Restaurant Design Right Now — and What’s Next


Some would have you believe that dining out is all about the food — where to eat, what to order, whether the photo you took of those chilaquiles is well-lit enough to post — but savvy diners know that going to a restaurant is as much about comfort as it is about cooking. Nothing can make a restaurant meal go from great to grumpy more than spending all night fidgeting in an uncomfortable chair.

So many restaurant seats are noticeably bad. With limited space and even more limited budgets, restaurant designers often have to do a lot with a little — and seating can feel like an afterthought. From the woefully small to the unpleasantly sticky, creaky, and ergonomically wacky, here are the six least comfortable restaurant chairs, ranked from bad to worst. 

 An isolated image of a restaurant booth. A blocky L-shaped padded seat with reflective vinyl upholstery.

6. Vinyl diner booths

Friendly’s, Nifty Fifty’s, and other nostalgia-satisfying diners are known as much for those squishy vinyl booths as they are for upside-down ice cream sundaes. And while the best setting in which to enjoy burgers and fries while wearing a paper crown is in the least rigid chair possible, the glittery, sticky vinyl booths that greasy spoons are known for tend to mimic the experience of getting your legs waxed on a hot summer day. Even worse, the core strength it takes to dislodge yourself from the deep fold in the booth is equivalent to the gains from at least three CrossFit classes.

 A coated-metal chair with a single leg that attaches to the ground via a round base.

5. Bolted-down swivel stools

There are logical reasons a restaurant might want to literally bolt its stools to the ground: It negates the need to set up or break down the dining room. Swiveling around in a chair is one of life’s most pleasant sensations. And patrons who want to escape from the dining room with a free stool will really have to put in elbow grease to pull it off. But this dedication to fun and no fuss comes at the expense of actual comfort. The seats are uncomfortably small and rigid, and the metal and plastic is molded in contours that no body over the age of 6 actually has. Even swiveling comes at a price.

 A silver metal chair with four legs an open back with one support brace and no cushion.

4. That silver metal chair

Ubiquity does not equal comfort, and, boy, are these ubiquitous. Can we at least get a cushion?

 A four-legged chair with woven plastic fabric to create a seat and back.

3. Plastic rattan outdoor chairs

Is there a greater deception than being offered a chair that appears ergonomically devised for a relaxing evening on an outdoor patio with refreshing drinks and well-crisped tortilla chips — only to learn that the lip of the chair is somehow much higher than the seat? This specific kind of vinyl rattan chair manages to propel your knees upward, leaving your legs dangling slightly above the ground while your butt slides hopelessly backward, making you look like a child holding a margarita. And those rattan imprints on your legs can last for hours. 

 A flimsy-looking wooden chair with four legs a round seat and an arched back frame with no support.

2. French wooden cafe chairs

Ah, Parisian restaurant design: how chic, how iconique, how elevated. Mais non — when it comes to those rickety wooden bistro chairs with curved backs, even the French got something wrong. The seats are too small, and the backs aren’t supportive. One wrong move and the whole thing feels as if it will snap like a twig. The legs are the most baffling part, as they manage to bow outward like bell-bottoms, which is legit so confusing that it’s almost inspiring to behold.

 A metal stool with four legs a flat seat, and no seatback.

1. High stools with low or no backs

There is a special bar seat in hell for whoever decided that restaurant high stools should have no backs. The posture-adjusting it requires to sit up straight enough to not look like a medieval ogre while also maintaining the ability to lean down and eat your meal without it dripping from great heights is a balancing act that no person two cocktails in should have to perform. The ways that restaurant stools try to make up for this are legion — molded seats, footrest crossbars, those little tiny backs that are a sneeze in the direction of lumbar support — but the only things that will do are plush seats, a swivel option, and armrests.

Dayna Evans is a writer and editor in Philadelphia.


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