You walk into a new restaurant for the first time and it just feels right. The music: on point. The crowd: eclectic, cool. And then you feel the energy. All of those pieces are working together in harmony to create the perfect vibe. A lot of that energy comes from how a space is laid out. That's what going to Ysabel in LA reminded me a couple of months ago - all of those pieces worked in harmony.
One of my favorite parts of Ysabel is this "high school quad-like" set of oversized stairs where you can lay back against pillows and get full cocktail service while overlooking the gorgeous patio and excited diners below. Not only are you interacting with your friends, but the setup invites you to commune with those around you. It's basically a more casual (and more chic) version of a communal table...that actually works.
You can have great food, music, drinks, service, crowd, and even design, but if the layout isn't conducive to the type of experience you're looking to create, then they all remain disjointed.
Working with new concepts, I like to get involved early in the design phase to help with these types of decisions. How big should the bar be? Do you want a series of small cocktail tables off to the side to treat waiting diners to a special experience? Does the concept lend itself to a deep booth or a tight banquette?
Much of the time I find owners and investors using amazing designers, who also happen to have little experience designing for a hospitality operation. They focus on the pretty, but not the functional. The trendy, but not the bigger concept of the service experience. There is a great balance to be found having designers work closely with operators to develop a concept layout that supports the experience.
So the next time you go out, take a look around and really think about how that layout and design is giving to, or taking away, from the experience.