interior design

What not to compromise on in hospitality interior design

In June 2022 Bark n Beans cafe in Mooroolbark re-opened for business after being closed for a few weeks to undertake a refurbishment designed by us. Previously the Rusty Owl, I started working on this hospitality interior design project late 2021. Soon after lock down had ended this client contacted me about refurbishing their café. They had a limited budget (most clients do) which is always a challenge, but it made me think, as an interior designer, what not to compromise on in a hospitality interior design project.

Striking entrance

They say first impressions count. This is true for hospitality interior design. As soon as the customer walks through the door you want your shop to make an impression. This is called wow factor. It’s subjective but important. What that wow factor is depends entirely on your interior design vision and how your designer translates this to create a striking entrance.

For most cafes, bars and restaurants the first thing a customer sees is the front counter. The façade of the counter is your opportunity to create a visual treat. You can opt to treat the surface of your counter with a specific material such as tiles or use this area for shelving to sell products.

Whatever you decide to do, ensure it’s beautiful and extends your design story. And most importantly says something to your customers about the experience they’re about to have.

In previous projects we’ve worked on, the counter façade has been timber, tiles and shelving. What we chose for the counter façade was connected to the client’s vision. In Bekka Lebanese restaurant we used an Arabesque style tile.

For Autumn Leaves we chose a laminate finish for the retail shelving the client wanted to have to display their range of merchandise.

As well as the interior design vision, there are other factors that need to be considered for the choice of the counter façade and that is budget. For Bark n Beans due to their limited budget the counter façade was a white laminate finish with green laminate shelving to extend the colour scheme.


Walls in both hospitality interior design and residential interior design projects generally make up the largest volume of surface in a space. So, it’s important to consider how to treat this surface. Painting the walls in your hospitality business white isn’t enough. Colour can be a powerful to create wow factor, interest, warmth and communicate the interior design story.

For Bark n Beans we painted the walls two colours, white and green. Their style goal centred around the colours of white, green, and timber materials. Earthy colours and textures that reflected their country of origin.

The reason we decided to paint the walls two colours was because the backrest was going to be made from a rattan fabric and this neutral colour would be highlighted by being installed on a green wall rather than a white wall.

Above the green section of the wall there were going to be artificial plants, so the plants added some life and dynamism to the top half of the white wall. Which meant we didn’t need to paint the entire wall one colour.

This line between the two colours also created visual interest in the space and gave the eye something to follow, indirectly ensuring customers looked around the space when they entered, it’s directional and part of the flow of the movement of the shop.

Comfortable furniture

Without doubt every time I go out for a meal with mum whether it’s brunch or dinner, she makes a comment about how uncomfortable the chair is. The chair in your café, bar or restaurant must be comfortable. This is a piece of furniture not to compromise on.

But as well as being comfortable the chair needs to be beautiful. This sums up interior design. The pieces individually and together need to be comfortable/functional and beautiful. So, the chair choice is a careful one.

I usually bring the chair to the space for my client to try it. If the client is comfortable that’s a good sign. Of course, budget plays a role, as always, in the final chair choice. But I try not to spend more than $100 per chair.

For Bark n Beans we found a suitable polypropylene option for around $70. That worked with the colour scheme and was stackable.

Good layout

Another aspect of your hospitality interior design not to compromise on is the furniture layout. A good layout is important for both customers and employees. Customers need to feel like they can get in and out of the table setting easily.

Also, employees need to move around the table settings to serve food, collect empty plates, and at the end of service they need to clean.

A stingy floor plan where customers are packed close together is not pleasant. Your customers feel like their personal space is invaded, and they don’t have any privacy to conduct a personal conversation.

A good, generous floor plan is a must.

Décor as in art or plants etc

The last thing not to compromise on in your hospitality design project is décor. Décor can mean many things and includes; art, plants or other decorative features. The reason it’s important not to compromise on décor is that this is often the piece that helps personalise the space as yours.

For Little Brother tropical artificial plants were important to communicate a tropical Vietnamese vibe. In Autumn Leaves the alfresco dining area was painted to communicate a Mexicali vibe.

These days most café, bar or restaurant owners want Instagrammable spaces. And while the food, beautifully presented is photo worthy so are sections of your space that have a special piece of art. For Mother Melbourne the outside of the shop was painted specifically to attract Chinese tourists and designed to feature all of Melbourne’s ‘attractions.’

Managing a budget is part and parcel of any interior design project. The way to manage a budget is to make compromises. But they have to be smart compromise that don’t impact your customer’s experience or dilute your vision. An interior designer can help you make the right choices on where not to compromise in your hospitality interior design project.