No one can deny the attraction of retro restaurants and diners. Insider calls retro diners quintessentially American, and they've been a staple part of restaurant designs since they emerged in the 1950s.
Now that it's been 70 years, some American restaurants are still chasing after the look. However, there are a variety of elements that go into a great 1950s design. You'll need all of the following elements to bring your retro bar or diner together.
How to Create the Perfect 1950s Design
Achieving the perfect 1950s design in your restaurant or diner isn't something that's necessarily easy to do. There's more to it than you might think—cherry reds and Coca-Cola ads aren't everything.
A retro restaurant, when done properly, should commit in as many ways possible to being a true restaurant from the 50s. That includes everything from the furniture to the menu.
When done right, retro diners can be some of the biggest tourist attractions, which will help your restaurant thrive. Check it out: even Cosmopolitan has a running list of the best retro diners in every state!
Keep the following areas in mind while you're planning your retro diner. Don't feel bad if you can't check each one of these areas off your list; sometimes you need time in order to upgrade various parts of your restaurant, and that's normal.
The Retro Furniture
We've all seen it in movies, and we all know the signature retro furniture look. There are a few different places in your restaurant where you'll want the classic look to thrive, and these are the top three.
Part of the beauty in retro chairs is that they all match a color scheme and metal type that's clear with a quick glance. Chrome finishes, obvious metals, and a bright color are the standard dead giveaways to most retro-themed ideas.
It's not only the color and finish of the chair—the style is important to consider. Retro-themed chairs are going to have wireframes with comfortable, shiny vinyl cushions. For more ideas on affordable, 1950s chair looks, check these out.
The next iconic furniture staple of 1950s-themed restaurants is the table. While you won't see vinyl padding on the tables, the metals and finishes should match perfectly with the chairs. There are also tables with white tops that add in a pop of color without distracting from the main color.
This includes all the chrome, and typically very basic metal frames. While they're basic, they're typically thick pieces of metal, and you'll find multiple "threads" of metal, both thick and thin.
On top of that, retro diners also have circular tables with very minimal designs; they're sleek, with either a metal finish or a colored top that matches the rest of the main restaurant's color. You can see some retro-themed tables here.
Another important part of most retro restaurants was the bar. In almost every movie you see with a diner, you'll see a bar in some form or another. In the 1950s, this was one of the most optimal ways to seat as many people as possible in your restaurant.
Today, bars are thought of as the place to go in a restaurant to get alcohol. However, it's one of the most iconic looks of American diners, whether there's alcohol or not.
The same type of furniture decor applies here. Basic metal structures with either a pop of color, metal, or white tops are the most common.
The 1950s Wall Decor
The wall decor of retro-themed restaurants is incredibly important. While you can fill your diner with 1950s-style furniture, you'll need to go the extra mile with wall decor to finish out the look.
While there are different kinds of retro looks and colors, one standard thing you'd see is ads. Coca-Cola ads, in particular, were incredibly important, alongside ads for things like cigarettes and military wins.
It makes sense when you think about it. Before commercials and the screens in Times Square, there weren't many ways to communicate about ads besides newspapers and the radio. People didn't consume media the same way, so things like restaurant walls were popular places for ads.
The 1950s was a diverse decade full of history that led to a variety of styles and looks that led to a variety of looks. For example, when you think of a retro diner, there are probably different things that come to mind; maybe cherry-red tables with milkshakes or diners with records all over the wall.
This means that there's a couple of different ways that you can design your own 1950s-themed restaurant. The main thing is that it's full—diners at this time were packed, with both decorations and people.
The Retro Appliances
If you've got appliances that you can see from your dining room, then you'll want to make sure that they match your retro theme! While it might not be the most practical thing in the world, there are some little things you can do to make your appliances fit the jump in time.
The easiest thing you can do here is put paint where you can to match the rest of your diner. Matching your appliances to everything else is a quick, simple solution that can really unify your entire restaurant.
Also, keep an eye out for retro commercial cooking appliances. While these aren't common and they can be expensive, it can be worth it if you're dedicating everything you can to your style.
The Colors of the 1950s
The restaurants of the 1950s were all about color. While they weren't necessarily the same shades and tones, color played a huge role in the design. They were also the same across the restaurant, so sticking to one or even two colors is extremely important.
