melbourne interior designer, hospitality design

Hospitality front counter design

I recently went into a new smoothie place on Ascot Vale road. The person behind the counter was the owner. She told me they’ve been open three months and so far so good. Of course I couldn’t help but scan the space for functionality and aesthetics. The front counter was my biggest issue as well as the overuse of the colour pink. But let’s focus this post on hospitality front counter design.

First impressions

We all know that first impressions count. For a café, bar, or restaurant this is true also. In a hospitality space it’s the front counter that is what most customers will notice as soon as they walk through the door. The reason for this is customers will be looking for ‘direction’ as to what or where to go next. For example, to order take away or wait to be seated.

So, the front counter needs to tell customers what to do. It directs the flow of movement. But it also needs to look good. The front counter needs to communicate your entire brand, ethos, or value. It needs to extend the design story and tell your customers directly what to expect from their experience in your business.


There are many factors that determine the size of your front counter. For example, the size of the entire space. The front counter should be in proportion to the volume of total space.

Functionality also plays a role in how big or small your front counter is. For example, if your space is a bar, the front counter needs to big. Especially, if you want customers to sit at the bar.

If you’re café then you need the front counter to accommodate essential pieces of equipment such as coffee machine, grinder, register and maybe some merchandise if you have products to sell such as keep cups.

Some counters need lots of storage also.

In the smoothie place I visited the front counter was so high I couldn’t see the owner making my chai. We were chatting but it was like I was chatting to the air. Without that eye contact I didn’t feel like I was connecting with the owner.

I dare say if the owner is hiding behind such a high front counter she’s not connecting with any of her customers and this might impact whether the customers return or not.


Where the front counter is positioned in the space is also important. In a recent café project I worked on the client wanted the front counter to be relocated to the back of the shop.

The reason for this suggestion was because they felt the front counter was too far for the wait staff from the kitchen.

This was an interesting rationale and while the flow of movement in hospitality design spatial configuration takes into account customers as well as employees, the customer takes priority.

Putting the coffee counter in the back meant that the customers would have to walk further to place their order. They wouldn’t get an immediate welcome smile as they walked in the shop. Thankfully this client understood this reasoning and decided to keep the coffee counter in the front.

Another aspect that impacts the location is the size and shape of the space itself. In deep long space it makes sense that the front counter is as close as possible to the entrance on the left or right hand side of the shop.


The layout of your front counter also needs thinking through. The front counter needs to be efficient and have its own system.

For example, in a café there will be a coffee making zone, a juice making zone, a takeaway food zone and so on.

In bar the zones may be dependent on what type of drinks you serve. For example, beer taps on one side and cocktails another. For a takeaway business there will be a need for a packaging zone.

Each business is different, so the layout of your counter needs to reflect the most efficient way to serve your customers based on the size of your counter and space.


Functionally, aesthetically and from a customer perspective the front counter has three important finishes or specifications. The façade, the countertop and lighting. These selections need to tick a few boxes. They need to be durable and extend the design story.

These finishes also need to factor in sound levels. If you’re concerned about sound then using a timber or durable fabric on your counter façade is worth considering, instead of a tile façade for example.

Lighting also needs to be functional and atmospheric. It’s difficult in a restaurant or bar to have bright white light to see when you’re aiming for a particular mood.

With the countertop I generally specify stone. Some clients on a budget use a laminate product but this chips quickly and cheapens the look of the shop.

I know not every hospitality business owner can afford to work with a hospitality interior designer. I also know there are some experienced hospitality business owners who think they know about interior design but it did bother me that the shop in Ascot Vale made such a huge mistake.

Design for business outcomes

I consider hospitality interior design a business solution. The design decisions we make are made to optimise the business and make more money for our client while giving our clients’ customers a memorable experience.

There’s more to creating an Instagrammable space that choosing on trend colours and finishes, there is function and communicating your brand as well and creating a space that the client envisions for their target audience.

In the Ascot Vale smoothie bar the final point I’ll make is that with the over use of pink they could potentially lose male customers. Balance is an important hospitality interior design factor and in this space the pink was just too girly.

Maybe that was their aim but it’s unlikely that a hospitality business owner would narrow their customer numbers this way. Regardless, unfortunately my first impression of this place wasn’t good and I’m not going back. That’s the impact of first impressions.