How to Hire a Restaurant Designer

Hiring an restaurant designer for a new restaurant remodeling project is like a job interview and a date rolled into one. Past experience and expertise are key, but so is vision and overall chemistry between the hiring restaurant and the designer.

However, restaurants aren’t especially prepared for the process of hiring a designer to bring their brands to life and create the type of guest experience they seek. That preparation has a lot to do with having a clear vision and being armed up-front with all of the information that a designer would need to be able to achieve the desired results.

In order to give designers the best direction and insights, restaurant clients need to be able to clearly express what they want, or what they want to change, and why, suggests Brian Singer, owner at a restaurant design and consulting firm in Orange County, CA.

“Restaurants should know all the fundamentals like budget, location, spirit, atmosphere, what’s unique about their restaurant, and what their brand stands for,” adds Tom Mortenson, design architect and senior project manager, in Rockford, Ill.

I asked executives from three diverse restaurant concepts that work with outside designers — for their takes on the hiring process. Read on to learn what works for them.

Restaurant design and remodeling

“We don’t want to hire who everyone else is hiring,” says Peter Karpinski, Sage’s COO and co-founder. “Younger firms have fresh thinking because they are not pigeonholed, don’t have a templated style and have a lot of flexibility. It’s a trade-off because sometimes they don’t have the maturity and the know-how of a more experienced firm.”

When looking for a new designer for a project, Karpinski interviews up to five firms. “I have them walk us through who they are and what they do and the projects they’ve done in the past,” he says.

He doesn’t prepare much in advance for those initial meetings and doesn’t expect the designers to, either. “I want to meet with people before I really have a specific project in mind,” he says. “My decision-making is not crowded, in that way. It’s more important that we both resonate during this get-to-know-you, and the rest of it comes from there. I want to know if they’ll be able to work with us when we have some difficult challenges or if they will become stubborn. It’s all about a feeling — like going on a date.”


Essential to the project was proximity and Faires lived nearby. Many meetings needed to be face-to-face at that point, Smart says, so the two could read each other’s verbal and non-verbal feedback. They could also sit together and look at sketches and really collaborate.

Faires has since moved to New York City, but at this point it doesn’t matter as much, says Smart, since they understand each other and ongoing design work is mostly about fine tuning. But he does need to know they can get hold of each other quickly, he says, as sometimes decisions need to be made on the fly.