Window coverings are one of the first things guests see when approaching a restaurant, and in this business, first impressions matter. On the exterior, you want to appear welcoming. On the interior, you want every detail to look great.
People come for the food, service and ambience, but with so many dining options available today, restaurant operators don’t want something like too much glare or an obstructed view to keep anyone from taking a seat. Since comfort represents a big part of the guest experience, gaining loyal customers means giving them what they want. Window treatments play a vital role in creating comfort in a restaurant design.
“They can make or break a space,” says Rick Stern, who, along with Brian Pekarcik, owns S+P Restaurant Group in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area. “If the view outside your restaurant isn’t attractive and you’re not treating your windows in some way, it can interfere with the feel of the restaurant interior. On the other hand, if your restaurant has attractive views and your window treatments are blocking them, it can diminish the experience.”
Before specifying the color, finish or type of window coverings, restaurant operators should think about their goals for the space. “The most important thing is, what do you want them to accomplish?” says Stern. “Are you trying to block views? Do you want to let the outside in? Do you need fabric that deadens sound? Do you need to decrease drafts? There’s a lot to take into account.”
Setting the Scene
Window treatments should be an integral part of the restaurant design and not a separate entity. Designers should use window coverings to complement the setting by incorporating them into the restaurant’s interior as well as the exterior.
“Window coverings add to the atmosphere and overall feel of the space,” says Joshua Zinder, principal of Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design, LLC, in Princeton, N.J. His firm designed Waku Ghin in Singapore with silk window coverings used as decorative elements, which descend from the ceiling in between lighting fixtures to diffuse light and provide a soft, sophisticated contrast to the rich wood textures and metal finishes.
As part of the decor, window treatments can bring a residential touch, such as the case with the new Ivory on Sunset restaurant inside the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles. Designed with an old Hollywood flair, the space appears as if it were the home of an actor from Hollywood’s golden era in the 1940s and ’50s.
Built Inc., a Los Angeles-based design/build firm, and partner of Romanek/Sofio, along with Brigette Romanek. “In a commercial space, curtains have to stay a few inches off the floor because of wear and tear and keeping them clean, so the idea of having it more in the residential zone where they’re puddled onto the floor gives it this casual elegance.”In addition to the well-traveled art curated to look like a personal collection, Ivory’s decorations also include two-tone linen and ivory curtains hanging down from the ceiling that define the space and create intimacy. “They’re three inches longer than floor length,” explains John Sofio, founder of
Once a long space with no definition, Ivory uses curtains as partitions to divide the restaurant into three areas: a south dining room, a main bar area and a private dining room. “The curtains soften the light and blur the line between the interior and exterior patio space,” says Dominique Labaki, a designer on the project. On the outdoor patio, midcentury awnings along a built wall that frame some of the banquettes create dining vignettes.
“Window coverings contribute to the layering and functionality of the space,” Labaki adds. “Think about the material and the dimension it can add to the space and how it will accentuate the decor inside or out.”
Controlling the Environment
Making sure guests are comfortable in every seat in the house remains a priority for restaurants of all types and sizes — and window coverings can help make it happen. Not only do they offer the ability to control glare, heat gain and drafts, but they can also create privacy and enhance the dining experience.
Highlighting a restaurant’s view of the surrounding landscape comes with the challenge of controlling the indoor temperature and glare. For Sky on 57, a modern Franco Asian restaurant on the 57th story of the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark Tower in Singapore, the client wanted to make sure guests could enjoy the view without sacrificing comfort. “So how do we then control the glare on a building with a 360-degree view of the water and Singapore skyline?” asks Zinder.
The solution was to install solar shades, which eliminate heat gain and glare and are perforated so that guests inside the restaurant can take in the view. “In Singapore, the heat gain was critical. We also designed a wine case in that project in which we laminated a photograph of hydrangea flowers into the glass that reduced the sunlight and protected the wine,” Zinder says.
Downstairs in the same building, Waku Ghin shares the floor with a casino with floor-to-ceiling glass windows separating the two spaces. The client didn’t want blinding lights to distract guests at the sake and caviar bar and lounge near the entry, but wanted to still allow passersby to peek inside. “By laminating silk into the glass, we were able to control the casino light coming in, which is a different temperature from the restaurant. It’s pleated so as you walk by, you can see through,” Zinder says.
