Restaurants occupy a unique place in our society. At their core, they offer the opportunity to engage in the most human of endeavors, to share a meal with friends, family, business associates and strangers.

In the United States, our penchant for dining out has given rise to a burgeoning industry that is as diverse and varied as our population. Restaurants have become a traditional first job for many of us who grew up here and a pathway for immigrants to establish themselves through hard work and sacrifice, all while introducing us to new flavors and novel concepts from around the world.

In a city like Chicago, where I grew up, restaurants have provided a means for a certain amount of cross-pollination between neighborhoods otherwise a little too neatly divided into various ethnic groups. A quick visit to Open Table will give you a sense of the diversity of options available: Italian, Polish, Ethiopian, Chinese, Greek, Ukrainian, Mexican…the list goes on and on.

With all this diversity, the concept of a restaurant has come to mean anything from the vision of an individual’s unique concept to the well-oiled cog of a large multinational machine, as well as everything in between.

Enter the restaurant designer — those people charged with creating the spaces needed to facilitate these many dreams and visions. Senior Contributing Editor Dana Tanyeri has an excellent piece in this issue, Functional by Design, where she explores the connection between form and function in great restaurant design work. Layering in the element of budgetary constraint, Contributing Editor Amanda Baltazar offers a look at 6 Ways to Get Expensive Looks for Less . I think that you will enjoy reading both!

We recently had a chance to explore five great designs in person on the Third Coast (see photo above of me and Samantha Slocum above). See our recap of the second annual Tour the Design Trends at our microsite.