As Giles Coren said in his speech at the Sustainable Restaurant Association awards a couple of years back, “At some point you just have to choose whether you give a shit or not.” And we have decided that we do. If you have decided the same thing and are looking to understand what this might mean when it comes to sustainable restaurant design, here are some thoughts that might help.

Don’t start from scratch

Often there is a perception that everything has to be thrown out and started again to meet the vision of a new restaurant….but this does not need to be the case. In fact it’s important that we don’t just start again. It’s important because the average life span of a restaurant fitout is just 5 years. This is either due to the failure of the concept or in response to the constant innovation required for brands to stay relevant.

As designers, we need to support this approach too rather than impose our ego by sweeping away everything that has come before and insisting that we start with a blank slate. For example at Karaway, we developed a design with owner Nadia, to reuse the majority of joinery items she saved from her previous fitout whilst also evolving her aesthetic to better reflect their identity. The outcome was richer as a result of the old items and new design elements being woven together. It also saved money on the fitout in this instance. Bonus.


Designing for success

As a starting point, your restaurant needs to be successful. It does not matter what sustainability measures you have taken in the design if you fail and it all ends up in the skip. This can seem blindingly obvious, but in truth more people need to ask questions about their restaurant idea before they start out. London (and the world) does not need more restaurants…it needs better restaurants. Will your restaurant be offering something better? You need to have an idea/ brand/ story/ experience that enough people are going to genuinely love.

How to approach the design

Once you really understand what your restaurant is about, then think about an approach to sustainability that is in tune with your concept. Often sustainability will not lead this story, instead you will want to create something great that happens to be sustainable. Having said that, there is definitely a trend towards restaurants being keen to push sustainable solutions to the fore given the increased public awareness.

As a quick example to illustrate how you might adapt your approach, when we worked with fast casual Italian offer, Pasta Remoli we reused 80% of the furniture from a previous site. In addition, simple, locally available materials were used in the fitout and constructed to be easy to remove.


Working with your location

One very important factor that needs to be considered when developing your design is the particular quality of the building you are going to be in. You should start with a conscious intention to carefully incorporate whatever ‘gifts’ your new site offers. In older buildings we are very familiar with this idea, we call it ‘character’ or ‘historic features’.

In newer buildings it can be harder to see things in this way, however it is possible. At Smaka for example, the exposed concrete columns and soffits were woven into the design rather than simply being over clad. The double joy here is that this ‘honest’ approach to architecture is both more conscious of its environmental impact and helps to tie your restaurant into its location, giving a better sense of place.

First steps

Beyond these initial principles, there are some tangible things you might be able to incorporate when developing the design:

Energy efficiency

Your ongoing energy usage after opening is a big area of opportunity. HMRC maintains an Energy Technology List of systems that are eligible for 100% capital allowances. It includes a list of suppliers of energy efficient boilers, HVAC equipment etc. Visit


Maximise natural daylight in the space – it is free!

Use energy efficient LED lighting everywhere. Only put light where you need it (tables, worktops, key circulation) – this is best achieved by working with a lighting designer.

Sometimes for high end restaurants a chef will prefer halogen lamps as they have a better colour rendering on the food, but LEDs are almost comparable now. LEDs use 4 times less energy than halogen. Plus halogens emit a lot of heat which will require your AC to work harder.

Use a dimming system – they work by reducing power to the fittings. Look at automated scene setting so that lights are automatically raised and lowered throughout the day for maximum efficiency.


HMRC uses a Water Technology List of systems that are eligible for 100% capital allowances. It includes a list of manufacturers of water efficient systems. Visit

Outside of the kitchen, the toilets will use the most water in your restaurant.

Install low flush toilets (4.5L flush is considered low flush). You should be careful to assess this against what your site’s drainage is like – if you have old drains that don’t have a good gradient, you may need a higher flush to avoid blockages.

Install waterless urinals in male toilets to reduce toilet usage.

Use IR sensors on taps and aerators to minimise water usage.

Design things to be taken apart


New elements should be designed so that they can be taken apart at the end of their life. There is no point specifying a sustainable, recyclable material and then gluing it to another material as it will all just end up in the skip at some point in the future.

Done well, this can be incorporated into designs without them looking like a kit of parts. These walnut ceiling raft panels for example were all designed to be removable and can sit comfortably in a high end restaurant.

You can also reduce the number of material layers used, for example in wall construction. Instead of having the standard stud framework line with plywood, plasterboard, skim coat and paint finish, you could simply line with a carefully detailed plywood or other sheet material.


Look for Cradle to Cradle certification, which is a globally recognized measure of safer, more sustainable products made for the circular economy.

