Feeding time

Fast food establishments are springing up around the capital to cater for the gourmet luncher. Lauren Mills sees what tasty treats she can cram into her lunch hour.

Ever been tempted to bolt a burger, eat stale sandwiches, or guzzle a quick cup of instant coffee – and then regretted it? Let’s face it, most of us have. But the latest craze for fresh, low-fat, high fibre food means people are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to choosing a daytime snack.

As a result, food and drink providers are going out of their way to find new methods to satisfy our tastes. We are witnessing the return of coffee-house society, with new outlets springing up all over the place. At the forefront of the coffee revolution are companies like Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero and Seattle Coffee Company.

Costa Coffee brand manager Barry Clark confirms that he is in the midst of reviewing the Costa Coffee brand in a bid to keep abreast of changes in the sector. “Costa Coffee is an Italian brand, so we take a lead for the design from traditional Italian coffee bars – by using dark woods and brass detailing which are the signature marks of the Italian espresso bar,” he says.

The Costa Coffee chain was bought in 1995 by Whitbread, which wanted to catch the lunchtime trade, as well as those in need of a quick coffee fix. It therefore created a parlour area in its shops, with beige-washed walls, which have a more homely feel.

Clark is convinced coffee bars, such as Costa Coffee, will continue to pull in the lunchtime crowd, as well as weary shoppers in need of a rest. “There’s been a general lifestyle change. People have got more disposable income, but less time to spend it. So they have moved away from formal meals, to snacking and grazing. The coffee bar is ideal for this,” he says.

Coffee bars are also fast becoming “the place to see and be seen”, following the success of TV shows such as US series Friends, which centres around a New York coffee shop. This means traditional greasy spoon cafés will have to clean up their act if they are to stand a chance of surviving. Even tried and tested sandwich and snack retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Boots the Chemist need to rethink their offer if they are to maintain a healthy grip on the market.

Peter Burdon, director of leisure business at Boots, believes established players need to sit up and take note of what is happening in the fast food sector. While Boots has done much to improve its product lines, Burdon is the first © to admit more could be done to upgrade the look of Boots’ snack food section. The retailer has already rid itself of its old-style chillers with hanging plastic strips and replaced them with open chillers, at a cost of 7.8m. “These look more upmarket and signal a better quality product,” says Burdon. He estimates that sales have increased by 5-10 per cent as a direct result of the change, and adds that Boots will spend a further 5m over the coming year on in-store improvements to the food area.

However, Burdon is adamant that Boots’ food area does not need more “razzmatazz” or a hi-tech environment to turn people on. “The market is defined by quality of food and ease of buying it,” he says.

Boots is almost a victim of its own success. For every pound spent on food, customers spend at least 62p on other items in the store. This creates a frenetic atmosphere at peak times, which could deter people from visiting Boots during their lunch hour. To combat the problem, Boots is to fit out a concept store at Bluewater, with panelling to define the food area and separate it from health and beauty. The store opens next March.

“We don’t want people just to buy food and leave, but it will be more of a signal that it is there,” says Burdon.

Boots will also have to watch out for operators new to the sector, which are equally hungry to grab a slice of the lucrative lunchtime market.

These include Whittard of Chelsea which is to open a chain of tea shops with a food offer, and City Centre Restaurants which is rebranding its high street Deep Pan Pizza outlets on the one hand as Bean and Olive by Scott Libby Heming and on the other hand as Tosca, a Mediterranean theme by Keith Jones Design, being trialed in three of the company’s 34 leisure sites.

Other newcomers to the sector include EAT, a new sandwich bar concept, currently trading from three outlets in central London, but with plans for a rapid expansion throughout London.

Niall MacArthur, founder and managing director of EAT, believes his snack chain is at the cutting edge of food design. “It is the first with the brand distinction firmly rooted in the product. Our product is unique in that all the food we sell is cooked, baked and prepared by us. We source our own ingredients and all the sandwiches and salads are fresh every day. The tremendous strength of this is that we can adapt our own menus and we have our own quality control,” he says.

Other operators are concentrating all their efforts on offering one type of food. As part of the latest frenzy for quality snacks, soup is getting another airing on the menu. Companies like Soup Opera and Soup Works are going out of their way to convince rumbling tummies that soup can be more than a staple winter food.

If you would rather eat soup, slurp real coffee, or munch a freshly made pizza than settle for a burger and bowl of greasy chips, then a gastronomic treat awaits you on the high street. Here we take a closer look at three outlets already vying for your trade.

Bean and Olive

Design: Scott Libby Heming

Interiors: Dick Morgan

Branding: Sarah Perry

Client: City Centre Restaurants

Location: New Oxford Street, London WC1

Opened: June

Looking in through the window of Bean and Olive from the street, passers-by will be able to see everything from the restaurant menu and seating, to the bar stool area and the takeaway service. The coffee area is the hub of activity where staff are always available to meet and greet, dressed in yellow or blue Bean and Olive T-shirts. Unlike the classic café servery bar, which faces out towards the customer, Bean and Olive’s is turned against the wall. Everything is on show – from coffee machines to cups and saucers and glass-fronted bottle fridges.

At the end of the servery, facing the entrance doors, is the takeaway service counter, next to which is a large menu board. Here you can order pizza, or a coffee, or select a dessert from the chilled display unit. As you are already in the bar stool area, you can take a coffee and sit at the bar where you wait less than ten minutes for your pizza to be cooked.

