Just like in residential design, restaurant design sees dramatic changes in trends from year to year. While 2018 was a year of minimalism and Scandi-modern aesthetics, 2019 was all about warmth and coziness. These spaces encouraged people to settle in and stay awhile with their loved ones. It’s about maximizing the real-life experience — in an Instagram-worthy way.
With that in mind, we’re looking back at the biggest restaurant furniture trends from 2019 to see what changed and what stayed the same.
1. Upholstered everything
While upholstered furniture may be a bit harder to keep clean than solid surfaces, it’s been having a moment in 2019. Fabric creates a cozier, warmer atmosphere, encouraging guests to sit back and indulge.
Upholstery has been added to chairs, bar stools, and restaurant booths. Drapes and wall-hangings also saw an increase over the past year. These textiles made restaurant interiors feel more snug and high-end. And as an added bonus, all this extra fabric has helped with sound dampening, limiting echos and dining room noise.
2. Flexible seating
Modern restaurants often like to keep their options open. They want to be available for private parties, large-scale events, and possible changes in service style. That can be difficult to do when your restaurant seating is all un-movable booths.
In 2019, flexible seating options were on the rise. Combinations of standard and high-top tables, banquette seating, and communal tables let restaurant spaces function in many different ways. And portable tables and chairs mean the furniture can be rearranged as necessary.
3. Reclaimed wood
Reclaimed wood has been popular through most of the teens, and 2019 was no exception. This warm, organic material is as popular as ever. It’s eco-friendly and creates a rustic, one-of-a-kind furniture piece. It’s also strong and sturdy, able to stand up to years of use and abuse.
What was new in 2019 was the way reclaimed wood was incorporated into overall restaurant design. Instead of an uber-industrial space full of reclaimed wood, brick, and metal fixtures, fresh modern spaces were warmed up with this lovely material.
4. Communal dining
The modern communal dining trend started as a reaction to the current societal dependence on our devices. Restaurants wanted to encourage people to have more conversations and spend less time on their phones.
The trend was still strong in 2019. Communal dining tables create a social atmosphere in your restaurant and fit more people into less space. Some restaurants choose to seat multiple small parties at their large tables. Others reserve their largest tables for large parties, so they can be sat together.
5. Deep, rich colors
A byproduct of the minimalist and Scandinavian-modern trends of previous years was a focus on white and other light colors. But in 2019, rich, warm colors made a comeback. Deep blues, greens, and reds made dining rooms feel snug and intimate. Plus, they made a great backdrop for the inevitable Instagram photos.
This trend appeared in seating upholstery, painted furniture, wallpaper, and window treatments. But these rich colors didn’t necessarily mean dark spaces. Saturated hues were combined with big windows and lots of indoor plants to keep things airy instead of oppressive.
6. Dark wood
Keeping with the reclaimed wood and rich color trends, dark wood was big in 2019. Walnut was particularly popular, with its natural variations in color. It’s a versatile material, able to fit in with other wood species and a variety of metal finishes.
To stay modern, dark wood was often paired with bright colors and patterns for an unexpected contrast.
Sustainability and eco-friendliness in both restaurant decor and operations is still going strong. This is hopefully less of a trend and more of a shift in mindset that will last for years to come.
Furniture made of reclaimed and recycled materials is more popular than ever. Warm, eco-friendly woods like bamboo that grow quickly and produce very little waste are popular choices for restaurant furniture. Other choices include rattan and wicker. And for man-made products, restaurants are using furniture made from recycled materials. Poly lumber furniture, for example, is made of primarily recycled material.
This shift is being felt outside of furniture as well. LED lighting, composting programs, and waste reduction are all becoming standard at restaurants across the country.
8. Smaller furniture
With the meteoric rise in popularity of takeout and delivery services, restaurants have begun to shrink in size. It’s no longer about fitting as many customers into the dining room as possible. Instead, it’s about how many overall customers you can reach, both in-store and at home.
This means that dining rooms are getting smaller. But it also means smaller furniture has been necessary in order to fit as many people as possible into a tighter footprint.
Now, smaller tables are only possible in restaurants that are giving up the small plate trend. Five or six dishes won’t fit on a tiny table. Opinions are mixed as to whether small plates are played out or here to stay. But for the restaurants that stick with them, they have to keep tables of a decent size — or risk dropped plates and upset customers.
For space-saving seating, banquettes also saw a boost in popularity. These fixed, one-sided booths take up less space than chairs that need space to move in and out from the table.
9. Round booths
Related to both the upholstery and rich color trends, round booth seating had a moment in 2019. These booths were often covered in a rich fabric, like an emerald green or navy blue. They had low backs to provide a semi-private enclosure for the dinner party, while still letting customers see and be seen.
This is a classic booth style, harkening back to restaurants of the 1930s and 1940s. While mid-century modern is still popular, the decades on either side (1930s, 40s, 70s, and 80s) also caught on in 2019.
10. Restaurant living rooms
Restaurant owners understand that not everyone who comes in wants to sit at a table for a formal meal. Some would like to gather around a high-top with friends, while others may like to lounge on a sofa sipping a cocktail. The key is to make your restaurant multi-use. Provide a variety of experiences, instead of just one.
Restaurant living rooms were on the rise in 2019, with more space reserved for couches and lounge furniture. Encouraging guests to settle in and linger over drinks makes them feel welcome. It’s all part of that coziness trend that was a major part of 2019.
11. Mixed styles
Eclectic was big in 2019. It wasn’t necessary (or cool) to have everything be too “matchy-matchy.”
Instead, restaurant designers combined plush banquettes with modern chairs. Or they put 1960s-style lucite bar stools up against a traditional dark wood bar. Sleek modern tables were placed between rustic wood booths. Some chose to keep the style cohesive but attracted the eye with a mix of different vibrant colors.
Mixing furniture and decor styles created visual interest and unusual spaces. And it’s all about being unique.
12. Multi-use pieces
With restaurant sizes shrinking, furniture pieces have to do double-duty. A bench isn’t just a bench — it’s a storage unit. That side table isn’t just to display flowers — it doubles as a part of the buffet for special events. The modular outdoor couches on the patio can be rearranged depending on the size of the event.
Even server stations and the host stand can serve multiple purposes. With more and more restaurants abandoning the stationary POS system for handheld devices, server stations are no longer restricted from movement.
As the restaurant business changes, spaces have to evolve with them. Modern updates like an increased focus on technology and reliance on takeout and delivery are changing the purpose of some traditional restaurant spaces — and therefore the way they are designed.
At East Coast Chair & Barstool, we can help you stay on-trend with our wide variety of restaurant furniture solutions. We stock Amish-built tables made from beautiful reclaimed barn wood, large communal tables for parties of every size, comfy lounge furniture, and more!
We’re looking forward to seeing what the big trends are for 2020!