Over my years of doing restaurant architecture I have found you can look into any successful restaurant and you will see that the walls take a lot of abuse from the restaurant customers. This abuse will take several forms. Walls will get dirty and scuffed from the public touching the walls. Some wall can take physical abuse and get dented from tables and chairs impacting them. Walls will get worn down by cleaning them. On of the most important restaurant ideas is to harden these walls and still make it look good. The walls of the waiting area get dirty, the walls in the dining area get dented from chairs and tables, the hallways get scratched from mop buckets and service carts. If a wall is exposed to any kind of traffic it will be abused, therefore the walls must be hardened. If a restaurants wall is just painted it will get scratched and dented.
You are only limited by your creativity and the budget in the various ways to harden walls. Making these hardened wall look to a natural part of the design and not just something applied after the fact is the challenge to designers. Some ideas that have been used with success are; traffic coatings which are just heavy duty paints pricey but they leave a clean look, wainscoting a very traditional solution and alternate wall material like wood paneling or tile. Cleaning is a different sort of abuse a wall can take so remember the restaurant staff who has to clean the wall and don’t just worry about the dents and dirt caused by the customer.
Traffic coatings are available from all the major paint manufactures like Sherwin-Williams, Benjamin Moore and ICI. These start out at the low end simply as scrub-able paint that resist absorbing dirt and then resists the chemicals and wear and tear associated with cleaning. These paint are good for hallways and waiting areas where dirt is the primary concern but won’t help much where walls will take abuse from tables and chairs. Stepping up the cost ladder of traffic coatings is the product group know as KD paints. KD stands for knock down. This paint has to be smoothed or knocked-down with a trowel of plaster blade while they are being installed and that explains the name. Knock-Down paints usually are left with a slight texture when finished. Stepping up the hardness and also price ladder of traffic coatings once again we get to polymer-aggregate base system that are manufactured by exterior finish companies like Dryvit. These products a directly applied to the wall with a trowel in 2 or more coats and can be specified with or without fiberglass reinforcing mesh. These coating will be textured and can have exposed aggregate to give the wall a multicolor effect.
Probably the first solution ever used by humans to solve this problem was wainscoting, it has been used for a long time. In many building types wall damage is confined to the bottom few inches A wall base just a few inches high is all most homes and building need to protect from shoes, but where wall are exposed to bumping from tables and chairs this wall base can be extended higher up the wall to point above table height. Wainscoting is traditionally wood, but today several manufactures like Marlite and Acrovyn make plastic wainscot system with a wide variety of panels and rails to choose from. Also don’t forget about using flooring on the walls. A porcelain tile on the wall can be quite attractive. In a few fast food locations I have made a wainscoting out of linoleum.
The last option I want to discuss is just making the wall out of alternative materials. When allowed buy the budget traditional wood paneling can be used. Many cafeterias use glazed block for wall for and economical and durable finish. Many trendy urban restaurants expose brick wall inside.
I hope you find this short discussion of wall finishes for restaurants useful in you design work to come.
Burt Andrews is an Architect with over 20 years of experience in designing restaurants and retail stores. You can read more of his restaurant ideas and about restaurant architecture here. He is a principal at Larson and Darby Group in charge of the St. Charles, IL office.