Side note: White was more of an accent color, so it's not one of the colors you should pick and use for your 1950s-themed restaurant.
Cherry red is, by far, the most iconic color of retro-themed diners. The shiny red was used on vinyl, on bartops, and on stools. On top of that, it was one of the main colors you would find in the decorations and uniforms, too.
The best part about using a cherry red, besides the iconic look, is that it goes perfectly with both black and white accents on other furniture. It also pairs well with the metal finishes that are going to be on the tables and chairs, so you don't have to worry about it clashing.
While cherry red was the main color you'd find everywhere, there were other popular colors too. However, they weren't as popular because of a few reasons, including not pairing well with metals and not popping as red does.
Turquoise was a color that was often used if cherry red wasn't. Sometimes called mint, this color is generally softer than cherry red and works really well with both metals and white accents. However, it can easily lose its luster in furniture, so it was never extremely popular.
Besides turquoise and cherry red, pastels were the only other colors to see much love. Things like pastel yellow or green were used occasionally, but they don't work as well with both black and white. They also faded much quicker than brighter colors, so it wasn't the most economical choice.
The Checker Pattern
The 1950s have plenty of iconic designs that were seen in restaurants, but one staple has found itself in homes even today: the checkered pattern. Black and white checkered patterns can be seen in homes around the country while they're not seen as often in restaurants anymore.
While you don't have to use a checkered pattern around your retro-themed restaurant, it's a great way to decorate without having to put too much money or time into finding wall decor. For example, a checkered accent wall is busy on its own, and it can be done for much cheaper than you can find vintage decor.
Retro diners are noteworthy because of the design choices, but they're also memorable because of the classic American food that was served. Burgers and fries were some of the most popular dishes, and who can forget about the milkshakes!
You'll need to include American food on your menu if you want a retro-themed restaurant. While you can certainly include other types of food, you want to have the American staples considering it's a traditional American theme.
If you're looking for some extra menu options to make your 1950s diner stand out, you can see older-style dishes that were commonly found in retro restaurants. These are a great way to make your menu unique without straying from tradition too much.
Beyond the menu, decor, and furniture, 1950s restaurants were huge about music. The hottest releases were out, and these often played a huge role in decor, too. Concert posters were extremely common, especially in the more dance-oriented retro bars.
Today, music is used in restaurants as a way to create a feeling. Oftentimes, it's quiet background music that adds to the environment you're in. If you're in an Italian restaurant, you'll hear Italian music, or soft melodies to create a fine dining experience. If you're in a Southern restaurant, you'll hear lively country music that creates a laid-back atmosphere.
However, music in 1950s dining areas was meant to please the crowd in any way they wanted it. You'd see jukeboxes everywhere, where customers could pay to pick what music they wanted to play. You can still find jukeboxes today and get music that's playable—it's a great way to step up your retro restaurant.
The atmosphere of retro, 1950s style restaurants was very different from the restaurants we visit today. Back then, it was common to hang out at diners, staying for hours without getting any kind of complaints from staff.
Today, most restaurants want to get people in and out while providing a quick and tasty experience. A true retro restaurant won't be in the same kind of hurry; instead, you should expect customers to stay for longer. This means investing in comfortable furniture, spacious seating, and even including a jukebox to give them more reasons to stay.
Many retro restaurants even included spaces to dance. While this isn't as popular anymore, it's one way you can create a hangout spot that makes people want to revisit. However, this isn't an option that everyone can do considering space and funding.
This kind of atmosphere isn't very difficult to create, and you'll start to see repeat customers come in. You might even create a retro restaurant that's a hot spot in your community!
How You Can Create Your Own Retro Diner
Creating a 1950s design in your restaurant includes a ton of planning in every area that we talked about above: furniture, decor, colors, menu options, and music. However, you shouldn't stop here.
Retro restaurants are popular, and they'll stay that way for years to come. It's a safe bet for most restaurant owners to invest in. On top of that, it's also a fun place to run and work in! For more restaurant tips, check out our blog!
Here at Richardson Seating Corp., we want to help your restaurant thrive. We have plenty of resources available that are tailored specifically to retro 1950s style dining places, and we'd love to help you plan your design. For more information, feel free to contact us.