Six Ways to Localize the Design of a Bar or Restaurant Chain

Gone are the days when a bar or restaurant chain could get away with looking exactly the same in every city and state. Bar and restaurant patrons are no longer creatures of comfort; they’re now creatures of curiosity. They seek out unique experiences that entice and excite – experiences that keep them engaged.

To attract these types of patrons, it’s important to create experiences that resonate. In today’s day and age, consumers put emphasis on “going local.” Whether that’s because they want to contribute to the local economy or because they value the farm-to-fork movement, going local remains a central theme in the decision-making process.   

Restaurants and bars can leverage a global expansion of locations by also “going local.” There are many ways for chains to emphasize locality, from menu development to company culture and community outreach, but I’m here to talk design; the visual cues that support the big-picture mission.

Here are six ways to localize the design of your bar or restaurant chain and keep people engaged in your establishment:


One: Avoid off-the-shelf furniture

Savvy patrons will spot off-the-shelf furniture in a single glance. Instead of looking like every other chain that likely sourced items from the same spot, consider adding a touch of clever customization. It’s a common fear that the word “custom” comes at a high price point, but that’s not necessarily the case. Working with smaller makers can keep overhead costs low and bring-to-life a handcrafted look at a reasonable rate. For example, a custom piece of furniture – like a dining chair – can be designed specific to your brand and streamlined across all locations, with minor modifications to color or size per store. This adds visual intrigue. Even a small touch such as this sends a major message to your patrons: The dish and experience you’re about to have is built just for you.

Two: Use local materials and finishes

There is perhaps no better way to highlight your understanding of the community than by using local materials or finishes. You’ll create an ambiance and character that’s exclusive to the particular location, which can even generate buzz among patrons. Yes, managing too many unique design elements across global stores can be inefficient and costly, but if it’s designated to a single area – say, a feature wall or some other controlled spatial parameter – then the design element can send a truly powerful message. People will see that you’re actively engaged in the community. Using a reclaimed wood that’s specific to the region is a simple way to do this. Wood is the most versatile of materials and contains an array of options based on region and temperature. It makes a stunning, natural impact.


Three: Partner with local artists

Give guests something to feast their eyes on while they feast! Partnering with a local artist to create a mural, painting or sculpture adds depth to the dining experience. Consider displaying an expert’s artistic expression of the home sports team or an historic icon. Or, is there a tradition that’s specific to your region that you can highlight? A bar or restaurant chain can even work with the artist to put their displayed pieces on sale to any interested patrons. Consider rotating the exhibits throughout the year in order to keep visuals fresh and returning patrons captivated.


Four: Incorporate geographical maps

Geographical maps tell a story. Topographical maps honor the local environment. Incorporating maps into your bar or restaurant chain is a sincere celebration of your surroundings. You can even highlight other chain storefronts – both locally and nationally, or even internationally. And you’re not limited to a framed paper map on the wall, either. We’ve seen it all: Floor graphics of a map, topographic fabric patterns on booth and banquette backs, even map and guidebooks on display as a witty visual element.

Five: Modify the floor plan layout

Weather and culture always impact the way we layout a bar or restaurant concept. Warm weather encourages patio seating while cold weather likely lends to a cozy interior. From a real estate standpoint, you don’t need to feel limited to a single footprint for every location. Busier cities may require a larger footprint while smaller cities can get away with less space. End caps are highly desirable in major metropolitan areas with a high volume of car traffic, for example, whereas in-line locations attract patrons who benefit from walkability and proximity to other tenants.


Six: Integrate community-based experiences

Let’s be honest – it’s getting harder and harder to stand out above the marketing noise. Businesses are going above and beyond to reach their target customer. The best way to connect with yours is to ask yourself this honest question: What do my customers enjoy outside of the food and drink that I serve? Is it live music? An early-morning yoga class? Whatever your customer profile, create a community-based experience that speaks to them. This can easily be tied to your brand as well. For example, a bar chain can host a pre-fixe beer dinner that’s focused on local brews. Just be sure that these added elements are spatially accommodated with a flexible floor plan.


Now that you have this knowledge, what will you do with it?

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About the author:

This post was written by Dala Al-Fuwaires, principal of FJI, a hospitality interior design firm with a sweet spot for food & beverage interiors. To view her portfolio of select projects, click here.