Q. What are the most common mistakes you see in restaurant design and how might they be avoided?
RSI: Most Common errors are ‘No match or identification with Core Concept’. Another aspect not obvious to consumer eye, but crucially important is the lack of expertise of Designing firms in integrating the ‘operational functionality of a restaurant as a production unit’ into the design flow. Inefficient production areas behind a nice looking bar compromised Kitchen Layouts, dispatch areas in wrong spaces, furniture layouts hindering operational flow etc.… are few things we note. Design elements should focus first on creating an operational layout based on menu, production flow & expected table turnover & then design the ambience ‘around’ these factors.
Q. How important is outlet design to a restaurant? Should the focus be the design, the food, or both?
RSI: Design to a restaurant is as important as ‘Personality’ to a human. The key word here is ‘Personality’. More than just ‘beautiful’ interiors, a restaurant’s design needs to communicate its brand & personality through the ambience…. People visit Restaurants for the whole ‘experience’ this experience is WOW if ALL crucial factors –Food, Service, Ambience & Consistency are achieved.
Food v/s Design, these are not choices but complimentary of each other & a sensible & harmonious blend is crucial. For e.g., Starbucks or Lime Tree café may never win awards for their simplistic design but they attract regular repeat customers for their ‘Product & Personality’. We say, Focus with passion on your Food & create an ambience that is intimate, cozy, comfortable & above all ‘identifiable’ with your core offering.
Q. Do you agree/disagree with the following and why: “What the consumer surveys show repeatedly is that they will keep on coming back to their favorite place loyally for a combination of good food, good service and good ambience. In that order. Invest into your product and service and support it with a cozy and welcoming ambience. Too many restaurant owners get so carried away with designing the dining room, they use up much needed capital which should have been invested into the production area. Allocate your budget keeping in mind that your production and service wins consumers, your ambience keeps them ‘comfortably coming back for more’.”
RSI: Obviously & Totally. We have coined this phrase in our article ‘10 reasons why Restaurants fail in Dubai’ on our website & find this reason number 6! We teach our Clients & Partners to always keep an eye on the core philosophy ‘Repeat Customers are what you need to stay competitive in the Food Business. People may come to visit you once or twice to admire the ‘interiors’ but to keep on bringing them back again & again you need consistent focus on great food & memorable products, identifiable brand, comfortably cozy ambience & smart efficient service, … When you have the whole formula right, you build ‘longevity’ into your brand.’
Q. Is too much money spent on outlet design in the Middle East?
RSI: Lets say, ‘Too much money is being spent on interior’ by the kind of investor who lacks a ‘proper business plan’ and expert advice on the crucial ‘numbers’ crunch of this business. How much should be spent on Design is totally related to the Business Model of the outlet & could cost anything as long as at is consistent with the expected advantages & Return on Investment (ROI). Our clients’ only move forward with allocating a Design budget after an intensive study on Concept Creation is conducted backed with solid researched Financial Study outlines every aspect in the business. This helps determine how much needs to be spent based on concept, location, type of cuisine & competition etc. We would like to add here that the world doesn’t need or lacks another restaurant but it certainly needs a successful business model.
Q. How regularly should an outlet’s design be revamped/refurbished? Roughly how much do you estimate is being spent on average re-designing/refurbishing an outlet?
RSI: The biggest challenge faced by businesses is adjusting & meeting the ever-changing demands, lifestyle & buying habits of their target market. To create a ‘winning concept’ is one thing but to keep it alive & successful over periods of time is another. In the food industry, research across the world & the new emerging markets show that every 10 years or sooner, people’s food habits change – this is syndrome that we call it: - “Falling out of Fashion - FooF”.
Along with changing lifestyles, concepts need to be redefined’ not just in terms of interior but also in core offerings & communication. Keeping this cycle in mind, designs with ‘classic timeless features’ may provide some ‘longevity’ & can be reasonably ‘refurbished or improved’ with lower cost. Winning Concepts are those that keep on reinvesting into their business. Since this is such a competitive market, remodeling every 5 years onward, evolving the menu regularly & seasonally, focusing on annual dynamic marketing strategies that listen to consumer demands & focus on trainings & re-trainings of service staff is the key to an adequately productive overall ‘revamping’ rather than just interiors.
