Tihany, Boulud, and Others Contemplate the Dining Experience

A recent Pratt panel discussed the merits and emphases of restaurant design.

A recent Pratt panel discussed the merits and emphases of restaurant design. Above, the dining room at Daniel in New York City, designed by Adam Tihany

​Courtesy Eric Laignel

“I see myself as a portrait artist,” said legendary restaurant designer Adam D. Tihany last week at Pratt Institute’s The Art of Dining panel, which also included renowned chefs and restaurateurs Daniel Boulud (Café Boulud, Boulud Sud, and Daniel) and Lydia Shire (Scampo Boston, Seasons, and Maison Robert).

Led by Elle Décor’s Michael Boodro, the discussion provided a new twist on the old saying, “you eat with your eyes.” After all, how the space looks and feels can be nearly important as the food itself. “The three pillars of a successful restaurant are food, service, and design,” declared Tihany. Although—and this is key—great food is the most important aspect, as Boulud and Shire reiterated throughout. This much should be obvious, but we’ve all been to enough bad, over-priced restaurants to know this isn’t always the case. “The food comes first,” said Shire. “It’s integral to the feeling of the space.”

The bar at Daniel

Courtesy Eric Laignel

“I’m just the orchestra behind them,” said Tihany of the chefs. “But they’re the baritone & soprano.” When designers understand this they can understand what the client needs—and, in the long run, how to give the customer an incredible experience. “I have customers that plan their life around dining,” said Boulud. “Whoever you’re designing for, you get under their skin.”

The bar and lounge at Lydia Shire’s restaurant Scampo

​Courtesy Scampo

“It’s a feeling of well being,” added Shire. “You can sink into the chair. You’re comfortable to dine and talk. It’s a subtlety.” The job of the restaurant designer is not just designing a place with standout features, but also to perfect those subtle elements—from the length of the tablecloths to the perfect lighting. “If you can control the lights,” said Tihany, “you can control the mood.” Bouland agreed. “Lighting is so important,” he said. “I go around to the tables and see how hard or soft the shadows are with my hand and adjust from there.”

All of these small things are what sets the tone for the meal, the evening, the entire experience. “Restaurant design to me is about control,” said Tihany. “Control of people’s movements and their senses. I provide the bones and structure for people to enjoy their food.”

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