2017 Restaurant Design Trends

The 9 hottest trends you'll see in restaurant design this year

As anyone who has ever worn eyeglasses for more than six consecutive years can attest, fashion is fickle. What once was cutting-edge now seems quaint, and just hearing the words "tortoiseshell wire rims" makes you cringe.

Farsighted interior designers are constantly seeking aesthetic evolution. The best in the business maintain their distinct points of view while incorporating local tastes, global influences and, in some instances, à la minute cultural conversation.

This is particularly evident in restaurants. The space where guests eat plays a major role in how they experience the menu. Outdated decor can eclipse innovative cooking, and that taxidermied stag head can seem startlingly out of place when the chef embraces a plant-centric ethos.

We poll some of the hottest architect and design firms to identify which trends will pilot restaurant design in 2017 and which formerly popular movements are going the way of those Oliver Peoples bifocals you wore in the 90s. Here, nine designers share their predictions for the hottest restaurant trends in the months to come.

Your Burger Joint and Special-Occasion Restaurant Will Share an Address

"We're working a space right now where there's a big lounge area, and you go through a secret passage. Then you're in a game room where you can get burgers, and you go through another passage and you're in a fine dining restaurant. It's like, how much fun can we have with this experience?"

Jeremy Levitt and Andrew Cohen, Owners, Parts and Labor Design

Edison Bulb Fatigue Has Set In

"Everyone is getting sick of Edison bulbs and barnwood and industrial chic—that dark, heavy look from Grandpa's house. . . . People are looking for something new, and a healthier slant on cuisine has made people look more at California. The white, bright, fresher look, the California boho-chic look, is the trend. We're] going away from dark and going toward lighter colors."

Amy Morris, Cofounder, The MP Shift

Tiles Aren't Just for Bathrooms

"A lot of restaurants over the past few years have used handmade plates and bowls, and what I think we'll see next are . . . handmade artisan tiles by local artists. Kelly Wearstler has her own line of tiles that Ann Sacks put out, and I think it's just really hitting. I think we're going to see tiles on backsplashes on bars and accent walls in restaurants; they're too nice for bathrooms.

Ana Henton, Designer, MASS Architecture & Design

Photo: Andrea D'Agosto

Pastels Are the New Neutrals

"What I see having a place, certainly in the Miami scene, is something I refer to as tropical modernism. You're seeing light/airy tones in spaces, furnished in a curated bohemian style in terms of furniture. We see a lighter, brighter and calmer vibe than the heaviness we have been getting for the past five years or so. A touch of midcentury, embracing playful colors and connecting the interior with the exterior. I'm seeing it nationally as well, and I have to think there's a little Miami influence when you see lighter pastels and seafoam green and natural textures in places like New York."

Michael Dolatowski, Creative Director, Deft Union

Garden Party Chic Is the New Urban Farmhouse     

"You're seeing plants everywhere: Everyone's gardening out of their restaurants. Either a full-on greenhouse look with the arched roof and glass and tons of plants, or, if not [actual] plants, you're seeing floral or plant wallpaper."

Paul Pruitt, Principal, New School

You'll Want to Take Off Your Shoes (but Please Don't)

"The biggest trend in food has been accessibility to amazing chefs and fantastic food that wasn't as accessible to as many people as it is now. [Before], when you thought about a great restaurant (with amazing food), you thought about a stodgy, special-occasion place. More and more, as [great food] becomes accessible, we feel the design trends are the restaurants opening up that flexibility to people."

Laura Flam, Principals, Reunion Goods & Services

Neon Will Go Dark

"It's not time to dust off the old Nagels quite yet, but neon is making a huge comeback. Neon has both a slightly dirty, retro feel, which we all love, of course, but also can channel a contemporary, edgy, artful angle along the lines of neon pioneers Bruce Nauman and Tracey Emin. The right color choices can also, and maybe surprisingly, create a very moody and surreal atmosphere, which reminds us of our favorite Chinese director, Wong Kar-wai and his movies like In the Mood for Love and 2046."