Furthermore, we are all aware of the Harvard strategic management business cycle, research shows that all businesses methodology evolves through similar phases as shown below. This mindset will keep you ready for the future and forecast in the right time.
Q. What is the most important thing an outlet’s design must convey?
RSI: ‘Personality & Identity’. Your brand is communicated through your personality & interior design is an extension of your brand identity, service style, core product, effectively everything you stand for. Your interiors should convey immediately what you want you customers to ‘know & remember’ about you. If it’s a high end Fine Dine outlet then it’s ‘Design Elements’ should immediately appeal & attract the discerning tastes of the targeted clientele. Whereas, a Casual Diner may need to come across ‘cozy, friendly, casual & unpretentious’. A QSR outlet design needs to portray ‘smart, fast, neat & efficiency’ in its design.
Q. In your opinion, should one spend more in the initial stages and get the design just right and run it for a longer period of time, or, should one spend less to begin with and change the concept regularly, keeping it fresh?
RSI: Spending on Quality Fit Out & Equipment is of course important & not to be compromised on, we are big advocates of this method. While choosing design & equipment, one should consider the life & finish of the interiors after the first year of operations etc. Brands like Nightclubs, Lounges, Specialty Fine Dine High End Restaurants thrive on design elements that can continuously create buzz & excitement. Such brands need to have forecasted ‘life span’ of their business to be ever evolving in terms of innovative design, technology & constant consumer focus & consumer appeal, this is all part of the overall experience to the end consumers. They may require refreshing of Design more often than other Business models like Casual diners, QSR’s etc.
From a business point of view, A Business model that allows depreciation of design & construction in 3, 4 or 5 years (depending again on the concept) will give the Owners the ability to make a viable financial decision & commitment to essential remodeling, redesigning etc. … Remember without contingencies built into the financial Plans for these essential elements, owners can be left unable to react to the ever-changing markets & consumer demands due to financial inability leading to slow demise of many brands.
Q. How much does the cuisine influence the design of an outlet? Similarly, how much does the location influence design?
RSI: Cuisine & Menu ‘determine’ the design elements & personality of the Outlet. Location provides ‘direction’ to complete the design process effectively. High-end locations attract high spending discerning clientele as well as high competition. Such outlets will need to consider design elements that appeal to their target market, & can compete for market share. The perfect combination again is great-memorable food, service, personality & above all consistency in all that. No matter what the design or location this winning formula never changes.
Q. What do you see as the key trends in F&B outlet design during 2013/2014?
RSI: We hope to see more focus by the extraordinary Designing talent available in UAE on the ‘Operational Logic’ behind Restaurant Design. The vibrant Design Scene here could be so much better fueled with more Expertise & Management Skills built into their creativity & passion for unique outstanding design. We also hope to see more well managed memorable Outlets with ‘personality’ the kind you see, visit & remember in cities like Sydney, Singapore, New York, etc. where design is complimented with pride, passion in the unique personalities of outlets, their operational expertise & service style.
Q. Any other areas I might have missed out above that you think could do with exploring?
RSI: Something that could help new Entries into the Restaurant Business: Do not ignore the crucial ‘numbers crunch’ & operational logic in Restaurant design. Right after you follow the golden rule, location – location – location and nail it, your next bet in this industry is to conquer the numbers – numbers –numbers.
Allocate a sufficient amount of space to your production area; this could be any where between 25% to 40% of your total space, depending on the Concept – Fine Dine, Casual or QSR. We see beautiful Outlets that just can’t cope with their Operational needs & service due to lack of - efficiently equipped production space, design layout that allows unhindered service paths & areas as well as sufficient table turnover v/s production capacity. Restaurants are essentially ‘Production & Service Outlets’ & need to be designed keeping in mind first & foremost the formula for successful ‘service encounters’ not just ‘initial buzz’ rather than ongoing life to the place. Ensure that your Outlet provides a memorable meal with efficient smart service in a comfortable ambience & above all does it again & again repeatedly & consistently, as a result the business attracts repeat customers with their repeat operations. Outlet Design should be considered a crucial part of a much bigger equation or formula to succeed, ‘Product, service, Operations, Ambience & Consistency’.