Inexpensive Restaurant Design Ideas

Give your restaurant personality on a budget

Table setting in boutique hotel
••• Simon Watson / Getty Images

Sometimes less is more when it comes to a restaurant design or concept. Costs frequently stack up when you're trying to get the doors open, so learning to be creative and cost-effective with your design is essential. Depending on your restaurant theme, you can get away with many inexpensive design tricks. To help you get started, here are some ideas for creating an inviting dining space without breaking your startup budget.

Skip the Tablecloths

Linens are great for banquets, weddings, and other catered events, but using them in a restaurant dining room can be costly. Regular cleaning, pressing, and replacement costs quickly add up. Plus, linen tablecloths can send the wrong message to potential customers. They may think your establishment is too fancy or too expensive for their budget and move on to a place where they feel more comfortable.

Instead of a full linen service try using just linen napkins, which add a simple sense of formality without overdoing it. Roll silverware inside the napkin for an easy place setting. Linen napkins can be washed and dried in-house, saving you on cleaning bills. You could also try paper tablecloths, which make a great coloring surface for kids to play on while they wait for dinner.

Create Your Own Menus

Instead of sending your menus to a professional printer and having them laminated, purchase simple menu jackets and create your menu with your computer and printer. There are so many options available with standard publishing software, you can create a customized menu that will fit in with your restaurant design at a fraction of the price of having them done professionally.

One way to get creative is to use kids' drawings for the fronts and backs of your menus. Ask kid customers to draw their version of your restaurant and, Voila! Instant art that will be as unique as your restaurant concept, not to mention interesting to guests. Once you have the artwork, there are free programs you can use to put together the final design yourself.

Consider a Casual Dress Code 

Waitstaff uniforms are just as much a part of your restaurant design as the furniture or artwork (not to mention as costly). A waiter in a white shirt and tie gives off a different vibe than a server in a T-shirt and jeans. Instead of investing in heavy-duty button-down shirts with an embroidered logo, try an inexpensive T-shirt, a great deal especially when you are buying in bulk. A bonus of the staff wearing simple, branded tees is that you can sell them to customers and get some bonus advertising, too.

You can even have the staff dress in their own clothes, which is the cheapest uniform of all and requires no investment from you. Of course, you'll need to implement a dress code defining what type of personal clothing is acceptable at work.

Use Your Imagination

One of my favorite restaurants has a Mona Lisa painted on the wall in the ladies' restroom. In the men's restroom, there is a wall mural of Polaroids featuring urinals from around the world. Neither of these decorations put too big of a dent in the owner's pockets. Other favorites include a vintage prom dress stapled to a door to let you know that it’s the ladies' room and an old gasoline pump from the 1950s perched on a ledge overlooking the dining room.

When planning your restaurant design, don’t be afraid to do something unique. With a little imagination, almost anything can be part of a distinct design. If thinking up funky restaurant bathroom designs or quirky dining room decor isn’t your strong suit, ask some creative friends for ideas. Your design is a very important part of your restaurant concept, but it doesn't have to break the bank.