Twinkling lights and holiday cheer are right around the corner. Decorating your restaurant for the holidays can be a fun annual event that you and your guests look forward to each year. Besides creating added warmth and comfort in your restaurant, it can make staff and guests feel like a part of your extended family.
We asked designers, consultants and restaurant owners to share their favorite holiday decorating tips to help get you in the light-stringing mood.
Mark Grossich, founder, owner, c.e.o., Hospitality Holdings, NYCd: “It’s important not to compete with the existing restaurant décor. All holiday decorations should work to enhance the look and feel of the restaurant. When decorating on a budget, focus on what will make the biggest impact. Think about where customers are most likely to notice decorations. For example, patrons will all enter and exit from the same location, so focusing on the entrance will make a nice statement. Also, don’t overlook everyday items you use. A nice arrangement of baubles in a martini glass looks festive.”
Darren Roach, owner, Queenstown Public House, San Diego: “Don't buy anything you can't use again, and then store everything for the next year. We bought fake popcorn last year to string up along the windows and we will be using the same popcorn this year. I suggest hiring an outside decorator to handle decorations. I know how to make good quality food; I do not know how to decorate so that it doesn't look like a freshman dorm room. My designer Courtney Postupuck is great at seeing things I wouldn't, and came to me with the idea of making Queenstown Public House into a gingerbread feel with details such as peppermint swirls, glitzy gumdrops and other candied goodies.”
Jenni Jane Hellstern, interior designer, Studio 11 Design, Dallas: “Stay fresh and vibrant. Fresh garlands, flowers and white accents create a fresh clean feeling and set a beautiful backdrop for a fabulous meal. Focus on upcycling as much material as possible; aside from being good for the wallet, it’s also great for the earth. Most Christmas tree farms will sell cheaply or even give away remnant branches, end cuts, et cetera. Try spray-painting the tips of the pine needles gold and creating garlands or centerpieces. You can use the end cuts for trivets under small votive candles or glue a gold binder clip to the edge and clip the check to it during the holidays.”
Lauren Rothe, manager, Brick House Brewery, Patchogue, NY: “White string lights can make a huge difference in any space and add a touch of minimalist elegance. Ribbon is fairly inexpensive and can be used multiple ways. Also, think outside the box when it comes to tree and garland decorations; ornaments can be pretty expensive. Try not to place anything too glittery or sparkly anywhere that will come in contact with food, such as on tables or overhead light fixtures. It'll save you on customer complaints later.”
Travis Richard, project manager, Benjamin Newby, Chicago: “The most important thing to focus on is the feeling you get when you first walk in the door. You want to create an atmosphere that is warm and inviting without being overly decorated to the point where it feels chaotic. Save money by purchasing holiday decor the season before or post-holidays when everything is on sale. Also, use what you kind find in nature around you, such as pinecones and fresh foliage. Leave it to the professionals to make the place pretty while you focus on keeping the place busy with reservations.”
Jim Fris, chief operating officer, PJW Restaurant Group, NJ: “Be creative! Use the collective brain power of your staff; some of the craftiest folks might be behind the bar or bussing tables. PJW Restaurant Group has an annual decorating competition. The staff of each restaurant decorates their location, and the senior management makes the final winner call. One restaurant in New Jersey wins and one in Pennsylvania. It’s fun, boosts morale and gets everyone in the spirit.”
More expert advice
Adam Robin, director of operations, Cabo Flats, Delray Beach, FL: “Focus on the outside of the restaurant and the entrance. The entrance is key because you want to convince people to come in if they are walking by. It's also very important not to have overwhelming scents or holiday candles. The scents in your restaurant should be food only.
“Less is never more for a restaurant looking to stand out, so hiring a decorator, if you have the budget or means, is an excellent idea because everything looks neat and organized. There’s nothing worse than having lights hanging from the roof in a sloppy manner.”
Irene Yu, designer, Arcsine, Oakland, CA: “Focus on areas where customers have the most contact. A festive host stand and waiting area welcome patrons and set the tone for the rest of their experience. Adding cleverly placed string lights to bump up the existing ambient lighting is an easy and noticeable garnish. Additionally, tactile and intimate details incorporated into a table setting are also great opportunities to showcase seasonal florals and greens, which could actually be clippings and sprigs of ingredients featured in carefully crafted winter food and cocktail menus.
“For a big statement, focusing on decorating one big design feature within the restaurant is a good strategy. For instance, if a large exhibition kitchen is present, hanging garlands or string lights in this area would be great, as it already draws on the visual hierarchy present within the restaurant. Another approach would be to choose one material to work with and use it throughout the venue. As an example, metallic finishes are on trend this year, so wrapping a host station, existing columns, built-in furniture, etc. in rose gold tinsel would be an exciting yet simple change.
“As a guest, winter décor can be insanely overwhelming or disappointingly underwhelming. The most successful seasonal décor I’ve seen is all about creating impact in prime areas and composing a scene with the appropriate juxtaposition of materials, patterns, shapes, textures, etc. Stick to a theme, show restraint with balanced vignettes, go for neutral palettes with pops of color, and let the guiding light be to create a hospitable atmosphere where people are guaranteed visual and physical comfort.”