The Jillian Bolger Column

Jillian Bolger

This month Jillian has words to say about something we can all relate to - badly designed restaurants

Some days you have to wonder about the qualifications of restaurant designers? There are times I think some of them can’t have dined out in public at all. And if they have, are they actually paying attention to their surroundings?

Hands up anyone who has struggled to hear their date on a night out? Sure, all those clean lines, cement and wooden surfaces and high ceilings might look cool on a computer screen, but did anyone stop to think think how they would work together as a public space?

Factor in diners’ voices, music and staff moving about and that’s a lot of sound waves bouncing off innumerable hard surfaces. Introduce glassware and cutlery, chairs being moved on hard floors and doors opening and you’ve the recipe for one cacophonous dining experience.

Poor acoustics are bad enough, but spare a thought for those of us with bad eyesight. When I go out for dinner I don’t want to feel like I’m sitting in a night club. I get that low lighting is key to setting a mood in a public space, but there’s a fine line between being able to read a menu and wondering if it’s maybe time for laser surgery. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve swiped the tea light and almost set fire to the menu while trying to decipher the fine print on the à la carte.

Comfort is key to a pleasant meal out, but I’m certain a large amount of restaurant designers think aesthetics first, and practicality second. How many times have you sat down on an inviting looking banquette only to realise that there’s enough room behind you for a front row prop to snuggle in?

Those deep spaces seem designed to accommodate a grizzly bear, not a human being, and you end up either leaning back at a 45-degree angle or sitting forward eyeballing your companion’s dining chair with envy for the duration of the meal. (Unless they’ve landed the designers’ other favourite: a cool-looking-but-equally-uncomfortable-seat that no-one should be expected to spend time on, even as a punishment.)

When you’re likely to be sitting at your table for several hours it seems ludicrous that comfort isn’t a consideration. Deep banquettes aside, what’s the deal with bar stools? Sure, they might only be temporary seating while waiting for your table to become free, but that doesn’t mean you should need a step ladder to summit them.

And if the vertically-challenged amongst us do manage to get onto them without making a complete scene, how many of them are too tall to pull under the bar counter? Didn’t anyone think of this when ordering them? I’m sure someone thought to measure the height of the bar versus the height of the stool, but no-one seems to have measured the stool’s height with an actual human sitting on it.

Anyone else fed-up dressing for all seasons before heading out to a new restaurant? I can’t be the only person who likes feeling warm when I’m enjoying my dinner, yet so many places struggle to provide a pleasing temperature.

Some dining rooms deliver instant Arctic-inspired exposure each time the door swings open, others a permanent chill thanks to over-zealous air conditioning. Surely decent heating, good ventilation and proper insulation make sense in our cool climate?

In the interest of fairness, I must acknowledge that not all restaurant designers are to blame. Many are simply following the wishes of the aesthetic-inspired restaurant owner that has hired them.

If you happen to be a would-be restaurateur reading this, before spending a cent, could you please visit the most comfortable restaurant you know and figure out how they got it so right? In this business its takes more than good food to make a recipe for success.

This article first appeared in Food & Wine Magazine and is reproduced with their kind permission.


Jillian Bolger

Jillian Bolger is an award-winning editor and journalist specialising in food and travel writing. A member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and former editor of Food & Wine magazine (1999-2003) she writes for The Irish Independent, Image, Food & Wine Magazine, Image Interiors and The Herald and is editor of Irish Brides magazine. She has worked with Georgina Campbell’s since 2008 and is the Dublin Editor. Jillian has won several awards for her travel writing and holds an honours degree in the Arts. Her love of travel has seen her live in Australia, Sri Lanka, the USA and Germany. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. Follow her on Twitter at @JillianBolger


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