When it comes to restaurant flooring, Allison Westrick embraces a pragmatic approach.
The co-founder and design principal at Sketch Blue, a Columbus, Ohio-based design firm specializing in hospitality spaces, Westrick understands the importance of flooring to a restaurant’s design aesthetic. It is, after all, a foundational design choice capable of impacting the vibe of a restaurant and the customer experience.
While concrete flooring can make a dining room energetic and lively, carpeting can diminish sound and make the space feel more intimate, even suggesting a higher price point.
That said, Westrick often advises clients to make a strong flooring choice aligned with their brand, their budget and practical considerations like maintenance before moving onto other, more impactful elements of the restaurant’s design, such as lighting, furniture and artwork.
“The truth is we don’t pay as much attention to what’s under our feet as we do to what’s before our eyes,” Westrick says.
Still, the wrong flooring choice can hamper the guest experience, add operational complexity, limit long-term flexibility or compel a costly course correction.
Selecting flooring that works
As aesthetics and operational impact go hand in hand when selecting front-of-the-house flooring, Rebel Design+Group founder and CEO Douglas DeBoer suggests restaurant leaders select flooring in line with their establishment’s design aesthetic, style of service, foot traffic and physical location. Restaurants should also weigh any flooring option’s maintenance needs, its long-term wear, acoustical properties, stain and scratch resistance, waterproofing and warranty.
For many pizzerias, concrete remains the most popular flooring choice, a reality fueled by durability, versatility and maintenance. Concrete comes in an almost limitless selection of colors and designs. It can be polished, stained or painted and made to look modern, raw or refined. It’s easy to clean and maintain.
“Aesthetically, you can do a lot with concrete and it can be fit to just about any restaurant design,” says Westrick, whose firm has shepherded many new restaurant builds and remodels for the Ohio-based Donatos Pizza chain.
Concrete flooring can also deliver significant cost savings. In many commercial spaces, a concrete floor is either already present or sits below existing flooring, like tile or carpeting. In most cases, concrete can be repaired and finished for much less than the cost of purchasing and installing new flooring.
“It’s a smart way to spend your money,” says Westrick, who uses the existing concrete floor in about 50 percent of her firm’s restaurant projects.
Yet more, it is quite simple to add communications to a concrete floor, such as graphics dictating traffic flow or guest spacing, an increasingly important consideration in the post-pandemic age.
While concrete might be the most popular restaurant flooring choice, it is far from the only viable option.
Spurred by significant improvements in manufacturing and quality over recent years, DeBoer says Luxury Vinyl Tile and Luxury Vinyl Plank flooring continue generating attention as a compelling front-of-the-house flooring option.
“The material is comfortable under-foot, comes in a variety of colors, styles, textures and patterns and is easily replaced if damaged,” DeBoer says. “It is also easy to install, repair, is water-resistant and offers better interior acoustics.”
For those favoring warm jewel tones, texture, sound-dampening qualities and an eco-friendly option, recycled cork often earns the nod. When properly sealed, cork is durable and simple to clean, DeBoer says. In addition, cork comes in multiple tile sizes, planks, rolls and sheets and is anti-slip. It’s a particularly relevant option in colder climates, in particular, as it insulates well.
Among quick-service restaurant environments, rubber flooring remains a solid choice given its durability, resistance to stains and water and ever-rising selection, which has expanded to include a variety of tiles, planks, panels and rolls as well as numerous styles, colors and patterns. Rubber flooring is also slip-resistant and absorbs sound well.
While carpeting might seem so 1970s, it nevertheless remains a fixture in many pizzerias across the U.S, though waterproof modular carpet tiles with UV-stable protection to resist fading due to sunlight are the popular choice today. DeBoer says carpet tiles come in unlimited pile heights, colors and textures and can be installed in multiple ways as well, such as floating, glue-down and interlocking loop. In addition, the carpet tiles are easy to cut, install and replace.
For those who are interested in a more trendy, forward-looking design, Westrick notes the emergence of terrazzo, which can withstand heavy traffic and spills. Most notably, terrazzo provides a one-of-a-kind, custom look.
“Covid-19 kept us quiet and safe, but some people are wanting more energy and texture these days, which is something terrazzo provides,” Westrick says.
As is customary in the design field, some styles fall out of favor or give way to more practical options fueled by product innovations or cost.
DeBoer says interior roll carpeting, including indoor-outdoor grade carpeting, and vinyl flooring have fallen out of favor, especially given the versatility of other options. Laminate flooring as well as micro-tile or mosaics have also waned in popularity.
Westrick, meanwhile, cautions restaurants against mixing and matching flooring surfaces in the front of the house. While a restaurant might choose to give different flooring to its host stand or outline the seating area in a second flooring option when remodeling, such a decision could limit the restaurant’s flexibility long term.
“If you outline a seating area and then find that seating arrangement doesn’t work, you’re stuck with the outline and wondering how to work around it,” Westrick says.
Flooring considerations for the DIY operator
When restaurant leaders specify, purchase and sometimes even install flooring themselves, they often overlook some key elements that can spark problems and lead to undesired costs, such as:
- the size and shape of the flooring area and materials
- the patterns and intricate cuts that could result in substantial material waste
- the condition, repair and preparation of sub-floor materials
- the availability of the chosen flooring should future repairs be necessary
“Material choices, installation methods and long-term maintenance should be driven by the overall project design aesthetic, timeline and budget limitations,” says Douglas DeBoer of Rebel Design+Group.
Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.