New Opportunities in Restaurant Window Graphics
With so many types of printable window films now available, print service providers, sign shops, and visual communications companies can help restaurants with much more than short-term promotional graphics. With more permanent decorative window materials, restaurant designers can use all glass surfaces within a restaurant to improve branding, ambiance, and overall customer experience.
The Restaurant Business Has Changed
During the pandemic, more than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments in the U.S. closed temporarily or permanently. To stay in business, many restaurants adopted concepts such as curbside pickup, home delivery, and expanded outdoor dining. Print service providers helped restaurants pivot by printing informative graphics for the windows of their closed dining rooms.
Now, many people have a new appreciation for the experience of dining out. A December 2020 National Restaurant Association survey found a high pent-up demand for on-premises dining. For example, 88% of adults said they enjoy going to restaurants and 60% said restaurants were an essential part of their lifestyle.
But because customers are now acutely aware of public health and safety, restaurant owners are rethinking how their establishments are designed. Remodels in sit-down restaurants may include more glass partitions and space around seating, so that more diners feel safe and comfortable. According to a restaurant design trends roundtable panelist, “It is critical to find creative ways to provide space around tables without compromising seat count. Comfortable perimeter seating along windows efficiently utilizes wall space. Proximity to windows gives customers a sense of openness around them.”
In a 2022 reader survey conducted by Restaurant Design and Development, about 29% of respondents planned to open or remodel 11 or more locations and 21% planned to open or remodel six to 10 locations this year. About 50% of the readers planned to open or remodel from one to five locations.
The widespread interest in window films for vehicle wraps and decorative privacy films for homes has sparked R&D in materials and adhesives for all types of window graphics.
In restaurants, “window films can be used for a variety of promotional graphics, informational signage, or design/décor elements to enhance the customer experience and convey the message or ‘feel’ that the restaurant wants to convey,” says Jay Kroll, a product manager with General Formulations. “This could be done with low-tack removable or static cling vinyl for short-term advertisements, or longer-term cut vinyl or printed film options. This can also include perforated films that allow for full window advertising while still allowing both light and visibility from inside the restaurant.”
Here are examples of how restaurants can use printable window films.
Information and Marketing. In addition to keeping people informed about changes in hours, menus, and delivery options, exterior window graphics with QR codes can link passers-by to a website for online ordering or online reservations.
When a new restaurant concept is being created in a retail location, opaque “Coming Soon!” window graphics can hide the interior remodeling work underway while generating awareness of the type of restaurant that will be occupying the space soon.
Restaurant windows in urban areas can be used as an already-paid-for advertising space. The right graphics can capture the attention of potential repeat customers who work or live in the neighborhood.
Branding and Décor. For dine-in restaurants, a differentiated experience offers a competitive edge.
Designers combine walls, windows, furniture, carpets, fixtures, décor, and lighting to create the desired mood and experience. Different types of diners may seek out environments that offer a soothing escape from the digital world, an ambience that ties in with the restaurant’s cuisine, or shareable moments that can’t be replicated at home.
Decorative and brand graphics can be applied to glass surfaces outside and inside the restaurant, including partitions between booths or various dining areas within the restaurant.
Designs can be as simple as a cut-vinyl logo on a restaurant door or as elaborate as windowpanes filled with big, bold images of flowers, oceans, or farmland.
Comfort, Privacy, and Security. Sitting at a table by a window can either be enjoyable or awkward. A window table is a prime location if the window has a fantastic view. But if window-table diners gaze into a parking lot or a gritty urban street scene, the dining experience suffers. Some window-side diners can feel as if they are eating in a fishbowl as passersby on a busy sidewalk look in as they are eating.
In some locations, windows expose daytime diners to uncomfortable levels of sun glare and heat. The unfiltered sun exposure also drives up the restaurant’s cooling costs.
Different combinations of window graphic materials and laminating films can reduce the effects of exposure to infrared and UV light, prevent graffiti or shattered windows, or control what passersby see in the restaurant.
Window graphic materials are designed with different properties depending on their function, how long the prints need to last, what types of printing systems will be used to print them, who will install and remove them, and whether they will be contour cut or diecut and mounted on the inside or outside of the window.
