How many new restaurant openings do you hear about on a weekly basis?
For me, it must be between 10 and 20, often accompanied by lovely images of the food and drink that these new restaurants will be offering. Posed to perfection, these pictures have to look good enough to eat and drink in order to tempt trade and consumer to have a taste. But, you know what I really look forward to? The design.
So eclectic, unique and eye-catching some restaurants can be, that their décor, furnishings and layout can take my mind off the menu as I gaze upon hand-painted murals, industrial metal chairs and spiral staircases. Some people experience envy when seeing what someone else is eating – I feel it when a group is sitting in a cosy leather booth and I’m not.
It’s not just the way it makes you feel, but the way it looks. Design and décor is second only to food (and, ok, maybe travel) as being the most popular theme on Instagram. A beautiful photo of a perfectly-laid table, an untouched dining room or a complementary colour scheme is enough to get users out to B&Q to try and replicate the looks in their own homes.
Of course, the importance of design in a restaurant is not just skin deep. Besides adding to the customer experience, it needs to work for the people collecting food from the kitchen and winding their way around tables 57 times a day. Speaking of which, the back-of-house is having increasingly more to do with the overall look and feel of the restaurant.
Open all hours
“With shows like the Great British Bake Off attracting millions of viewers, people are becoming more obsessed with watching cooking,” says Building Services Design (BSD) director Sean Langton. “Therefore, the current trend is all very much about open-plan spaces with open kitchens, allowing the customer to experience and see the chefs cooking while waiting for their food. Open kitchens allow restaurants to deliver visual entertainment, with diners getting a glimpse into the inner workings of the cooking process.”
The open kitchen experience has evolved with the growth of particular cooking styles. The likes of Temper and Smokestak offer counter seating so that customers have a view of the kitchen and are right beside the chefs as they cut, prepare and smoke meats. The Wright Brothers’ Battersea site offers the same experience for counter guests to watch the chefs prepare the seafood and shellfish. There are other advantages of sitting at the counter – it can be easier to get the attention of staff, it is unlikely to encourage guests to linger so that stools can be freed for other diners, and it can appeal to people that would otherwise require a table for one.
“Bar counter dining by an open kitchen is becoming increasingly popular, particularly due to the rising number of solo diners in cities like New York and London,” says Macaulay Sinclair interior designer Nina Tigonen. “One of the challenges, however, can be managing noise levels and ensuring a practical, yet on-brand lighting scheme.”
Due to the kitchen and bar being in full sight of guests, equipment found within them is receiving the same aesthetic attention as the tables, chairs and walls of the dining room. This can be the smallest touches such as the handles on a refrigerator, the lights on a glasswasher or the shine on the surfaces.
“Good looking equipment helps improve the ambience of a bar,” says Meiko UK managing director Paul Anderson. “The latest undercounter machines feature coloured lighting, which lends a touch of class. They also don’t emit clouds of steam to fog up the mirrors when the door is opened thanks to optional integral heat recovery.”
The theatre and aesthetic appeal of an open plan kitchen and bar needs balancing with practical functions. Langton argues that open kitchens remove the wasted space often found between the kitchen and the dining room, meaning that more space can be given to one or the other. As a bigger dining room means more covers, it is likely that an operator would choose to give this extra space to the dining room. This is leading to smaller kitchens that chefs and porters have to work in, which, in turn, is pushing operators and manufacturers to be smarter about space.
In a tight corner
For a while now, we’ve been seeing the size of restaurant units decrease, particularly on the high street and in similar built-up environments, as a means to pay lower rent. Relief on this doesn’t look to be coming any time soon. More pressure is being put on smaller kitchens to work harder and longer. They need to be almost chameleon-like to accommodate a range of trading times and patterns.
“Kitchens are becoming a lot more compact as well as being required to perform multiple roles,” says ABDA project consultant Stephen Ryan. “For example, an outlet may be required to perform a vast breakfast service, changing to a smaller lunch offer and then the main dinner service with a full operating kitchen. Having equipment that can provide a use through all services will maximise the space and ensure the operator makes best use of the space.”
To ensure that the space is used most effectively, the planning stage is vital. Operators working with designers need to be vocal about what they require; how many covers they will be catering for; how many members of staff will be on the floor at any one time; and whether there will be bar seating. Members of staff themselves should be approached to give their own input.
“It is crucial for chefs to be involved in the design of the kitchen,” says Hobart UK sales director Tim Bender. “There are many mistakes which can be eradicated by getting the opinion of those who are going to be working there day in, day out. A common mistake is to create a pass too small for use. Design and create a pass as long as possible as it’s the main hive of activity during service.”
Combining multifunctional equipment with a clever design can enable a restaurant to work more efficiently. However, Ryan warns operators against sacrificing the core function of a machine only for it to do other tricks – the end product needs to be high quality for the individual guest. If too much technology threatens this, is it really worth it?
A big issue is that there are more pressures and demands on operators besides providing food and drink to a customer, which requires updates to equipment and, in some cases, even the introduction of yet more equipment.