Use reclaimed and recycled materials wherever possible to minimise the carbon footprint. You can find sources for reclaimed items through websites like Opalis (

Use Marmoleum for back of house flooring and slip resistant rubber for kitchen floors instead of vinyl (always check the slip rating is good enough e.g. R11 or higher).

Use more sustainable paints – look at ingredients, manufacturing process and breathability. Low VOCs are a statutory requirement now, so are less of a differentiator than they used to be, but still vary from brand to brand. Modern lime based paints like Graphenestone actually absorb CO2 and are VOC free.

Whiterock used on kitchen walls contains PVC, where possible use stainless steel or tiles (although there can be cost/ hygiene challenges on both of these).

Always specify FSC timber including MDF and plywood. All MDF should be formaldehyde free.


Reuse existing furniture. Get it repaired rather than thrown away. Look at re-upholstering and repainting as options for a new design. You can find sources for reclaimed furniture through websites like Opalis as referenced above.

If you have multiple sites and want to make changes, consider moving furniture between sites to change the mix.

If you really need to get rid of furniture (in order to create a very different experience and give your restaurant the best chance of success as highlighted right at the beginning) donate them to charity like The Reuse Network ( or give them to a company like Globechain ( rather than put them in the skip.

Staff transport

Do your staff want to cycle or run to work? Encourage this if they do. You will need to allow for bike parking (inside or outside) which can easily be assessed when viewing a potential site. You will also need to build in space for a staff shower which is best considered at an early design stage.


Shopfronts are a tricky area for sustainability as they are often single glazed and horribly inefficient at retaining heat. The changes you can make can be limited by a Listed/ Conservation Area status but, where funds allow, you should work around increasing the efficiency of heat retention. This could include adding a lobby to the entrance, changing a shopfront to double glazing, adding some secondary glazing or other creative ways of increasing the insulation around the shopfront.

You should consider the effects of overheating through solar gain – this puts an increased and unnecessary load on the HVAC, and is easily mitigated by fixed shading, low E coatings, blinds and awnings. It is also worth considering the orientation when selecting a site. An unobstructed south facing shopfront may help you warm up the space in winter, but will need some shading in summer.


Measuring your sustainability

As you think about some of these ideas, you may start to wonder how you can compare their effectiveness and genuine sustainability credentials. Is FSC timber better than a porcelain tile with a 40% recycled content? Is renewable bamboo shipped from Asia actually worse than stone mined from a local quarry? If you want to get tactical about sustainability,  you need to find a way to keep score.

There are really 3 systems to consider – SKA, BREEAM and LEED. Here is our summary of them.



SKA Rating is a little known system even though being 10 years old. It is the only one of the three that is specifically geared to fitout whereas BREEAM and LEED were originally set-up to deal with new build.

SKA is a tool set up by Skansen, AECOM and the RICS to measure the sustainability of fitouts It can be either an informal or a formal assessment. The ratings are simply bronze, silver, gold with a percentage score and the evaluation process is broken down into 3 stages:

  1. Design
  2. Construction
  3. Occupancy

There are over 100 good practice measures to choose from covering energy, waste, water, materials, wellbeing, pollution, transport and project delivery. It is important to point out that in measuring fitouts, SKA focuses completely on the work you choose to do and not the existing condition of the building. You might consider this as either a good or bad approach. In terms of the global picture on sustainability, clearly that is not enough, but it does enable you to have a clear picture on the impact of what you are doing.

At Object Space Place, we have undertaken training on the SKA system and are implementing it within our future projects as a baseline of good sustainability practise.


This is a more involved system that requires third party assessment and certification.

BREEAM refurbishment assessments are split into 4 segments;

  1. Fabric and structure
  2. Core services
  3. Local services
  4. Interior Design.

Most restaurant design schemes will only be able to affect areas 3 and 4, but there are enough credits on offer in these 2 segments for you to achieve a Very Good Rating.

Ratings are:

Outstanding, meaning you are in the top 1% of UK non domestic buildings.

Excellent, top 10% which is best practice.

Very Good top 25% which is good practice. This is normally what planning authorities take as a baseline in planning conditions, so not worth targeting anything less in our opinion.

In our experience the typical costs to work with a BREEAM consultant on a 70 cover restaurant would be £7-8k.



LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

It is not a system that we have direct experience of, but our understanding is that it is similar to BREEAM in requiring an assessor to undertake. Also, whilst there are categories that cover fitout, like BREEAM it was originally designed to cover new builds.


A Restorative Restaurant

So there you have it, a considered starting point for your journey towards sustainable restaurant design. If you are interested to push further, we are undertaking our own research project to develop the next level of design for sustainable restaurants. Our aim is to set the framework for a truly Restorative Restaurant, which we define as one that ‘gives more than it takes’. It will be a long journey for sure and we are looking forward to sharing what we learn. Here is a link to our blog post on this:



This post was written by David Chenery

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