How to Revamp Your Restaurant's Interior Design On a Budget

Unique interior design has the power to level-up your restaurant's guest experience. Check out these 15 ways you can improve your restaurant design on a budget.

Got 250K to 1 million dollars handy? That's the average price of a restaurant layout redesign nowadays, especially in big cities like New York. But if you don't happen to be blessed with deep pockets, at least you can be rich in restaurant interior design ideas that will give your space an extra boost without breaking the bank. 

Throw a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Switch out those dusty ceiling fans and drab fixtures. Show a bit of personality by adding unique shelving. Liven up your interiors with fresh flowers and plants. These are all projects and purchases that can create a surprising amount of impact, cost a minimum of money, and are easy for even an amateur to complete in a day, so you don't need to call in a contractor.  

Don’t have an eye for design? It's absolutely ok to keep things simple. Start with a neutral palette (think white walls, clean lines and classic textures), and then have fun accessorizing your space with all manner of colorful and creative accents.  

There's no doubt that our restaurant decor ideas on a budget will save you money. That said, you still need to be willing to devote the time to creating a compelling concept. Don't feel daunted, it can be fun and is more than worth the effort, because paying attention to the details when it comes to restaurant interior design can go a long way in the age of social media. After all, your customers are your best advertisers. And by using tools like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, they have the power to spread the word about your restaurant to hundreds or thousands of followers, which can really raise your visibility.

Still not convinced that decor is key? Take a cue from the experts. Interior designer Paul Basile is highly sought after by San Diego restaurateurs, because of his signature touches like one-of-a-kind furniture, and architectural elements that serve dual purposes (think windows that fold down to become tabletops). And as he shared with Restaurant Hospitality, his mission is to “focus on the customer experience and what makes them feel special to be there, and create a mood that coincides with the food and drinks."

"Expressing passion in the overall design and the intimate details, you can feel and see when something was done right and is handcrafted," he continued. "That expressiveness is passed along to the guests when they notice something new every visit — like finding a new little gem.”

A few of Basile's other interior design ideas include using materials that age well (and won't fall subject to passing fads), foraging for unique furnishings (instead of shopping from restaurant catalogues), and evoking a feeling of timelessness, by placing materials of differing styles, types, and histories within the same space to induce a deeper response between what is expected and what is experienced.

Yet while we all wish we could hire a design studio or interior designer for our restaurants, the truth is, a $250K+ budget isn’t always there. That's when it’s time to get creative on your own. And it's easier than you think, even for restaurant owners who have little to no experience with DIY. Check out these 15 essential design elements and all of the inexpensive ways you can incorporate them in order to breathe new life into your restaurant interior design. 

1. Make a great first impression. 

What do the best restaurants from New York City to Sydney to Barcelona have in common? They set the stage for an incredible dining experience, the moment you walk through the door. That's why ideal interior design for restaurants integrates the entrance, whether that comes in the form of snazzy signage, a dramatic door, or an elegant host station.  

coral-colored external wall of a restaurant with light green chairs in front of a takeout window, and a light green doorPhoto by Barbare Kacharava

2. Bring the outside in. 

Plants and flowers are a great way to update your dining area on a regular basis. You can switch them out every week if you want it to (and if your budget allows). Living walls and vertical gardens have also emerged as major design trends. Not only do rows of lush herbs and greenery create gorgeous visual impact, they can actually improve air quality.

a large, airy restaurant with high ceilings with wooden beams, and dozens on plants on the floor, tables, and ceilingPhoto by Jonathan Borba

3. Showcase local art. 

Turn your bistro or coffee shop into a part-time gallery by showcasing the work of local or lesser-known artists. It will both enhance the dining experience and support your community. 

a cozy restaurant with a weathered brick wall that has colorful art arranged in two diamond shapesPhoto by Toa Heftiba

4. DIY the lighting scheme.

Swapping out uninspired lighting fixtures with flickering sconces, elegant pendants, or funky chandeliers is a great way to define a space, evoke a specific mood or create ambiance. And as long as you have the correct electrical work set up, this type of project is DIY friendly to boot. Make sure that your lighting also makes for beautiful food photos, as this will encourage your guests to share their experiences on social media.

a black and white image of a cafe with seven overhead hanging lightbulbs with large glass coversPhoto by Elmarie Van Rooyen

5. Offer unique seating options.

Think beyond booths and stools. Switching up seating can be a principal part of low budget restaurant design. Scour antique shops or flea markets for art deco chairs, or select a purposely eclectic mix. You can even revitalize existing chairs with a fresh paint job.

a rustic and beautiful restaurant entrance with a classic wooden bench, a tufted blue booth, and simple wooden chairs.Photo by Elizabeth French

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6. Make a statement wall.

