Designing for the Future

A love note to restaurants: If you survived the last year, good on you. It was a hard-fought battle, and now that the industry is strongly marching forward, money and resources are tight and priorities are important.

Many restaurateurs are taking on second-generation spaces to use infrastructure and save on costly kitchen additions and layout changes. Others are refreshing existing spaces and concepts to prepare for what will be likely be the next generation of food, beverage, and hospitality offerings. And still others are coming out swinging and looking to grow their operations, with a bevy of eateries set to open in 2022.

Without a crystal ball, everyone is speculating about what’s going to change permanently and what will go back to the pre-pandemic status quo. That’s what we’re doing at Shea: designing for what’s next and leading our partners through these tough conversations when there isn’t a playbook to be followed. There’s no luxury to wait and see, because we’re already creating solutions and experiences for 2022 and beyond.

So what does that look like?

Yes, full-service dining will be back at full strength. Consumers miss the interaction, the energy, the socialization. And they will expect a high level of service again, without rehearsed speeches about social distancing and QR codes. But there will be a new long-term “normal,” influenced by what’s happened in the last year. Spaces will be simplified, cleaning will continue to be an important part of service, and bar seating will become more creative. Those four-tops we recommended putting up against the bar? We’re now designing long-term solutions incorporating that very mini peninsula idea.

Breaking up big seating areas has always been in our repertoire, but as people look for more privacy in their dining experiences, creating physical zones by way of vertical greenery, high-backed booths, and captain’s tables will be seen more and more.

Lighting has always been one of the key features in a successful design, and it still is. Spaces need varying levels of light and objects, not people, should be lit—this brings the diners the most comfort, which is what they’ll be craving as they venture out again.

We’re not big on “trends” at Shea, and it seems like the rest of the world is following suit. There’s going to be more individuality and no real trends emerging—people want to focus on the designs and solutions that bring joy and make sense for them. Consumers don’t want cold, industrial-style spaces (and haven’t in a while), and the clean, white, modern aesthetic will now come with a side of personality and color. Overdesign is over (thank goodness), and the focus is on how all the elements put together create the desired experience.

Meal kits, take-home kits and takeout food will continue to be an important part of all restaurants’ futures. We’re designing with this in mind, creating seamless areas for convenient pick up that feel like an extension of the restaurant itself. People have gotten used to being able to get whatever they want, whenever they want—and they’re expecting more out of the experience (think better packaging and heating instructions, personal notes, and a true gourmet night at home)—the pick-up process is part of it.

Outdoor dining has always been an important part of restaurants, but creating a considered, well-designed outdoor space has now become crucial. Watch next week for a full rundown on building an exterior space that feels like a real extension of the indoors.

And as much as we’ve always harped on hospitality, creating that sense of warmth is more imperative to a restaurant’s success than ever. Training is especially important post-Covid, when service staff will have an even tougher job than usual. Servers and hosts need to learn the cues to pick up on so they can intuit a customer’s comfort level dining out, and adjust mannerisms, language, and operations accordingly, and should also be trained in proper language to ask about preferences. On the flip side, many consumers are also eager for a return to some normal, without a soliloquy about the rules.

It’s a long road back, but we’re not going anywhere—for more than 40 years, Shea has been a thought leader in design, bringing the best, smartest solutions for our partners, and this is a new phase to be conquered.

Want to know what’s coming in the next year? Check out the news on a few of these upcoming Shea projects, designed with this forward-thinking vibe: