Design giving restaurants a new lease of life

Design giving restaurants a new lease of life

For some restaurants, a design refresh is even just to stay afloat. The recent struggles in the market have forced operators to look at all aspects of the business, including management, spending, menus and underperforming sites, in order to turn their fortunes around. While it’s a costly step, redesigning a restaurant brand can give it new life – whether to symbolise moving on from past troubles or to encourage new people to pay a visit.

Carluccio’s is a prime example of an operator currently doing this, less than one year after entering a CVA. Richmond was the first site to undergo a redesign within the Fresca transformation programme, which includes a prominent bar area, brighter and more varied colours and comfier seating. After what the business has described as a “successful” trial at Richmond, sites at Heathrow Terminal 5 and Bluewater have received their own face lifts with £500,000 of investment. When I met commercial director Graham Ford a couple of months ago, he reassured me that these would not completely emulate Richmond, for a shopping centre in Dartford is quite different to a high street in an affluent residential district in southwest London. However, whatever the location, it is clear that Carluccio’s is looking to offer a more premium experience that is both comfortable and stylish.

Revitalising a brand’s look and feel comes down to more than just the furniture – the Carluccio’s redesign included crockery, the deli and the menu. Gujarati restaurant Bobby’s in Leicester underwent a similar revitalisation earlier this year, with its logo, menu and staff uniform changing in line with a new interior. Laminate flooring has been replaced with a white and blue geometric design and cream chairs and brown square tables have made way for white round tables with gold trim and blue polka dot fabric chairs. As the restaurant is inspired by the 1973 Bollywood musical Bobby, it makes sense that the redesign would follow suit, but it has managed to do so in a rather stylish, subtle way.

“Rather than a themed restaurant, we wanted to create something that wouldn’t feel out of place if it was in the actual film,” says Tony Matters, creative director of Faber, which was appointed as the design agency. “Much of the visual language of the interior is derived from the visual language of the movie, even down to fabrics and colours and patterns. Bobby – the protagonist of the film – is female, so the design feels very feminine, with lots of soft, curved edges. One of the iconic outfits worn by Bobby is a white shirt with blue polka dots, which we’ve referenced with polka dot fabrics within the design.”

Two very different brands, both with bold new designs – the introduction of more colour is being acknowledged in the industry.

“At the moment, design is going retro with a feel of the ‘70s and ‘80s with neon colours,” claims Sylvester Keal marketing director Irene Keal. “Plain, white walls are now being eliminated, with a twist from sharp and clean to bolder colour schemes.”

The advent of stronger colours is not limited to the dining area – the presence of open kitchens has led to colour schemes being visible where the chefs work in order to reinforce branding. This has led to an increase in equipment such refrigerators, ovens and work surfaces that can be customised with a particular colour or shape.

From bold colours to boldly going where no one has gone before – Bread Street Kitchen went a step further with extravagant interiors, presenting guests to the Street Lounge the opportunity to dine inside a space capsule. The Timothy Oulton design, which was originally created for Milan Design Week 2018, features a polished stainless-steel shell the same size as the Apollo II capsule, with tomahawk camel leather, an illuminated alabaster dining table and an Odeon pendant. The pod floor and staircase are finished in woven safari tobacco leather. It can sit up to eight guests and has been complemented by Oulton’s Shabby sectional sofas and coffee table.

A bright sight and unique experience Apollo may be, but operators are advised to offer their guests comfort, first and foremost (not that the cushioned interior of Apollo looks anything but comfortable), steering away from the hard and industrial materials that we’ve seen in the last few years.

“Although a popular and lengthy trend, brushed steel, bare light bulbs and exposed brick feels overdone,” says Trent Furniture owner Robert Price. “Homely, earthy tones are rearing their heads once again as restaurants begin to embark on a quest to fill their spaces with natural and welcoming textures.”

To be successful, operators should not only offer comfort to their guests, but to their staff, too. The design of a restaurant and its kitchen needs to take into consideration practicality and efficiency for team members, especially when these skilled and hospitable people are so hard to come by these days. Alex Povall, head chef at The Oystermen, explains why this led him to switch to induction cooking.

“We wanted to make our chefs’ lives easier and keep a low turnover of staff,” says Povall, who worked with Target Catering Equipment on the new kitchen. “Our chefs experience far fewer burns using induction and cleaning is easier, too, which is a welcome addition considering we serve more than 40kg of whole English brown cock crabs on a daily basis. Overall, the new induction technology has helped to simplify the job and improve overall energy efficiency, which has had a positive impact on the restaurant both financially and environmentally.”

In order to stay ahead (or afloat), restaurants have to look at what people want from eating out today and allow the design to accommodate wherever possible. The whole space, including the kitchen, also needs to do this for the staff. Without the support of either of these groups of people, restaurants will fail.