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A Casual Concern

Image © StephanPyles.com

High-end restaurants used to be an "event." The eatery was the destination, and you dressed to the nines, donning your pearls and shining your shoes.

But lately, upscale eateries are taking cues from the atmospheres at local dive bars. En masse, high-end, chef-driven restaurants are becoming more casual in both aesthetics and ambiance. Why? My research and observations indicates that diners desire high quality food and service, but they also want the informal comfort and ownership of a neighborhood haunt.

Late baby boomers and Gen Xers seem to be driving this trend-—they have a higher expendable income, appreciate luxury, and will still pay $40 a plate, but at the same time are more casual in both appearance and lifestyle. Restaurants like Stephan Pyles in downtown Dallas meets both of these needs: superior local and seasonal food in a beautiful setting that’s free from ostentation.

So what can architects and interior designers do to accommodate restaurants’ changing casual dynamic?

  1. Rely on the bones of the building. Exposed beams and stripped walls speak to the authenticity of a place, and contribute to customers' comfort with and connection to the restaurant.
  2. Minimize materials. Stained concrete floors, dimmer lighting and simple settings do away with pretense.
  3. Create cocoons. Ambient noise and the proper furniture arrangements can allow groups to cocoon themselves for a feeling of privacy and ownership amidst a bustling restaurant. No one wants a restaurant so quiet that it enhances eavesdropping; creating a casual environment includes enhancing the atmosphere as well as the aesthetics.

I predict this dining-trend will continue for the next couple of years, and I believe strongly that tracking and reacting to consumer trends is the best way to help restaurants adapt to the ever-changing cultural climate. So don’t pack up the pearls forever, but you probably don’t need them for dinner.

Image © Stylus Media Group

Ross Conway is a design director for the Lifestyle studio in Gensler’s Dallas office. With over 29 years of design experience, Ross is recognized as a restaurant specialist. He has designed eateries in every venue imaginable and has a wealth of retail-knowledge and consumer trends. His work includes all aspects of retail and restaurant design from ground up base building construction to graphic design. Contact him at ross_conway@gensler.com.


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Reader Comments (3)

Ross –

One of the best dining experiences I've had was an accidental find in the Provence area. We were on a search for oils and late in the day for lunch. We came upon Paradou, and the Bistrot du Paradou appeared as if the town square.

We approached carefully, since the board outside implied something more expensive than we intended, and we were a bit exhausted and way casual.

We entered and were immediately confronted with the dreaded, "Do you have a reservation?" Our answer ("um, no") got us what seemed to be the best table in the house, where we sat in the midst of the local farmers but also met, on one side, the international designer of a famous fashion house and, on the other side, the retiring leader of an American consulting firm searching for a house in Lourmarin, and had one of life's great (like, great!) meals, an extraordinary cassoulet.

Your observation about "authenticity" was what mattered. Exhausted tourists, olive grove farmers, and others from other places could sit comfortably together in a space that reflected the local culture and also provided an experience that was about "the [social/cultural] bones." The place was the least, the experience was the best.

Good post, Ross!
08.26.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Meredith
Thanks for the comment Jim, and glad you had a good experience with the same casual/authentic trend. I'll have to stop by that Bistro next time I'm in France.
08.30.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoss Conway
The home decor is really awesome i wish i could decorate my home in this style.

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