William Harris, Kristina O'Neal, Adam Farmerie, Greg Bradshaw, Principals, AvroKO

Photo: Courtesy of AvroKO

Warm and Modern Are Not Mutually Exclusive

"It feels to us that restaurant design is moving into more of a contemporary architecture phase. The era of the overstuffed, busy, classic restaurant look seems to be receding in favor of a much more streamlined, spare, luxury residential vibe. One trend we think will continue and that we enjoy working on ourselves is customized open flame, wood-burning cook spaces, like the hearth at Lilia. There is a lot of fun to be had in customizing those elements."

Matthew Maddy, Designer, Sweet Nuthin' Hospitality and American Construction League

The Best Trend Is No Trend

"There's so much trendiness going on; I think people want what they know and love. So we're seeing more classic, timeless interiors. Our goal now is to not be able to tell when a restaurant opened, so we're not using any light fixtures that are going to end up at Design Within Reach in a few years. . . . More and more, my favorite restaurants are ones where you can tell the owners have worked on it—things have gone in and out of style, they've kept things, they've added things, they've edited it over the years. There's a lot of layering, and to me, that's what makes a great interior."

Larry McGuire, CEO and Cofounder, McGuire Moorman Hospitality

Multifaceted spaces, spanning casual bars and formal dining rooms are one trend identified by Parts and Labor Design, the NYC-based firm behind Manhattan restaurant Atera and the award-winning Grey restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.

Photo: Courtesy of Parts and Labor Design

"It's about creating more than just a typical bar and dining room experience," Jeremy Levitt and Andrew Cohen of Parts and Labor say.

Photo: Courtesy of Parts and Labor Design

"People want more light; they want more color," Anna Polonsky, cofounder of The MP Shift, a concept, design and branding studio based in New York City, says.

Photo: Courtesy of The MP Shift

The MP Shift predicts restaurant design will move away from the dark, clubby aesthetic punctuated by Edison light bulbs and toward brighter spaces with a Californian aesthetic. "Like any trend, it comes from a reaction," Polonsky explains.

Photo: Courtesy of The MP Shift

MASS Architecture and Design, based in Los Angeles, thinks handmade ceramics will move off of tables and onto walls, resulting in more delicately crafted tiles adorning bars and dining rooms.

Photo: Andrea D'Agosto

The term tropical modernism is how Deft Union creative director Michael Dolatowski describes the revival of beachy pastels. When combined with a midcentury mentality, Dolatowski says, this palette feels colorful and contemporary.

Photo: Courtesy of Deft Union

Based in Miami, Florida, Deft Union's projects include South Beach bar Sweet Liberty, installations during Miami Art Week and Design District café OTL (pictured).

Photo: Courtesy of Deft Union

Commissary, Roy Choi's restaurant at The Line hotel in Los Angeles, embodies the haute greenhouse trend.

Photo: Courtesy of New School

Greenhouse chic is everywhere, according to New School principal Paul Pruitt, who has noticed plants and even plant-adorned wallpaper in restaurants worldwide. 

Photo: Courtesy of New School

Eric Adolfsen and Laura Flam, principals at Reunion Goods & Services in New York City, think the biggest movement in restaurant design is a departure from formality. Bastion restaurant in Nashville (pictured) demonstrates this shift, as does Quality Eats, a modern steakhouse in New York City.

Photo: Daniell Atkins

AvroKO's principals think neon's new wave provides a surprisingly dark, moody quality to certain interiors. One such space is Genuine Liquorette, their underground cocktail bar in New York City.

Photo: Courtesy of AvroKO

Neon is back, according to AvroKO, a design and concept firm whose work includes Duck Duck Goat restaurant in Chicago, 1 Hotel Central Park in New York City and Boccalino in Seoul, South Korea.

Photo: Courtesy of AvroKO

American Construction League, the New York City firm behind Russ & Daughters Cafe and Grand Army bar and restaurant, foresees contemporary architecture will adopt a streamlined, almost-residential feel.

Photo: Courtesy of American Construction League

"I'm encouraged by the resurgence of classic restaurants like Le Coucou—the institution-type restaurant," Larry McGuire, CEO and cofounder of McGuire Moorman Hospitality, says.

Photo: Ditte Isager

Trendiness will give way to timelessness, McGuire contends, as designers layer vintage and modern pieces. His firm adopted this mentality in a recent overhaul of Jeffrey's (pictured), an Austin, Texas, institution subsequently ranked among the country's best restaurants on local and national lists.

Photo: Casey Dunn