Restaurant Design Trends Of The 1980s

The 1980’s are fraught with imagery of big hair, the allure of disco, neon everything, and the emergence of futuristic ideas – many of which still have a firm grasp on us today. What we tend to forget in the diaspora of our collective memory, is how important food and dining is to our societies. Food and restaurant dining trends say a lot about the social nature of our species, and help shed light on where our mindsets were during the decade in question.

In this post, we’ll examine some more prevalent restaurant design trends, as well as dining trends of the 1980’s, examining why and how they came to be.


Hard Times

Economic hardship in the late 70’s and 1980’s made a dual income household more and more of a necessity. Couples were increasingly working longer hours, and this contributed to an empty kitchen. As hours got longer, and time at home became more scarce to help make ends meet, the idyllic aesthetic of a home cooked meal on the table nightly became a rarity. However, the microwave was there to help take up that slack.

Microwave dinners – and fast food, to some extent – continued their onslaught, first having made an appearance in the 1970’s. Speed and convenience dominated the 80’s food landscape, meaning that dine-in restaurants also experienced the pinch of hard times. By 1988, North America’s fast-food industry has made a record shattering $60 billion as home delivery services skyrocketed into the stratosphere. This also contributed to a spike in societal obesity, definitely connected to an increased consumption of fast-food and processed, pre-packaged goods.

Turning Point

One can only consume so many Big Mac’s before they begin to crave something not only healthier – but better tasting as well. As soon as the fast-food and microwavable dinner trends began to take off, so did an overwhelming interest in good food – the culture, preparation, dining experience – the whole kit and caboodle. This was the beginning of the ‘foodie’ movement – wherein Martha Stewart and Food & Wine magazine took off.

Dining fads and reviews from the local restaurant critic began akin to checking the weather, or reviewing a movie – and having reservations at the fanciest spot in town became the thing-to-have. This caused for larger restaurants to accommodate the increased number of guests, larger more efficient kitchens, and higher-end finishes, like glass, stone, and exotic woods.

 Exploring Other Cultures

In the western world, the 1980’s represented an emerging curiosity about other cultures different from one’s own. Global cuisine reminiscent of French, Italian, and Greek pedigree were established hot spots all over North America, but the 1980’s saw the start of a zestier, more exotic take on dining, restaurant design, and food.

Sushi came onto the scene like wildfire in the mid 80’s. It was the hip food that all young urban professionals wanted to be seen eating, and visiting the sushi bar for a noon luncheon with colleagues became the new happy hour. In terms of restaurant design this meant sushi establishments could occupy smaller spaces, making dining out an exclusive treat, not so much an inclusive option. Sushi also furthered the interest in a speedy, healthy alternative to conventional fast food. Tex-Mex and Mexican cooking also became a staple dining experience of the 1980’s. The explosion of spice, flavour and culture meant a boost in colourful decor, plaster and stucco, and vibrant colour palettes.

The 1980’s served as an important time in history. They too the advances of the 1970’s and turned the culture of fast-food into speedy and healthy food culture, directing society down a road of culinary investigation, and restaurant evolution that’s continued to this day.

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