Customer-inspired interior design is the soup du jour in food service

Even a remedial understanding of business can explain customer importance. Every drunken noodle munched at a restaurant serving Thai cuisine adds up to dollars in the bank. For every pepperoni slice served up hot, a pizzeria fattens its coffers.

But when you remove money from the picture, the modern food service industry depends on customers in ways it might not even notice yet. As we'll see today, patrons can have a subconscious impact on the architectural layout of the restaurants they frequent.

You can always get what you want
When picking off a menu, many diners defer to the refined palettes of the chefs in their favorite eateries. After all, these men and women know food inside and out, including how to pair it and prepare it.

However, people like what they like. When it comes to grabbing a bite to eat, some aren't looking for an adventure, but a snack they know they'll enjoy. That's why many places include at least some degree of customizable meal options. According to research from data crunchers at Technomic, build-your-own concepts in the food service industry's 'fast-casual' market generate twice as much traction as those without. So how does this trend correlate to changes in interior design?

When customers can pick and choose their own toppings, they always get the perfect treat.When customers can pick and choose their own toppings, they always get the perfect treat.

In lieu of simply offering open-ended menu options, restaurants could provide patrons with the opportunity to assemble their own meals. But customers don't interact with food the same ways chefs do. To pull off this highly lucrative move, restaurateurs will need to supply their customers with user-friendly equipment, perhaps even signs walking them through the process step-by-step.

Additionally, as reluctant as the food service industry might be to admit it, customers aren't held to the same health standards as cooks are. That's why the sign in the bathroom only says, "Employees must wash hands." For every help-yourself-style salad bar and personalized crepe-making station, restaurants must take the necessary precautions to ensure these high-traffic areas remain hygienic. Installing sneeze guards or storage for extra sets of tongs at the ready can help keep these dining options looking attractive.

"A stovetop with 16 gas burners might not be necessary with only two cooks on call."

Staffing quagmire may signal kitchen renovations
To satisfy customers, restaurants must first satisfy their hunger for hiring. Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported on how a national rise in hospitality work in 2014 – especially in the kitchen – still has yet to coalesce with real-world hiring trends. So while demand in food service has reached an all-time high, many establishments have a difficult time finding cooks to fit the bill. How a restaurant owner decides to respond to this phenomenon can drastically reconfigure what goes on behind the scenes.

Some restaurants with big kitchens and small cooking staffs might find their size suits them just fine. However, so long as the needs of their client base stay sated, some might choose to pare down with an update. A stovetop with 16 gas burners might not be necessary with only two cooks on call. The cost to replace this equipment might trump its continued operation. Inversely, small kitchens that have spent months trying to expand their ranks might do the opposite: scale up intelligently. Instead of trying to beef up staff, these restaurants may choose to embrace their itty-bitty kitchens, redesigning their layout for more streamlined operations.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.