Rebecca Kilbreath

When you do a job for a few years, you learn the seasonal ebb and flow that comes with it. Some days you’ll dread, but luckily for me, those are few and far between. Other days you’ll look forward to with a great deal of excitement.

One of the best days of the year for me is one I wish each and every reader of the magazine could sit in on: judging day for the rd+d awards. We assemble our esteemed panel — a mix of restaurant design professionals who have served as judges from day one along with some fresh faces. We start the day-long process by reviewing submissions in batches and narrowing down the best of the best. By “we,” I mean that I do some of the preliminary work — organizing, printing, collating, forming impressions, getting the chance to take a peek at some of the best restaurants and bars to open in the last year — but the judges do the real work.

The judges assess the submissions, review the photos, pull up websites as necessary and even call restaurants to clarify something they don’t fully understand. And, as they do, I sit in and field questions when I can.

What makes this day so special, though, is the opportunity to listen to experts in their fields take every submission seriously and explain to each other (and me) what makes a successful operation. What makes great branding. What’s interesting about a menu or a renovation project or a service style. Even more important, I glean insights into what isn’t working, such as why a floor plan impedes guest turnover or makes it impossible to be profitable.

The reason I’d like our readers to be in the room is that the conversation sparked by reviewing the entries is the kind of discussion we’d like to spark among everyone holding the magazine or reading it from a screen.

As we kick off our eighth year, we thank our judges for generously sharing their time, and we thank every single reader who submitted a project for consideration this year. Your contributions are invaluable and help shape content for the rest of the year.

If you’d like to be part of one of my other favorite days of the year, please consider signing up for an invitation to Tour the Design Trends on our website. It’s such a hit each year in Chicago that we’re testing a second tour in another city (soon to be announced), and we’d love if you could join us!