What would a modern restaurant be without an eye-catching statement wall? It's one of our favorite restaurant design ideas on a budget, because you can concentrate your energy (and cash) on a single small space. If you make an impact with over-the-top wallpaper or an elaborate mural, you can keep the rest of your interiors clean and simple. 

a bright restaurant with a glass ceiling, white walls, plants all over, and one wall covered in a geometric, colorful pattern.Photo by Lorenzo Mitil

7. Create a communal experience.

Once we're safely post-COVID, it's fair to say that everyone will be anxious to reconnect. So structure your cafe design to include large tables for gathering in groups. Oh, and be sure to stock shelves with fun, interactive elements like trivia cards and board games.   

a restaurant with light-colored walls, with a large wooden table in the center that seats more than 15 people in white chairs.Photo by Spencer Davis

8. Celebrate your location.

Allow your interior architecture to be influenced by the unique history of your city or town. Employ small restaurant interior design ideas like turning salvaged church pews into banquettes, using an old school desk as a hostess stand, making prints of antique maps, or rummaging flea markets for hometown trinkets and treasures.

a restaurant with portuguese-style blue wall tiles, and a shelf displaying local artifacts above a reading nook.Photo by Denis Oliveira

9. Beautify your bar.

Since the bar is often a central gathering spot at a restaurant (not to mention the place patrons cool their heels while awaiting tables) you should let your bar design reflect that. Invest in a customized countertop or make the exterior of the bar pop with color. You can also borrow from our other restaurant decoration ideas, by considering cool seating, lively lighting, engaging signage, or lush plants.

a beautiful bar with dark wooden finishings for the walls and shelving, and a bright blue bar exterior with maroon and gold wooden stools. Eucalyptus branches add even more color.Photo by Michal Mancewicz

10. Get everyone chalking.

A trendy cafe interior calls for a can of chalkboard paint! Create a space for patrons to channel their inner artist, or use your DIY chalkboard as a menu that you can change by the day. It's especially useful for incorporating retail design into your business plan. Your chalkboard can showcase the names and prices of products that you're really looking to push, such as housemade sauces, hand-stitched tote bags, or locally roasted coffee. 

A large wooden-framed chalk menu for a cafe, showing specialty coffee drinks, tea and cocoa options, and extras.Photo by Kelly McCrimmon

11. Focus on a theme.

It's great to have ideas, but you don't want to let your aesthetic run all over the place. Instead, streamline your restaurant decor concepts by honing in on a specific restaurant interior design theme. Try going the rustic farmhouse route for an Italian restaurant, by utilizing distressed wood, ironwork, and painted pots. Choose convivial brasserie elements like tiled floors, poster-clad walls, and rattan chairs for a French restaurant. Or keep things classy and monochromatic, with elegant lines and subdued finishes, if you're running a fine dining restaurant. 

A bike-themed cafe with a large black menu up on the wall, grey industrial finishes, and simple shelves with coffee fixins and decor.Photo by Roman Bozhko

12. Add style with minimalist shelving.

Minimalist shelving is an easy way to add function and style to the modern interior of your dining room. Play around with different configurations and shapes to create the look you desire. Besides switching up your vibe in an instant, this budget-friendly project is totally DIY, because installation can be easily done by yourself.

A warm restaurant with a brick wall and white ceiling, with a large shelving unit against the wall containing photos, tons of books, and other trinkets.Photo by Bibi Pace

13. Single out your ceiling.

If your new restaurant occupies a small space, why not make ceilings a part of your floor plan? Painting the ceiling the same color as your walls can actually make your room look considerably bigger. Or, you can cover the whole thing with peel-and-stick tiles. No one needs to know that your chic pressed tin ceiling isn't the real thing!

A modern diner with dark blue and gold accents, including a dark blue-painted ceiling and a red hanging lamp.Photo by Tobias Hage

14. Mirror mirror all over the walls. 

In the commercial interior design world, it's all about incorporating decor ideas that maximize your space. Mirrors both reflect light (making a room look brighter) as well as draw focus, creating the optical illusion of a cramped room being much larger than it is. 

A restaurant decorated with cool grey and wood tones, with a wall covered in triangular mirrors nestled into a jagged star-like shape.Photo by Sabri Tuzcu

15. Consider your tablescape.

Who said napkins, forks and tablecloths can't serve as decoration? From adding a simple jar with branches in it, to choosing a punchy color for your plates, to storing utensils in vintage tins, you'll win real bragging rights when it comes to low budget small restaurant design ideas. Plus, you'll create perfect backgrounds for your guests' Instagram photos.

A beautiful tablescape including a wide glass candleholder, turquoise and terra cotta bowls of snacks, some green branches, and two champagne flutes.Photo by Mel Maldonado-Turner

Create a Cohesive and Memorable Design

Whether implemented individually, or executed together as part of a major design overhaul, these 15 restaurant interior design themes have the power to significantly change how you —and your patrons — approach and interact with your establishment. 

“A great space can elevate and change your mood or feelings, evoke thought and feel thoughtful,” asserted Basile. “Consider the experience of the guests and service personal, make sure they both are engaged in the environment and push them to feel it is something special beyond what is normal." 

"And most importantly," he concluded, "sit down and look at everything from the customer’s point of view.”

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