an integral part of the future of interior design for restaurants must be flexibility. 

“Even in terms of furniture layout, it is likely that we will use more modular FF&E and less large, heavy, bolted-down built-in booths. Modular pieces will offer more adaptability in terms of the use and layout of the space,” says Sneha Divias.

Optimized Kitchen Design

The kitchen is the engine room of any restaurant operation and the panellists touched upon a few areas in which the design and layout of kitchens may change post-pandemic. 

“It is possible that going forward open Kitchens will become even more popular. An open Kitchen promotes transparency and provides more visibility behind the scenes so that guests can feel comfortable that they can see how safety and hygiene are being managed,” explained Sneha Divias. 

Additionally, in terms of streamlining offerings, Sneha highlighted how the pandemic has challenged restaurant owners to focus on improved kitchen storage, layouts and design. “Never before did we see so many restaurants being forced to cease operations; some of which will never reopen. Many of those who survived only did so because of their ability to adapt and add a home delivery service to offer off-premise dining to their customers. Restaurants that plan ahead and refine their business model will be better positioned in the future. Kitchen design, cost-effective packaging, storage space, and streamlined processes should all be well thought out in future restaurant interiors to make food delivery as efficient as possible.”

The Buffet 

The panellists believe we will see a shift in how the traditional all-day-dining restaurant will be viewed and used but there were some mixed opinions. 

Pooja Shah-Mulani expressed that she feels;Diners are now thinking about things they hadn’t considered pre-pandemic. People are a lot more aware of things now. The last year has trained our brains into thinking about sneeze guards at buffets, how many people have touched spoons, is the cutlery clean and so on. How is the food being served? Are people getting too close to you?” 

Justin Wells on the other hand believes that a version of the traditional buffet offering could make a comeback once vaccines come in and people feel more comfortable around each other again.

Outdoor Space

“We have witnessed outside spaces that weren’t previously being utilized now becoming a central focus of the offering,” says Justin Wells. “We’ve seen guests’ interest to dine outside rise, especially in Europe, and I believe outdoor spaces will continue to be a hot commodity. I believe the overall restaurant design therefore, should capitalize on outdoor dining spaces in the future.


Contactless service has become the new norm of late, but is it here to stay? Justin Wells hopes not entirely and added: “Experiences are what makes for successful F&B. It requires interacting with people. It all comes back to something human. People want an experience, that’s what they have missed. Physical menus and cash payments may stay largely abandoned but I do hope to see a return to other key touchpoints that add to the overall experience for guests.”

Even panel chair Esra Lemmens weighed in on her feelings towards the QR code digital menus and says; “I understand these are a necessary element for safety and hygiene currently, post-pandemic, however, I personally hope to see a return to the physical menus”.

Design Concept

The panellists agreed that for many restaurants the overall design concept is likely now going to be a lot smaller, and more intimate. 

“I truly believe F&B has to remain inventive as a sector,” says Justin Wells. “Designing with this smaller capacity in mind will help guide design choices that ultimately create a restaurant that feels warm and intimate, even if there are fewer people inside. During the pandemic, many restaurant interiors had a deserted feel while their capacities were limited by local health and government guidelines. We should focus on creating spaces that provoke joy, a sense of community, and well-being, and that can also be inclusive.”

Taking all of the above into consideration, it is evident that the panel of experts do predict that the pandemic will have at least some lasting effect on restaurant interiors. If nothing else, they believe it has prompted restaurant designers to rethink long-standing norms in terms of restaurant design, and it is likely that some, could be for the better.

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