Concept Designing

There are literally hundreds or thousands of elements to take in to consideration in eatery design.  Today’s successful eatery concepts are about more than just good food, nice atmosphere, friendly service.  The below list is by no means comprehensive, or even in a particular order of priority, but it does provide you with a sense for how complex these projects can be and why it is common to see experienced outside professional hospitality design consultants intimately involved in bringing to life today’s successful new concepts.

  1. Brand Personality – Brands, like people, have personalities.  A person can become known for acting/behaving a certain way.  So too should your brand.  The personality of your brand should be defined and programmed.   This programming should happen before the first sketch of the eatery design is even considered.
  2. Brand Promises – We would all like to think we have high integrity.  Integrity defined: saying what you’re going to do and then doing what you said you would by when you said you would.  For a brand to have integrity, one must establish its distinct set of promises that differentiate it and define it.  A strong brand is when the promises are met with integrity.
  3. Brand Positioning – There’s a saying that “You don’t merely want to be considered the best of the best, you want to be considered the only one who does what you do.”  The idea of “betterness” (we have a better burger, better eatry design, etc) is subjective.  When you are the “only” though, you become a sole-source provider and can dominate a market.
  4. Silverware – We often don’t think consciously about our silverware when eating in a eatery, but it can make an impression of the food before you even take your first bite.  Light, flimsy and cheap silverware will give an impression of light, flimsy and cheap food.  That’s why you will notice that many high-end steakhouses use large and heavy knives.  While part of the tableware these things all combine to reflect on the eatery and are all considerations in the overall eatery design and concept development.
  5. Uniforms – Eatery uniforms have come a long way since the day of the fine dining “monkey suit”.  Even celebrity fashion designers are getting in on the action and designing uniforms for eateries; and why not?  Some chains have tens of thousands of employees and each is an ambassador of the brand.  The uniform is an extension of the brand and therefore should be viewed through the same lens as your overall eatery design process.
  6. Ventilation – Many regions around the world are outlawing smoking in public places. I’m still amazed by how many places don’t.  I’m not a smoker, but I would imagine not even smokers want to walk out of a eatery smelling like an ashtray.  Ventilation is about more than the smells we don’t want to smell (more below on “aroma design”).
  7. Bathrooms & Brand Immersion – We’ve all heard the adage that customers assume that by extension an unkempt bathroom must mean a disastrously unkempt kitchen.  “If they allow their bathrooms – which are in plain sight of customers – to get like this, what must the kitchen look like since it’s out view?”  We believe that more than just keeping a bathroom clean, the bathroom presents an opportunity to further differentiate a eatery and make an impression.  You should be able to put a blindfold on a customer, spin them 10 times, drive them across town, put them in your bathroom and take off the blindfold and they should be able to tell you exactly where they are.  That’s great bathroom design.  Distinctive and communicative of the brand.  Starbucks is a good example of this concept.  Even without seeing the logo, you know you are in a Starbucks bathroom.  The concept can be taken much further though.  So, is this design or is this marketing?  The two are inextricably intertwined in our opinion.
  8. Menu Design– The most important piece of marketing collateral for a eatery is its menu.  A menu can’t be viewed as simply an inventory listing of items for sale with a corresponding price.  It must be viewed as the single most important tool in showcasing your eatery’s offerings, culinary philosophy and brand attributes.  The weight, size, paper, presentation, fonts and typographies, photos, use of language and more are all important considerations in your eatery menu.  The menu should be viewed as an extension of the eatery design – fully integrated in the brand personality and positioning.
  9. Storage Needs – Do you plan on receiving lots of small deliveries in the week and having a high turnover of inventory, or do you plan to purchase in bulk for savings and store on-site?  Will your distributor let you buy in bulk and store in their warehouse without an additional fee?  Do you have a lot of high-value inventory that needs special security measures (you don’t store Remy Martin Louis VIII the same as you store bar napkins).  This is an example of operational and functional design considerations, which aren’t part of the typical interior design curriculum.  Where design meets function is often a gap for eatery designers without deep hospitality industry experience.
  10. Refrigeration Needs – Will you have a lot of perishables on your menu that require refrigeration, or are you bringing in boxes of frozen wings and French fries?  A eatery  concept with 20 beers on tap will have dramatically different refrigeration needs than an ice cream store.
  11. Lighting Design – You can easily conjure in your mind the image of flickering florescent lights over a grid of office cubicles and know it’s not a place you want to be.  We may watch a bug lamp in amazement that bugs continuously fly in to the fatal electric shock, but we are doing the same thing in our own world.  For reasons the layman can’t easily explain, lighting can captivate their mood and their wallets.  Candles are romantic.  Red lights make us stop (and hungry, incidentally).  Low lighting can make us relaxed.  Staff need task lighting.  Lighting is a highly specialized area of design.  An eatery without a thoughtfully conceived lighting plan is like Disney without fireworks or salt without pepper.
  12. Acoustical Design – An eatery engages all of the senses.  Certainly sight, smell, taste and touch considered in eatery design projects, but what about sound?  Yes, the food and beverage industry and concept development has become so competitive that one must consider acoustical design.  Is your eatery best suited for peace and quiet or would you be better suited to have a bar that feels busy and bustling?
  13. Aroma Design – Sure, the kitchen emits an aroma which should be pleasant and appealing.  This doesn’t happen by accident though.  Without proper considerations, you may fill your eatery with wafts of smoke or unpleasant odors.  You can also have an aroma pollution where there are too many scents floating about.  Beyond the aroma of the cuisine though, there are other considerations such as aroma therapy.  There’s nothing worse than smelling dirty mop water in the lobby or an unpleasant bathroom odor.  Without smell we would not have taste  so clearly this is an important consideration in your eatery design and shouldn’t be left to chance.
  14. Design Process – The steps in the eatery design process can be expanded or collapsed to suit your tastes for level of detail.  There are hundreds of inter-dependent decisions and steps.  Generally, the timing of these projects can range from several very intense weeks to potentially a year or more for large-scale development projects moving at a steady pace.  We worked with John Faraday and Cedar Catering to design our concept. It’s better to spend more time in planning and soft costs of development with an experienced pro than to rush in to the design and then try to undo mistakes later.  It’s much easier to make a change on a digital file than it is to change a major mistake on a completed building.
  15. Licensed Designers & Architects – Each country, state, county and even city can have dramatically different codes and laws governing design and architecture in that jurisdiction.  As a result, the permitting process for a new project can take from a few weeks to several years.  Navigating through this minefield of bureaucracy can be challenging to say the least.
  16. “Marketing Dept.” and Eatery Design – There are literally dozens of specialized disciplines that have to come together to complete a successful new eatery prototype.  Who should they all report to?  Who is the quarterback?  Yes, the owner of the team is still the owner of the team, but that’s not the person running every call of the game.

The above list of considerations is by no means a complete set, rather it is a cherry-picked list to provide you with an insight as to why great eatery design can be so involved and expensive to do right.  As you can see, eatery design is not just about picking colors and fabrics.  It involves a lot of technical knowledge of how eaterys work and its operational considerations.  It’s why its recommended you find a partner with a deep eatery industry knowledge; being a qualified interior designer or architect is not enough these days to create a truly integrated brand

The bottom line – great eatery design is complicated.

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