Published on : Thursday, September 4, 2014
Award-winning Princeton architect Joshua Zinder, who divides his time among local clients and those as far away as Macau and Dubai, sees transparency in design as one of several easy fixes to giving a restaurant a modern appeal. He cites greater consumer attention to what they spend and where they spend it when it comes to eating out.
“We had a great summer,” says Michael Moriello, owner of La Mezzaluna at 25 Witherspoon St. in Princeton. His brightly colored Italian restaurant had just such a makeover late last summer with Zinder taking only 10 days to make the changes. Removing some inside paneling that blocked the inside view and placing art on the walls helped achieve the transition that Moriello also plans to employ at his Avanti restaurant in Pennington.
Having an open kitchen is an idea that Agricola’s executive chef/partner Josh Thomsen embraces. And he can be seen embracing it alongside his crew in the large window at 11 Witherspoon St. that attracts onlookers from both the street or inside the restaurant.
Fresh off a cooking event at New York’s James Beard House viewed by 500 people, an enthused Thomsen looked out onto a rainy weekday Witherspoon Street and explained that at any given time he could have eight to 10 people looking past the jars of spices into Agricola’s kitchen. The only time the view isn’t available is when the cooking staff cleans up between lunch and dinner.
“I’m 44 and I’ve worked in kitchens a long time,” the Bergen County native explained. “When my partner Jim (Nawn) and I got the place (the former Lahiere’s), the kitchen was in the back. I said, ‘Jim, if we’ve gotta spend a lot of money to get this fixed up, I want it to be in the kitchen.’’
Now, in what Thomsen acknowledges is something like live theater, he and his kitchen “gang” do their work while playing to an audience. Passersby can look inside from the street; Agricola diners can approach the open kitchen from inside to see their food being made or to discuss their dining experience with someone who helped make it. It’s a charge that enlivens Tomsen.
Zinder suggests even more changes heading to restaurants — separate dessert rooms, like those in Japan and France; more private dining areas partitioned for special events in flexible spaces, and more small plates of food. And while some of the new designs would seem to apply only to upscale dining, that’s not the case. Everybody’s getting into the act.
QSR online magazine, which follows restaurant trends, points out that even casual food restaurants are using psychology to steal customers away from more formal dining settings.
In the past, such casual places catered mainly to a sense of taste. But more sophisticated design takes all of the senses into consideration, according to QSR. Bright colors such as red and yellow trigger hunger and excitement; curated music, as opposed to a noisy setting, makes customers want to stay longer. Upholstered booths have more appeal than plain, wooden ones.