Waste of space
Kitchen space that is not being used to its full potential can be harmful to an operation, but it’s not only square footage that operators need to be mindful about wasting. Excess energy and food scraps can be dealt with by using the right equipment specifications.
“Modern equipment is designed to be super-efficient and ‘green’ which means that it does a better job while using significantly less energy,” says Nelson Catering Equipment managing director John Nelson. “Induction hobs, with their well-documented energy savings, are now a mainstay of most modern kitchens; the latest fryers have been designed to use minimal oil; combination ovens are way more sophisticated and use a fraction of the energy of their predecessors; dishwashers have low water and energy requirements; and modern extraction systems have sensors that mean they run only as and when necessary.”
A constant reminder about these energy-saving add-ons is that they can often make equipment more expensive. The idea is that you need to spend more in order to save more. Further to that, operators that are seen to be actively cutting down on energy and food waste can be more appealing to potential customers. They may not notice the energy-saving technology at work, but operators can express their efforts on-site or in marketing materials.
One sight that customers certainly don’t want to see from a restaurant is copious amounts of food waste on the side of the road. Operators can look to decrease the food that ends up on landfill, or even down the sink, by thinking about waste management in their kitchen design.
“The best way to manage food waste is to treat it at source,” advises IMC managing director Steve Witt. “Along with grease traps, dewatering units not only assist with the removal of food waste, but they also facilitate fats, oil and grease removal from the waste stream, preventing this from becoming an issue further down the system.”
Witt states that the effort made to recover food bound with oils, fats and grease can be rewarding for operators, for what would have become waste can be turned into valuable resources if composted or anaerobically digested, in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material. The kitchen is likely to have tools and devices working away that customers can’t see, no matter how ‘open’ the kitchen is. Meanwhile, when it comes to design, everything front-of-house should be treated as a presentation to guests. You’re on display, so you want to make sure you look good.
Hey, good looking!
The features of the front-of-house can make one restaurant look strikingly different from another. But, as with the popularity of an open kitchen, you can see certain features repeated that enable the emergence of styles and themes.
What you soon realise by comparison is that there are so many different looks on the market, some of them even contradict each other. The industrial style is one that has been around for a few years, and comprises exposed beams, worn wood, bare light fixtures and even visible screws and welds in chairs and tables. These pieces are typically dark in colour and suit barbecue and smoking venues. While Langton claims that the industrial trend “shows no signs of slowing down”, Beacon design services manager Chris Johnson maintains the opposite.
“Current trends are moving away from industrial looks and are turning to warmer colours in order to make consumers feel welcome, as well as personal touches of colour,” he says.
One style that could be said to be more welcoming is Scandinavian – clean, natural woods, smooth, soft lines and that vital hygge ingredient for extra cosiness.
There are some decorative pieces that are popular in sites whatever the style of design. A signature mural can be used to attract the eye of the guest as the focal point in a room. Maxwell’s Group’s Old Compton Brasserie features various murals for splashes of colour on the walls (check out news of the opening on page 14), while Brasserie Blanc’s Hale Barns site has a mural of Van Gogh’s Almond Tree in Blossom and Wright Brothers in Soho has an octopus mural on the ceiling.
Both murals in Brasserie Blanc and Wright Brothers lend themselves to the design theme – Almond Tree in Blossom supports the botanical theme of the Brasserie Blanc site, which also includes palm print fabrics and Marrakech Dandelion tiles, while the octopus in the Wright Brothers is synonymous with the cuisine of the brand – seafood. It’s worthwhile for operators to look at what chair, table and lighting styles are coming onto the market, but it’s even better – no, crucial – to ensure they complement their all-important brand before investing in pieces.
Brand over bland
“Your choice of furnishings should be an extension of your brand identity, so careful consideration should be given when picking furniture for your restaurant,” says a Trade Furniture Company spokesperson. “Furniture needs to be reflective of the style of the eatery you run – be that a greasy spoon café or a quirky high-end bistro – as well as the price of your menu and, most crucially, what impression you want to give customers.”
It is likely that décor that suits a brand down to the ground is going to cost the operator more than the one-size-fits-all approach. Now more than ever, this is likely to pay off, as customers can share striking or impressive surroundings on social media, adding to the experience element.
“First impressions count,” says Jan Dammis of Go In. “For this reason, it’s important to stand out from your competitors with your furniture. Designing a restaurant means more than putting furniture into a room and decorating it with matching accessories. Interior designs convey a concept, appeal to one or more target groups, tell stories and, ideally, arouse emotions.”
For experience and authenticity’s sake, the interior design of a restaurant that serves Sri Lankan or regional Indian cuisine is unlikely to have the same features as a pizzeria or a seafood restaurant. Wright Brothers conveys its cuisine through art once again with illustrations of seafood on the walls of its Battersea site, while Tiffin Rooms in Leeds, which worked with BSD, features Indian shutters, wagon wheels and imported artworks. This contributes to the experience of eating different cuisines without actually visiting the places from which they originate. What customers see in a restaurant has become just as important as what they taste.