Women in Hospitality: Monika Nessbach

Stay tuned for more interviews with leading women in the hospitality industry, and be sure to view all of our previous entries in the Women in Hospitality series.


women in hospitality

Monika Nessbach is the founder and chief interior designer of Designbar in Charlotte, North Carolina. Designbar offers design services for commercial spaces and has three client focuses within the commercial building industry: Live (Multi-Family), Work (Corporate Offices), and Play (Hospitality).

Growing up near Köln, Germany, Monika was exposed to modern and postmodern design, which became a signature part of her creative voice. After earning her master’s degree and working in international business, Monika was driven to fulfill a more creative existence and decided to return to school.

Enthralled with storytelling, she dreamed of opening her own design firm where she could offer clients more than the standard design processes taught in school—she wanted the spaces she created to be a sort-of visual storytelling that evoked an emotional response through dynamic experiences. In 2009, Monika's dream became a reality, and she founded Designbar. Today, her work ranges from hospitality projects to multifamily developments, corporate offices, retail, and stage sets.

Read on for our full discussion with Monika about bar design, the guest experience, and more!


What’s trending in bar design?

Sensory and experiential design—taking a cohesive approach to the entire patron experience from start to finish—in general continue to dominate the hospitality industry, bar design included. At the same time, the design needs to tell an authentic story in order for guests to connect with a brand. 

Monika Nessbach
Monika Nessbach

Guests are looking for an experience when they go out. How can bar/restaurant design help to create an immersive experience for guests?

I think the easiest way to approach this question is to ask yourself: What do I want my guests to “feel” from the moment of first contact with my bar/restaurant/brand. If you think about it, that experience starts from the moment your guest makes contact in whatever way that may be (making reservations, calling for take out, walking into a brick & mortar location). Your guest experience needs to be curated and intentional from that moment on until the last point of contact. The interior design is just one aspect of the entire experience. So is the food and the service.

Mapping out an experience cycle and then defining the guest experience for each element is key. If anything is disconnected and doesn’t fit, it breaks that cycle. The communication, the service, the drinks, the food, the presentation of each, the ambience, even the restroom experience is something that needs to be considered. At the same time, also consider where to place marketing elements (AKA, Instagrammable or "videogrammable" moments and brand elements).


You aim for your designs to be a form of visual storytelling for a location/brand. Can you talk more about this? 

Sure, the current norms call for uniqueness. There is a new atmosphere that tells a more localized story. Where the standard upholds the integrity of a brand (if numerous locations are existing) while sharing a more detailed narrative that visually communicates the food and surrounding neighborhood.

Now we see the focus shift to a quality of experience that leaves the consumers wanting more and challenges them to get out of routine. We have also seen the rise of social visibility, where one of the greatest marketing tools a business can have is the post shares by their guests.


Walk us through your process when starting a design for a bar or restaurant. Where do you start?

Our process starts with thoroughly understanding our client and their vision. Following that, we do a market analysis including a competitive analysis and a comparison of our client’s ideal target demographics against the demographics of the area and the neighborhood. Based on our findings, we develop our idea for the design story and so the typical design process begins—inspirations and mood boards, material boards, etc.


How does the design process differ when working on new builds versus redesigns/remodels? 

The most significant difference is that a new built does not have a personality (yet), and it is our responsibility to create that personality and the brand.

Now a remodel of an existing restaurant location poses a different challenge because it already has a “personality” and perception in the market. There are really two scenarios here: 1) If it was a different concept, it’s incredibly important to vastly differentiate from what it was before to stand out. 2) If it was the same concept but now re-brands and needs a makeover, you have to have an in-depth understanding about the brand. Then you need to decide what brand elements still work with the new brand narrative and what elements need to be eliminated.

designbar bar design monika nessbach
Designbar created a new concept for CRAVE Dessert Bar’s remodel in North Carolina. (Photo: Designbar)

What are some of the most common design mistakes you see in bars/restaurants? 

Where should I start? … haha! 

  • The ones that are really telling that corners were cut are typically functional mistakes
  • Where finish and furniture selections were made inappropriately for the usage as well as execution of construction
  • While drawings often communicate one thing, they are oftentimes not properly executed


Any advice for bar/restaurant owners on interior design?

The biggest advice I would have is: Know your brand. The better you know your brand story, the better it can be executed by the professionals that you hire. Interior design today is not just a pretty and functional space anymore, it’s an immersive experience that creates lasting memories.


Any advice for other female business owners?

Being a business owner is hard in itself. Especially in a male-dominated industry dealing with commercial real estate clients. As women, we need to support each other and build each other up. Build your network of people around you that will support your growth and are proud of you. Asking for help and guidance is not a weakness. Don’t get intimidated by people telling you that you cannot do something. Believe in yourself. Stay authentic and true to yourself, and go do epic shit!


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Plan to Attend or Participate in the 2024 Bar & Restaurant Expo, March 18-20, 2024

To learn about the latest trends, issues and hot topics, and to experience and taste the best products within the bar, restaurant and hospitality industry, plan to attend Bar & Restaurant Expo 2024 in Las Vegas. Visit BarandRestaurantExpo.com.

To book your sponsorship or exhibit space at the 2024 Bar & Restaurant Expo, contact:

Veronica Gonnello ​(for companies A to G)​ e: [email protected]​ p: 212-895-8244

​Tim Schultz​ (for companies H to Q) ​e: [email protected]​ p: 917-258-8589

Fadi Alsayegh ​(for companies R to Z)​ e: [email protected] p: 917-258-5174​

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