Interior designer Dick Morgan of Scott Libby Heming was briefed to create a young, bright, bold and welcoming atmosphere. Morgan explains: ‘The takeaway service needed a presence. Bean and Olive is trying to combine the dual purpose of a young, lively restaurant with a lively take-out area.’

The walls and ceilings are painted bright yellow, and the café’s individual look was achieved by forming a sloping dado level wall-cladding, which curves out into the restaurant space to form individual areas, or ‘corrals’.

Yellow bumper rails, by Boston Retail – usually found in supermarkets to safeguard finishes – were installed to separate the skirting finish from the walls, to stop table edges bumping the walls, and as a capping piece to the dado wall. The walls are also decorated with giant pictures, selected from imagebanks and enlarged and printed by The Colour Company.

For the floor, Kamdean Woodplank PVC Bleached Oak flooring was specially selected for its silver-grey markings which reflect the silver tabletops. The entrance matwell is filled with blue coir matting, surrounded in yellow and blue cut-tile mosaic from Worlds End Tiles. And the servery bar is constructed from Trespa solid grade material, which is very hygienic, as there are no applied edges or joinery details. The servery itself is coloured red, with graphic illustrations by Richard Eckford on the wall behind.

Bean and Olive has a warm, comfortable ambience set off by pendant light fittings. These are a standard industrial product by ENESS, to which Scott Libby Heming added a large dished shade, which totally changes the character of the fitting. Also, 100w halogen lamps give sparkle and intense illumination, while retaining the warm ambience of the restaurant.

EAT – Excellence and Taste

Interior designer: David Collins

Client: Niall MacArthur

Location: Duke of York Street, London SW1

Opened: December, 1997

EAT is already teasing the tastebuds of hungry workers in central London. The sandwich shop chain has three outlets up and running and two more will open in October, in the City and in Victoria. EAT founder Niall MacArthur says the concept is led by product quality and the fact that all the food is cooked or baked in the company’s own kitchen. Every aspect of the design has been chosen to reflect this. ‘We are trying to create a fresh, modern, uplifting feel,’ he explains.

The quality of the product, which ranges in price from 99p to 2.95 for sandwiches, and includes exotic items such as chicken and mango salad, is echoed in the choice of material. There is lots of wood, with breads displayed on oak baking trays. The floor is covered with terrazzo tiles, which are hardy and extremely functional. Glass hand-blown lights lend EAT something of a retro feel. Interior designer David Collins explains: ‘We wanted to make the interior warmer and less sterile. References from American and Italian coffee bars are combined with bakery references.’

EAT has also based its core logo on the traditional tea towel, resonant with good quality, old-fashioned home cooking. The tea towel stripe is used as a reference for take-away packaging and staff uniforms, as a reminder to customers that all the produce is fresh and homemade.

‘Food needs an image and feeling that people can identify with. By promoting the fact that all the food is homemade, the shops have some of the familiarity of a kitchen,’ Collins adds.

EAT cafés cater both for people wishing to take food away, and for those who would like to spend a more leisurely half-hour eating in. The average size of the cafés is about 50m2, which makes it difficult to separate the seating and takeaway areas. However, it has been possible to do this at the Duke of York Street site which has bar seating in the window and a quieter sit-down area at the back, with softer, wooden flooring.

MacArthur explains that the ergonomics of his cafés are very important. ‘People must be able to move in quickly and exit efficiently, or, if they prefer, to take their time,’ he says.

All EAT cafés are colour-coded with the chain’s signature blue and brown hues. While the floor tiles are a natural terracotta colour, blue tiles run round the servery.

Soup Opera

Interior designer: Din Associates

Client: Janie Dear/Soup Opera

Location: Canary Wharf, London E14

Opened: April

Anyone who still thinks soup should be drunk from mugs, while huddling round an open fire in mid-winter should think again. The brave new world of Soup Opera is set to put it back on even the trendiest lunchtime menu.

The interior has been designed to break away from any preconceived or traditional views associated with soup. The design uses a variety of textures and finishes, giving a strong contrast between the different planes in the shop. An angled servery expresses the function to the space, as well as emphasising the dynamic approach to the concept, dreamt up by Din Associates.

The controlled use of clean-looking colours – blues and greens – enhances Soup Opera’s graphic identity and highlights the freshness of the product.

The floor is covered in textured stone, which continues vertically around the servery. The sparse use of birch ply detailing behind the servery, combined with dark grey laminate, provides an interesting and discreet backdrop for the display of product and menu boards.

Polished steel gives a clean edge to the sneeze board guarding the servery and large glass panels help continue the feeling of transparency in this area, rather than forming a barrier. The use of polished steel is continued in the servery itself and soup is displayed in modern containers, rather than the more traditional rustic pots.

Coloured laminate is used on the opposite wall to counteract the theatre behind the servery by creating a relationship between the various elements on this side of the shop – such as fruit display, perch seating and graphic imagery.

Soup Opera founder Janie Dear says inspiration for the shop came from US operators such as Daily Soup. ‘We did not want a homey feel, so we’ve gone for something which is very contemporary and modern. It gives soup a trendier image by being clean, healthy, slick and efficient looking.’

While Din Associates created the interior design, Lippa Pearce was responsible for the graphics. Both elements use a calming sea green/blue, combined with deep red and brown/beige.

Din Associates designer Sarah Baboo adds: ‘We wanted to capture the contemporary feel of the client’s vision, by using a good combination of materials which would relate to each other – and in so doing to build an equation which would work on any site, as is the intention.’

The finishes are durable and easily cleaned, and the shop has been built to cope with over 500 customers a day. Further outlets are planned for the City and London’s West End.

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