Spoon, one of S+P’s restaurants, sits at a busy intersection in the east end of Pittsburgh, with plenty of activity and street lights right outside. The space’s three large windows can get drafty in the cold months, so they use two different sets of drapes, depending on the season: sheer drapes that filter sunlight but still let some light in and heavy lined fabric drapes to temper the chill for those sitting at the banquette along those windows.
“Because it’s an urban setting and we like the activity that it creates for the restaurant, we want people to be able to see into and outside of the restaurant, but sometimes it’s better to filter the sunlight and street lights,” Stern says. Additionally, the fabric draperies combat the noise bouncing off the ceramic tile floors and high ceilings on busy nights.
Maximizing the View and Your Visibility
Exposure is another issue for many restaurants. You want people to be able to see into the restaurant, but you also want to keep guests comfortable without it looking like the restaurant’s closed. When deciding between maximizing the view or minimizing it, guest comfort always comes first.
Back on Sunset Avenue, Ivory has panoramic views of the L.A. Basin but has to contend with a harsh southern exposure. The window treatments, when left open a bit, filter the sunlight and city lights, while framing the view. Of the south dining room, Sofio says, “The morning sunlight rendered half of the room useless because you couldn’t sit near the windows, but now the light filters through the linen curtains along the perimeter of the space and creates a warm effect where it’s not so uptight. You feel like you can hang out there, open your laptop and enjoy breakfast with friends.”
Sometimes completely forgoing window treatments represents the best option. On the second floor of Willow, for example, another of S+P’s Pittsburgh-area restaurants, one of the private dining rooms is called the Woods Room for its views of the local woodlands. “We don’t even have draperies on those windows,” Stern says. “The views are so spectacular year round, it would almost be a crime to use window dressings.”
Windows can be another opportunity for branding, especially in busy strip malls where restaurants compete for consumers’ attention. Whenever the landlord allows, most of Santa Ana, Calif.–based Nekter Juice Bar’s 52 stores feature some type of graphic window cling on a primary window with a quote like “glow from within” or “eat fresh” that connects with the company’s image of healthy living. Some have awnings with a simple message such as “juices” printed on them that people instantly pick up on and are drawn inside by.
While some restaurants use window clings with graphics to communicate to passersby what the business is about, Nekter president and CEO Steve Schulze believes they can clutter the design if you aren’t careful.
“A steaming cup of coffee or a sizzling burger or pizza may be effective on TV or in a print ad, but when you’re walking into the store, we don’t think it’s appropriate,” Schulze says. “What you’re trying to do is tell a story, and very rarely will I allow direct imagery on a window cling to tell the story. You want to see into the store, the guests. On the exterior, you’re reaffirming the story that they’ve already been told. For us, it’s an aspiring story of living a healthier lifestyle.”
From fabric type to ease of use to maintenance, there’s plenty to factor into your window covering selections. The following advice will help you make an informed decision.
A white fabric window treatment may have wow factor, but can restaurant staff maintain its pristine condition? The attraction of dust and dirt comes into play with window treatments, often making a darker color a better option. “Some designs require light colors. If you have the flexibility, a medium tone burlap color wouldn’t show much dust,” Sofio says.
Consider the window covering’s stain resistance and the restaurant’s ability to keep it clean. “Some restaurants place tables right up against a window covering and someone spills wine on it and it’s forever a part of that window treatment,” Zinder says. “Think about not only their design potential but also the impact of having to take it down and to the cleaners.”
Ordering extras and swapping them out is one solution. “All of our window coverings are the exact same size, so we ordered at least two extra sets,” Sofio says. “When they get dirty, we spend a week or so swapping them as they’re cleaned so we don’t have to buy a whole set.”
Beyond meeting the current fire-resistant rating and the design objectives, be sure the type of mechanism for a wall covering is user friendly. “We’ve often seen somebody put a Roman shade into a space that staff have difficulty operating consistently,” Zinder says. “Any mechanism, whether it opens side to side or vertically, should be carefully specified so restaurant staff can operate, it and it should be appropriately durable.”
Design teams can choose from some cost-friendly options to make a statement if they take the time to pick the window covering that’s the best match for the project’s budget, restaurant design and specific needs. “You don’t have to spend a ton of money,” says Stern. “Base your window treatments on the type of restaurant you have, the type of environment you’re trying to create and how to best achieve it. It’s an important ingredient in the overall design, and all the details matter.”