In general, the less expensive films for promotional graphics are designed for installations ranging from a few months to a few years. High-performance architectural and décor films typically have permanent adhesives, require professional installers, and are designed to last from three to seven years depending on whether it’s a storefront or perimeter window, or interior panel or door.
Not all window graphic films need to be printed. Some are supplied with decorative effects; others simply involve cutting adhesive vinyls into letters and logos.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the many options available for window graphics in restaurants.
Opaque and Clear Films. For temporary window graphics, vinyl or polyester films with removable adhesives are designed to last anywhere from a few months to a year or two. Products with specialty air-egress adhesives make it easy for anyone to install them to smooth, flat surfaces without specialized training.
Short-term graphics printed on stretchable (monomeric) clear films are typically cut around the edges to reduce the risk of visual distortions that can occur if the clear vinyl on clear glass shrinks.
Perforated Films. The micro-holes in these adhesive films keep the printed graphics from blocking natural light or eliminating the ability to see through the window. New versions with high ratios of printable film surface to tiny holes improve the appearance of images printed on the graphics. Perforated films were introduced for window graphics before white inks made it possible to digitally print color graphics on clear films.
Window Clings. Graphics on non-adhesive cling vinyls are applied to the window with soap and water. Window-cling graphics can be removed and reused.
Eco-Friendly Films. Lintec of America offers an optically clear polyester printable film made with 80% recycled content from recycled water bottles. Because recycled content has become easier to obtain, Lintec’s ECO Recycled Clear Film is offered at the same price point as Lintec’s other digitally printable window films.
Decorative Films. These specialty architectural films are manufactured with finishes and textures that emulate the high-end look of etched, sandblasted, or cut glass.
To see what’s possible, visit the Decorative Films LLC e-commerce website. Here you can see hundreds of different designs of SOLYX decorative privacy window films for residential and commercial use. In addition to adhesive films, many designs are offered on non-adhesive cling vinyl. The website reminds customers that the SOLYX “SimGlas Films allow you to achieve the look of expensive, trendy textured glass in your space without the cost or inconvenience of a remodel.”
Optically Clear Polymeric Films and Laminates. These high-performance films are designed not to stretch and distort the clarity of the windows to which they are adhered. These ultra-clear materials can be applied to the full size of the window and can last five to seven years outdoors.
Adhesive Vinyl in Brand Colors. These materials can be digitally cut to make logos and lettering to be mounted on windows, doors, and other glass surfaces. Permanent adhesives keep intricately cut letters and designs from lifting up over time. Cut-vinyl window graphics offer a popular, lower-cost way for new restaurants to brand their entryways. They also will appeal to restaurant owners who want passersby to have an unobstructed view into their beautifully designed dining space.
Specialty Window Fabrics. Adhesive-backed, PVC-free woven polyester fabrics such as Squid Window Textile and Veilish can not only improve privacy but also reduce solar glare and heat gain. Printing patterns or graphics on these window fabrics can add to the aesthetics of the restaurant design.
On the Space Tailor website, you can see some of the decorative patterns that are available for printing on Veilish window textiles.
To Learn More
This article only skimmed the surface of all the innovative materials developed for promotional, branding, and decorative window graphics. But keeping up with ongoing advances in window films can help you suggest unique, higher-margin solutions to restaurant customers who already buy many other types of print and wide-format graphics products.
Major manufacturers of self-adhesive window films (such as General Formulations, Lintec of America, Arlon Graphics, Avery Dennison Graphic Solutions, 3M Commercial Graphics, Drytac, Orafol Americas, and others) publish guides to help you choose the best window film and overlaminate film for specific window-graphic applications, print technologies, and indoor or outdoor displays.
Attending the 2022 PRINTING United Expo in October can help you see some of the latest advances and get samples of some of the window-graphic materials that would be best suitable for your type of equipment and customer mix.
Related story: A Matter of Scale: Wide-format Printing for the Hospitality Segment
Eileen Fritsch is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist who has covered the evolution of wide-format digital printing for more than 20 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.