8 critical Human Behaviour considerations for the design of a successful restaurant venue. Part 9

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8 Behaviour considerations for the design of successful restaurant spaces.

It goes without saying that successful restaurants have to serve great food. Without it, a restaurant can not exist. However, great food has become a passport factor in today's competitive landscape. It's not enough to guarantee success. Great restaurateurs are therefore well aware of the fact that they do not serve food, they serve people and by extension therefore perhaps they are not in the restaurant business but rather the entertainment business. It is how they make their guests feel and in order to understand those delicate ingredients that move their guests, they need to be aware of their conscious and subconscious biases and behavioural traits.

Below follows a short summary of the 8 core behaviour considerations that could make the difference between a good or great venue or worse... success or failure.

1. Belonging to a Tribe.

People have a hardwired need to belong to a tribe, a “community” or “family” that they can relate to. We say “tribe” because it's more natural and instinctive. It stems from our evolution and biological history. While many species can function and survive independently, mammals and by extension Humans cannot. Our social behaviour is based on 1000’s of years of survival through relationships in order to protect ourselves, reproduce and flourish.

A restaurant space that people find most conducive for social integration as a place of belonging whether they interact with the rest of the guests or not will disproportionately increase the restaurant's probability of success. As we have pointed out before, people go to restaurants to socialize and be entertained.

Restaurants are therefore often busy because they are busy.

2. Personality.

Think about a restaurant in the same way you would think about a person. The people you find most rewarding and tend to gravitate towards are often the ones you would describe as someone with a “great personality”. It’s someone that you find attentive, friendly, charismatic, or funny. Perhaps you are drawn to their humility or to their confidence. Perhaps it's their sense of optimism or friendliness. Or perhaps it's just the sense of trust and genuine interest that attracts you. In short, you are drawn to their character or personality.

Whatever the attraction the people in our lives fall largely in 2 areas, those that we admire and those that we deeply care about. Popular restaurants are no different. However if one can fall into the “deeply care about” category, patrons will always forgive a mistake or 2 and that can go a very long way towards success in a place with so many disproportionate moving parts and single points of failure.

3. Visual Appeal.

Beautiful people get half of their credibility because of their visual appeal. Restaurants are no different. Again this is hardwired in humans to reproduce with those we find visually appealing first. It's primarily how we have navigated ourselves thru 1000’s years. We thus process visual information 1st with 30% of the cortex devoted to visual stimuli enabling the brain to identify visual images in as little as 13 milliseconds. 65% of people are visual learners.

Most people, therefore, believe that if a place looks good, it must be good also.

4. Invisible Design.

These are things that we don’t find on Pinterest or any other visual reference platform. Things like intuitive navigation. It should feel natural and unhindered. Signage for e.g. is by and large a failure of design.

The more intuitively a space navigates the less anxiety we have and the happier the space makes us. We are not consciously aware of this. In restaurants where the toilets are situated is more important than one may think. The height of a chair is another. For dining, a chair lower than 450mm and higher than 465 is plainly uncomfortable and reduces the average dwell time (length of visit). So is a table lower than 750mm and higher than 780mm.

This can work wonders in a Fast Food or Quick Service Restaurant where you want the average dwell time to be short, but can severely affect the bottom line in a restaurant or fine dining establishment where the intention is for longer and more comfortable visits. That being said rules are also meant to be broken.

(More about this in a forthcoming article)

5. Storytelling.

We all love to tell or listen to relatable stories. This is another hardwired DNA imprint where storytelling through the ages formed a core part of how we transferred history.

Stories made it possible for cultures to pass knowledge, history, and significant events from father to son & from one generation to the next long before the invention of writing.

In the age of experience design, if a restaurant can tell a great story that is relatable & something that can be retold as part of our life story, we ourselves also become more interesting and relatable. Additionally, a great story also helps to align the concept and all the role players that assist in creating a new unique venue. It directs the choice of food, cutlery and crockery, lighting, decor and design, uniforms, and even the nature and profile of the waitrons appointed to work there.

A restaurant that is confused about its identity by extension also confuses its guests and a confused guest is not a frequent or loyal guest. this has a direct negative impact on the bottom line

6. Mirror Neurons.

This could take one all the way to what some call the source of empathy: our mirror neurons. These fire when we perform an action ourselves and when we simply observe another person performing the same action.

They likely play a major role in our understanding of the actions of others, and in the learning of new skills through imitation. Eating in a restaurant where our actions are similar and where we can observe others, the food they order, their etiquette, and body language, therefore creates comfort and a sense of belonging. Open space and site lines help frame this behaviour.

7. The Remembered Present.

The esteemed Neuroscientist Gerald Edelmein described these daily stimuli and experiences as the remembered present. You may feel like you simply react to events around you but in fact, your brain is constantly and invisibly guessing what you will experience next based on memories that are similar to the present moment. The keyword is similar, not the same.

Therefore enough similarity or a good measure of predictability with just a touch of the unexpected is what we favor and find exciting and enjoyable. Too much predictability like rows of similar spaces or architecture becomes boring. Too many new differences and our brain struggles to understand them which produces friction and anxiety. A space, therefore, needs just a small fraction of new. We call it the 3% difference. Get this right and you are bound to appeal to the widest market possible.

8. Social Reality Creates Physical Reality.

Enough people together create social reality in other words, a reality that did not exist before. If enough people come together to make up abstract concepts, share them, and weave them into reality they become real.

It's true for anything, from crypto based on nothing except how valuable enough people think it is to Covid 19 a deadly virus believed by enough not to be real & thus spreading even further, or a world leader claiming that an election was stolen & enough people believing the story to revolt & storm the capital. By extension, if enough people say a place is good, it must be good. If enough stand in a queue or book weeks in advance to get a table, enough people will follow, stand in the queue, or book as social reality made it so.

We look at how this filters into the next article... The 8 seating biases (that every restaurateur should be aware of to ensure a successful restaurant layout.)


Article Acknowledgements:

1. Wilson E. The Meaning of Human Existence

2. Lightman A. The accidental Universe. The world you thought you knew

3. Nicholson N. How Hardwired is Human Behavior. Harvard Bussiness Review

4. Roos D. Why do we get so much pleasure from symmetry. June 2021

5. Wageman J. Detection of Visual Symmetries. October 1994


Author: Callie Van Der Merwe Editor: Roberto Zambri

About the Author: Callie is an Architect turned Interior Designer turned

Human Behaviour Designer. He is also the founder of


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