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The documentary, “The Chef’s Table” (A Netflix Production), features six chefs and their restaurants. Each of them considered to be one of the best 50 in the world, they were chosen for their exotic tastes, remote locale and menu, passion or untiring curiosity.

As a designer, watching the program, watching the creative chefs, watching the food, I couldn’t help but look at their choices for the interiors of the restaurants. This study recommitted my focus on five elements in restaurant design. There is no other type of space where we design for all the senses.


Like a play, the lighting in a restaurant puts focus on the players. While in fine dining this could mean spots on table tops, with only enough other light for guests to find their way to restrooms and exits. In most restaurants, this means a variety of light levels and light sources: the table pendant, the wall wash, the ambient overall up lighting. Lighting in a restaurant imitates theater.

Seating Layouts

Depending on menu, casual to fine, the seating takes a cue. We are seeing very few deuces (two top) tables being used in restaurant planning today. Quite the reverse, we are seeing community tables and larger tables being used that enhance the sense of gathering and family. The traditional booths are being replaced by settees and wall benches which gives restaurateurs more flexibility in seating groups of all sizes. Not only do these seating trends reflect current lifestyle preferences, they are great for showing off plates and presentation.


There are at least three categories in restaurant interior finishes:

  • The interior finishes that disappear – the food is main stage, 1 to 4 star
  • The interior finishes that have to tell a subtle story, supporting the brand of the restaurant. No star to 1 star.
  • The interior finishes that have to be more exciting than the food because they are delivering an average menu with good taste.


Mirroring the levels of finish, decoration varies based on the menu.

  • Minimal, but fine art, commissioned art, wall finishes used as décor for the starred restaurants.
  • Narrative, biographical and branded interiors for the “no star” but up-and-coming environments.
  • Entertaining, graphic design as décor, messaging and color is the key to the $10 a plate eatery.

Table top

What the diner sees as they are seated and as they eat leaves the greatest impression, mostly subliminally. The determined chef doesn’t want to distract the diner from the scent and look of the food. Fresh flowers and candles are appropriate as long as they don’t have scent. For the lower plate price restaurant, it is an opportunity for advertising. But in all cases, it is an opportunity to help the customer understand what is important at the restaurant.

“The Chef’s Table” showed us the chef’s journey and process. They also gave us clues as to how the interior supports the goal of the menu and experience. Napkins folded and measured for accuracy? An extravagant abundance of non-smelly flowers? A display of objects from the region? A methodical hanging of historical textiles or significant signatures?

Everything is intentional, everything is about the experience.

Watch the trailer of “The Chef’s Table”: