The Restaurant Guide to Minimalist Design: The Look That Defined a Generation

By: Amanda McNamara

7 Minute Read

Jan 17, 2019

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Do you remember where you were on June 27, 2007?

To many, it was an average Friday, but to the tech world, it was the dawning of a new era: the age of the iPhone.

While Steve Jobs and his team are most well known for their products and technical innovations, their influence as design trendsetters has resulted in a creative butterfly effect we’re still feeling 11 years later.

Jobs' preference for and advocacy of minimalism – as a guiding lifestyle, design, and wardrobe philosophy – is apparent in every invention Apple has unveiled to the world. With each passing year and each iteration of their fleet of phones, tablets, laptops, and wearables, Apple somehow managed to make its user’s experience simpler, cleaner, and more refined than the last edition, while challenging the rest of the tech world to follow suit.

Since then, the public’s increased preference for products, spaces, and experiences that incorporate or exude minimalist principles has impacted nearly every industry’s approach to design during the past decade, including restaurants.

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What is Minimalist Design?

As defined by the team at Creative Market, minimalist design is about "designers expressing only the most essential and necessary elements of a product or subject by getting rid of any excessive and, therefore, unnecessary components and features.”

The twenty-teens have been marked by the millennial obsession with minimalist design, a Jobs by-product, no doubt. The generation that largely came of age following the 2008 crash, millennials had another strong motivation for moving away from the materialist mindset and opulent excess that defined the 80's and 90's: they couldn't afford it.

By and large, we’ve seen more businesses evolve their brand identities to incorporate hallmark minimalist design characteristics – like clean lines, flat logo compositions, simple, monochromatic color schemes, and Helvetica style typography.

From makeup to exercise equipment, fashion lines, and even restaurant design, the minimalist aesthetic has established itself as the look and feel of this decade.

Minimalist Design in Restaurants

If you’re considering opening a new restaurant or rebranding your existing concept and want to incorporate a trend that’s here to stay, minimalist design is a great place to start.

At its core, minimalism emphasizes the importance of removing all the excess and clutter that detracts from your ability to enjoy an experience fully.

As a business strategy, minimalist design removes customer distractions and drives increased engagement with your core product or purpose. In the restaurant industry, concepts, spaces, menus, and technology that minimize distractions from enjoying the main event – the dining experience – are in hot demand from both operators and guests.

Here are three simple ways to incorporate minimalism and minimalist design into your restaurant.

1. Simplify Your Menu Layout

It takes a lot of hard work to attract guests to your restaurant. Once you have successfully enticed them to take a seat or place an order online, you don’t want to do your marketing efforts a disservice by presenting guests with a cluttered menu that pulls their attention away from your most popular dishes or biggest revenue drivers.

When it comes to your menu, a simple, minimalist design may seem boring, but, in fact, using too many font variations, pictures, and colors on your menu is distracting and counter-productive. Your guests don’t know what to choose because they don’t know where to start.

Imagine what it would do for your bottom line and your reputation if you could get the majority of guests who visit your restaurant to order what you consider to be one of your best dishes? You can.

The secret? Keep it simple.

minimalist restaurant menu

The above menu is a great example of an effective-yet-simple menu layout that highlights the restaurant’s most popular items – their Bloody Mary, their cheese and charcuterie board, and their buttermilk fried chicken – while only using one color and clean, geometric shapes.

Your eye is instantly drawn to where the owner wants it to be.

2. Incorporate a White or Neutral Palette

Although bright hues like living coral, greenery, radiant orchid, and tangerine tango have won Pantone’s coveted Color of The Year title in recent years, the color of the decade would have to be white.

From interior design – where white subway tile, white-washed walls, and white marble countertops are in demand – to tech, and even footwear, white and/or neutral color palettes have dominated with millennial consumers as an extension of their preference for minimalist designs and palettes. It’s impossible to not notice the renaissance moment white sneakers are having right now.

Restaurants like Bird, Bird, Biscuit in Austin, TX use the power of a clean, minimalist, white-heavy interior to act as a blank canvas on which their kitchen’s creations can take center stage.

Not only is their space bright, inviting, and clean, their minimalist approach to restaurant design and food presentation removes any and all distractions from the true star of the show: their biscuits.

Incorporating a neutral or white-heavy palette in your restaurant – from your walls to your counters to your hardware – encourages guests to focus on the food coming out of the kitchen and the conversations they have with your staff by preventing other visual distractions from getting in the way.


3. Streamline Your Point of Sale Hardware

Did you know the original cash register was invented in 1879? Restaurant technology has come a long way since the days of the wild, wild west, but it can be argued that the most substantial period of change restaurant technology has experienced is within the last 10 years.

[Click Here to See a Timeline of How Point-of-Sale Technology Has Evolved Since The 19th Century]

Since 2012, when consumer grade tablets took over the restaurant point-of-sale market, we’ve seen restaurant hardware continue to shrink in size, simplify in design, and speed-up in processing power.

When a guest interacts with your restaurant point-of-sale system, whether it’s to place an order via a kiosk or pay once they’ve finished their meal, the experience should not in any way distract or detract from their dining experience. If anything, the point-of-sale experience should be so simple and seamless that both staff and guest treat it as an after-thought.

As a result, operators have come to favor restaurant point-of-sale hardware that blends with their brand and fades into the background.

Products like Toast Go™ – the latest in restaurant point-of-sale technology – have answered this call by giving restaurant staff the full, robust functionality of a traditional point-of-sale terminal in a sleek, simple, comfortable handheld form that’s easy to tuck into an apron.

In quick-service and fast-casual concepts that rely on terminals, Toast customers also have the option to choose whether black hardware or white hardware better suits their brand and aesthetic.

white pos hardware

So Fresh and so Clean, Clean

Restaurant design can be complicated. Minimalist design offers restaurant owners a way to entice guests with an on-trend concept that doesn't distract from the main event: the dining experience.

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