Restaurant Design Seating Trends

Forget the metal bench trend: Upholstered seating is making a comeback

Whether it's an interior inspired by Scandinavian minimalism or industrial influences, the dominant restaurant design trends of the past decade have one thing in common: really uncomfortable seating.

Maybe this is by, ahem, design? There's only so long a diner can relax on a metal garden chair, a swiveling backless stool, an undersized bistro seat or the odd reclaimed church pew before becoming unusually aware of their own backs, a tactic that must help with patron turnover. Sure, these types of seats tend to be inexpensive, easy to clean and simple to replace. Add in the fact that they can be rearranged with ease, and we understand why many restaurants have ditched the clubby upholstered seating of decades past.

However, the tide is turning in favor of old-school booths, banquettes and cushioned seats. At the recently opened new American restaurant Bellemore in Chicago, round leather booths and high-backed velvet barstools add warmth to a lofty space.

The look doesn't always have a vintage feel. In the newly renovated interior at Eleven Madison Park, plush booths and chairs have clean, modern lines.

Particularly in high-ceilinged interiors, this style of seating adds a sense of coziness even in the most elegant of settings. "Booths are always a good choice in a dining area, because they offer a sense of privacy and comfort while also encouraging conversation," says designer Sasha Bikoff, who incorporated booths and banquettes into her striking interiors for The Mess (which famously never opened its doors due to an untimely shutdown).

Material is just as important as the shape and size of these features. Designer fabrics in bold colors and patterns can function similarly to art, drawing the eye around a dining room. Right now, the trendiest choice is velvet, another retro element enjoying a renaissance. Monkey Club (opened in 2017) in Marbella, Spain, goes all out with sofas, chairs and bar seating in this soft material.

DAROCO in Paris features an electric-blue velvet for dining room banquettes.

Loulou at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs pairs low velvet banquettes with midcentury Eero Saarinen Tulip chairs.

"Velvet has made a return to the design scene, because although it's such an unmistakably bold fabric, it's also incredibly versatile. Velvet, like booths, is not a traditional [look], but it's not so wild and unassuming that it's not approachable," Bikoff says.

In other words, in a world where everyone chases the new and novel, the biggest rebellion might just be to embrace the old.

Brie Dyas is a contributing writer for Tasting Table and an avid collector of your grandmother's fine china. You can find her occasionally sharing photos on Instagram at @briedyas.