It’s no secret that the restaurant experience is just as much about sight as it is taste. But while photogenic menu offerings are generally the spotlight of a concept’s visual appeal, restaurant decoration is much more subtle in its contribution. Every chair, table, and lamp adds up to make a careful curation of a restaurant’s identity. For many restaurateurs, creating a familiar dining experience is key to establishing themselves within their genre.

Three brands have opted for the scenic route. Here, their owners discuss the way their unique style has shaped the customer experience.

Ashley Ortiz / Owner and Creative Director, Antique Taco

We wanted our places to feel warm and comfortable. [My husband] Rick and I have always loved going to antique shows. It’s crazy how an item, old packaging, or a color can really allow my mind to go wild. One of the first pieces we found was an old turquoise chair. After that, we kept finding more and more pieces that fit the feel of what we thought Antique Taco should be.

The neighborhood can also direct the antique theme. Our Bridgeport location has many car-related antiques because it used to be a gas station back in the day. It has an old gas pump, gasoline signs, and a car grill above the register. The Wicker Park location feels a bit more “homey,” with an old wooden hutch along with a retail section with small antiques for purchase.

We could tell we struck a chord when people were calling about hosting birthdays, weddings, and rehearsal dinners.

Many counter-service restaurants can be very sterile. Antiques tend to bring back memories for people. That is the best part of antiques—it can relate to everyone. When we created Antique Taco, it was simple. We loved delicious tacos, beautiful décor, and design. When you have a focus, things fall into place.

David Choi / Owner, Seoul Taco

The restaurant design echoes a lot of my own interests and things I enjoy, like hip hop, street art, and culture. Everything in restaurant décor is intentional. It sets the vibe for the experience. We needed something to set the vibe and reflect the culture and values of the food there. We built the restaurant’s décor to go off of that vibe.

We have a different mural in each restaurant based on what the muralist envisions. There are different murals and other small elements in each restaurant, but the overall theme is the same. Each restaurant has boombox wall art, refurbished wood tables, and a multilingual art installation as a background to the menu and kitchen areas.

Our design choices didn’t stop with the wall art and interior décor—the hip hop music we play adds another element to our theme to keep our vibe consistent. The music echoes the vibe of the murals and other art in the restaurant, creating a lot of synergy between each of the locations.

The experience at Seoul Taco is fast-casual dining, and the environment allows people to enjoy a cool and vibrant space while they are eating. Everything plays off of each other. It’s fun, just like the Korean-Mexican food.

Alex Brounstein / Owner, Grindhouse Killer Burgers

Grindhouse Killer Burgers has a unique “retro-industrial” design that is heavy on raw metal, concrete, brick, tile, and wood paneling, with pops of color in unexpected places, like rust-orange banquettes, red-and-black laminate patterned floors, and a full mirror wall dripping with fake blood. We also heavily feature sci-fi and cult-movie artwork—some stuff by the artist Eric Joyner, plus images from old movie scenes. We also have lots of original murals and posters that have been created by local artists and graphic designers, depicting apocalyptic scenes of aliens and flying burger saucers.

The look has evolved over time with each restaurant. We started as a small lunch counter inside the historic Sweet Auburn Curb Market in downtown Atlanta, so the vibe was more just part of the market itself, plus some white subway tile, a funky industrial metal bar countertop, and some wood boards from an Usher music video that my bar-builder acquired. Once we opened our second location, which is about 4,000 square feet, we were able to add some more elements.

Customers come for the experience, and design plays a huge role in that. Kids love the robots, and we play old B movies like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” that people will actually stay and watch well after their meal is over. Business just keeps getting better. We want to develop a cult-like following, and the food and design are all a part of that. We continue to win awards and recognition, so we will keep doing what we are doing and evolving.

Business Advice, Customer Experience, Design, Restaurant Operations, Story, Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Seoul Taco