Canadian Pizza Magazine

Pizzeria Makeover

Stacy Bradshaw   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Give yours a face-lift

Food, service and atmosphere – the fundamental
restaurant trinity – is too often approached with tunnel vision; a
narrowed focus on food and service, with the atmosphere left literally,
“in the dust.”

Give yours a face-lift

debbieactionshotFood, service and atmosphere – the fundamental restaurant trinity – is too often approached with tunnel vision; a narrowed focus on food and service, with the atmosphere left literally, “in the dust.”

Aesthetics have become an integral part of the dining experience and, according to the National Restaurant Association, remodelling will be a higher priority for table-service operators this year.


If reconsidering the décor of your restaurant seems too costly and time-consuming to even think about, don’t worry – Canadian Pizza called in the experts.

Home décor icon and TV personality, Debbie Travis, was happy to share innovative and inexpensive design concepts from her Gemini-award winning series and new book, Debbie Travis’ Facelift.

When we spoke with Travis, she had just returned from a viewing of her new accessory line at Canadian Tire and warned she may be a little over-excited. 

“Nobody really thinks of Canadian Tire for decorating … but within a year, you will have forgotten your old Canadian Tire. I’m so thrilled, (the line) is gorgeous … things like clocks and plates that would look great in a restaurant.”

The accessory line is a complement to the new Debbie Travis Paint Collection. Said to be a revolutionary approach to decorating – first choose a mood then choose a colour – the colours are categorized into four moods: nostalgic, calm, dramatic and cheerful and also come in 50 ml practice pots with a built-in brush.

Travis categorized the paint collection into four moods because with so many styles – contemporary, modern, country, urban – design has become confusing.  She wanted to make choosing a colour and design easier and to let people to know these styles can be mixed together.  Her own modern style kitchen, for example, includes a huge pine table.

“This is how we did it.  The first thing we decided is not to say what style we want but what mood, what ambiance.  So, who are the people?  Because today, it’s all about lifestyle.”

Travis expresses a real dislike for the minimalist fad so popular in the industry five years ago – you know, white table clothes, white plates, a steel chair and a few peas on your plate.

“People make the biggest mistake when they completely try and match colours; that becomes monochromatic, and monochromatic means one thing, and that’s boring … I always think of pizza restaurants as really the fifties diners – you know, they were fun, they were quick and full of bright colours like turquoise, which is back big time this year,” Travis said.

She suggested stimulating with retro colours; try using turquoise plates and chunky orange candles.

Meredith Heron, a colour specialist and designer on Canadian Food Network’s Restaurant Makeover, told Canadian Pizza there is a synergy between great colour and great food.

 Quick tips for a fresher look
 • Edit and simplify. Clear away excess clutter.
• Clean up! Dust picture frames and sweep the steps.
• Replace burnt light bulbs.
• Add candles.
• Add fresh flowers to the front entrance and exterior.
– Meredith Heron

Colour causes an emotional reaction in people. Reds and oranges stimulate digestion and more arguments occur in a yellow room.

“Candles add terrific atmosphere and cost next to nothing.  Add fresh florals to the bar area, front entrance and bathrooms,” Heron told CPM.

Heron, who can also be seen on HGTV’s Love by Design or at her own Red Heron Essentials in Toronto, said a restaurant must adjust to new trends if they’re going to be perceived as current.   

Traditional, Italian-inspired restaurants can achieve a more contemporary look without compromising the traditional ambiance. 

Travis’ black and white dramatic plate collection features huge overprints of the timeless damask design, proving traditional and contemporary truly can co-exist. Her series of organic-shaped plates – like not-so-perfectly round, square and oval – show not only can you mix colours, but shapes as well.

In true TV makeover style, she suggested purchasing some cheap black material and cutting your own tablecloths. Pull out the white plates you already have, add some candles and create a dramatic theme night to entice dating couples. 

Inexpensive tablecloths made with polyester or cotton are ideal where greasy pizza mishaps are a concern. More formal establishments should consider using a linen service and opt for fresh white/off white linens, according to Heron.

A United States survey revealed that in 2005, people attending restaurants with white tablecloths had increased by over 41 per cent since last year.

Irish linen has a reputation as the industry standard and is acknowledged worldwide for its elegant quality.  Irish linen is crisp, soft and rests nicely on tables, but is more costly than other materials.

Lighting is the most inexpensive yet effective means of creating ambiance. Both designers agree it is the most important element. Travis joked there is nothing worse than being on a date in a place overly lit or so dim “you can’t bloody see yourself … or your lipstick.”

There are two types of lighting: ambient (sets a mood) and task lighting (bright enough so that customers can read their menus). The best way to achieve a good balance is with candles, dimmers and adjustable spotlights, advised Travis.

Lighting is equally important when choosing a paint colour. Heron recommended choosing a colour in the same light as the restaurant will have. If the lights will be dim, choose the colour in a dim room.

Sheen level is also important to consider. The higher the sheen, said Heron, the more reflective the paint. This will impact both colour and lighting.

Restaurant walls also feel the impact of bar stools and chair legs, pizza sauce and greasy fingers, so durability and wash-ability of paint are imperative.

“And if you’re worried about a heavy wall that gets a lot of bashing around, put a coat of varnish on it,” advised Travis.

It used to be a common assumption that oil-based paints provide a far more durable surface than latex, but times have changed. Today’s latex paint is very tough – it has acrylic in it and is cheaper and easier to use than oil-based, according to Travis.

Whether re-painting or simply clearing up clutter and replacing old light bulbs, concern for a restaurant’s ambiance is essential. Don’t let your tunnel vision force the atmosphere out of focus. Have your picture frames been dusted in awhile? Maybe you should go have a look.

Successful design does not have to be a costly and overwhelming objective, but rather a continuous process of having fun with your space. You never know, your décor could be generating more comments than your menu.•

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