Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow


Responsible practices have become a necessity for brands; sustainability efforts are paramount today. 

As climate change issues continue to grow in importance and urgency, restaurants look to ethical design and sustainable sourcing to show customers they care. It’s a challenge to make this part of the restaurant offering as well as integrate sustainable practices in the overall dining experience. 

This trend is very likely to continue for years to come as restaurants begin to see its long term value. 

First, let’s try to answer: What is restaurant sustainability?

It’s quite an all encompassing term. Imagine a restaurant that does no harm to the planet by using 100% renewable energy, produces zero waste, reduces food wastage, recycles its water and has no trash that stays on the planet for 500 years (like plastic), and maybe has their own little herb garden. Plus, they most probably already have a strong local community as they support their farmers, artisans and craftspeople. 

Not an easy feat.

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Slow Ibiza

A sustainable restaurant is undertaking a conscious effort to be mindful of your impact on the planet. As you reduce waste and conserve energy, you not only do it for the brand, but also for the environment, people and communities surrounding your space. Tackling on this goal is not easy; and, it will cost a pretty penny, especially at the beginning. However, this journey requires you to focus on long-term benefits where your efforts to protect, preserve and restore the environment will reap economic prosperity.

Not to mention that, it’s what people are looking for. It increases value because restaurants along with customers feel they are making a difference.

So then, how can you approach restaurant sustainability in terms of  design and architecture?

1. Outdoor or rooftop dining

Since the pandemic, outdoor dining has become a must-have. Of course, only if your space allows. Not only is this the safer choice, but it also has a ton of opportunities to elevate your customers’ dining experience.

If you can extend your restaurant square footage to an outdoor area, it automatically saves you energy – less aircon, less heater expenses. Plus, it can improve the overall aesthetics of your space – with planter dividers, bistro-eque seats and a corner cafe chill kind of vibe. This wide indoor-outdoor flow will also help you navigate people and server traffic in both areas of your restaurant.

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Krisztina Papp

2. Repurposed exteriors

People are getting creative with their restaurant architecture and exterior design because one, they want to stand out; and two, it can help with their sustainability drive. We’re talking about something along the lines of using shipping containers – this is a direct move to sustainable efforts by repurposing this disused space and material. 

Other creative structures to explore are abandoned buses, a discarded canoe, or perhaps with a treehouse-inspired architectural design. There are a lot of ways to explore structural design while being sustainable. Have you heard of Airbnb OMG! Fund? – a wonderful example of creative architecture while still thinking green. However, if going to such lengths isn’t viable for you, others are using reclaimed wood, steel parts and other discarded materials to make up some areas and parts of their exterior facade. 

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow

Photo source: Restaurant Design Associates

3. Biophilic approach

When it comes to sustainable design practices, the biophilic approach will always be part of the ways to achieve it. This concept – coming from the word ‘biophilia’ which means love of nature – has been an ever growing approach to architecture and design since the seed for sustainability was first planted into our minds. 

Biophilic concept follows seven principles that allow your connection to nature to stay intact, even grow, while indoors. Some of them are about multi-sensory stimuli, a perception of prospect; but the most common way is through incorporating environmental features, shapes and forms. Simply put, you can easily achieve this first step through greenery and plants. Turn a full wall green and mimic nature’s forms through tree columns, winding forest paths and more foliage. Making sure there’s a bit of randomness to it, as in nature.

And as a bonus, this interior design will surely bring in a lot of Instagram posts for its very IG-worthy visual interest.  

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow

Photo source: The Rail Media

4. Reclaimed wood, flooring and fixtures

Apart from having this on restaurant exteriors, bring them in. Wood elements inside would partner perfectly with your green wall and plants and add that rich coziness that never goes out of style. Look for ways where you can use upcycled alternatives and bring on a uniqueness to your restaurant interiors you won’t find anywhere else. 

For flooring, solid colored tiles from old buildings or abandoned establishments that you can access will bring in an authentic feel to your space. Try the industrial style where you take advantage of your structure’s old bones – such as exposed pipes and bricks – and treat them as part of the overall look and feel.

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Patrick Tomasso

5. Sources locally for things beyond produce

Remember that small point we mentioned above about working with the local community? Here it is. Create your own tight-knit, friendly chosen family by going beyond just helping the farmers and also tapping on local craftspeople in the area. Working with these artisans can bring in unique and sustainable alternatives and almost guarantee that your decor and fixtures won’t be seen anywhere else. The best part is, your personality and style will also shine through.

You help grow their livelihood, as they beautify your space and, in turn, grow yours. Plus, you’re largely reducing energy and fuel consumption because this almost fully eliminates transportation and shipping costs. 

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Christelle Bourgeois

6. Dedicate a kitchen garden

Speaking of produce, why don’t you create your own kitchen garden? The sustainability drive, along with the pandemic, pushed several restaurants to make their own little pocket of green where they can get fresh herbs and other veggies everyday. This way, you won’t run out of fresh toppings and ingredients. And, it will allow you to experiment more with your menu, maybe creating the next big hit. 

Additionally, one sustainable opportunity with having your own garden is reducing food waste and leftovers. You can create composting bins for your food that you’ve been planning to just throw out and turn them into nutrient-rich additives for your kitchen garden – making for one sustainable cycle. 

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Zoe Schaeffer

7. Take note of little changes

Apart from the big aforementioned changes, there are also smaller moves you can explore first. Imagine hundreds of restaurants doing this, one small change from each could make a lot of difference. But first, you need to remember that throughout all these, cleanliness is still paramount. 

Start with your napkins, try going for linen instead of paper ones. Since everyone and everything is going digital now, use this for your menu and receipts to reduce paper usage. If paper menus fit better with your restaurant, go for recycled paper. Then, think about your table cutlery – maybe it’s time you explored those bamboo spoons and forks, sustainable and still easy to clean. Finally, consider packaging. Naturally, don’t use plastic, use recycled paper, while also encouraging your suppliers to reduce their packaging use and disposal.

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Maria Ilves

8. Decorate food with healthy touches

Now for the grand finale in sustainable design trends for restaurants, creative food plating and presentation. How? Since you already have that little kitchen garden going on, this point would be easily doable. Everyone loves seeing Instagrammable food – makes it all the more appetizing. 

As you improve your menu and invent new recipes using your own supplies, think about how to make it look better. Play with colors and shapes using edible flowers, different herbs and spices, the brightness of veggies and fruits, and you’ll serve one pretty, yummy dish. 

Sustainable Restaurant Design Trends that Continue to Grow | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Monika Grabkowska

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