The British are developing an almost insatiable appetite for dining out. Spending on meals out on the town topped £25bn last year, according to Mintel – an increase of 25 per cent on the £20bn spent in 1998.
Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in the capital. A report commissioned by the mayor’s office last month identified that London residents spend up to 40 per cent more on dining out and other sociable pursuits than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.
London’s savviest restaurateurs spotted the potential some time ago, securing a hearty bite of the market by bringing in star chefs and commissioning spectacular, destination-style interiors for their ventures.
Now a slew of new restaurants are going a step further and adding bold brand identities to the mix. Mayfair eaterie The Wolseley launched last November with Art Deco-cum-Art Nouveau style branding by King Design (DW 6 November 2003).
This was followed in short order by Dolphin Square restaurant Allium, which features a cuisine-inspired identity by Kino Design.
New restaurant ventures Inn The Park and Yauatcha have also unveiled striking branding in recent weeks. The former, with an identity by Farrow Design, draws on Inn The Park’s leafy St James’s Park location (DW 29 January), while the latter, by North Design, references Chinese food, drink and culture (DW 18 February).
This may represent an effort on restaurateurs’ part to avoid Pharmacy-style ignominy and – through loyalty-inspiring branding – keep the customers that the bad-boy chefs and eye-catching interiors attracted in the first place.
Regardless, Kino Design partner Andrew Bignell says this shift in focus is long overdue. ‘I think restaurants have missed a trick in terms of marketing,’ he says. Bignell points to celebrity chefs such as Marco Pierre White, whose success, he asserts, is as much down to successful branding as it is to their food and personalities.
‘Traditionally, restaurateurs’ focus has been on the food and on [the restaurant’s] name and atmosphere. The next thing they’ve looked at is how the contents of the menu is communicated to diners. The logo has always been the last thing they’ve considered.’
But Bignell says the tide is turning. ‘There’s a new breed [of restaurateurs] that are paying as much attention to the marketing as the food, and the logo is finally beginning to have the attention it deserves,’ he maintains.
King Design designer Pete King agrees that strong branding is a key ingredient for any restaurant venture’s success. ‘Branding is incredibly important,’ he says. ‘It’s such a recognisable entity, and it’s the first thing people see.’
Yet King has deliberately kept The Wolseley’s brand identity low key on both the restaurant’s exterior – where the name appears on cast bronze signage – and its interior.
‘We wanted to play everything down. Once people are inside [the restaurant], why do they constantly need to be reminded where they are?’ says King.
The Wolseley’s name and swirly motif are judiciously sprinkled throughout the restaurant, on menus, place mats and dishes; it also appears on items that will ultimately leave the restaurant, such as matchboxes and carrier bags.
But even then, the restaurant’s brand identity is a subtle thing. The motif is taken from a section of wrought iron on the building’s exterior. The black and grey colour scheme reflects the David Collins-designed interiors, which reference grand, Viennese cafÃ©s and patisseries, says King.
Similarly, Bignell has striven to keep Allium’s brand identity ‘understated’ and tightly aligned with the restaurant’s interiors and principal chef Anton Edelmann’s offering.
He says the restaurant’s name, which Kino Design generated, is the Latin name for the onion family – the basis of much of Edelmann’s cooking.
This is reflected in both aspects of Allium’s branding, he adds: a spherical logo inspired by the Allium flowerhead, and a freehand-style rendering of the restaurant’s name, with the double ‘l’s alluding to the flower’s long stem.
Bignell says the bright green colour scheme ‘jumps out’ from the restaurant’s dark blue interiors, but not to the point of bludgeoning diners with the brand.
Like King at The Wolseley, he has kept branding within the restaurant to a minimum. Kino Design’s work appears strictly on menus, stationery and on signage on the exterior doors.
King’s and Bignell’s restrained approaches may have something to do with the high-end customers that both The Wolseley and Allium seek to attract. ‘Allium caters for quite a high spend,’ concedes Bignell.
Nonetheless, it is a creative solution to brand identity work that North Design senior designer Jeremy Coysten supports. ‘Ultimately, [restaurants] are about the food and the environment. The identity should be an extension of this by not appearing to be in competition with it.’
He is wary of restaurants that rely on extensions of their logo for their identity – and then affix it to everything within and outside the premises, stating, ‘This can make a restaurant feel like a corporation.’
North Design is taking this view to the limit with its branding work for Alan Yau’s latest venture, Yauatcha. Coysten says the group is ‘mindful to not just label everything with a logo’, particularly as the restaurant has a retail element, for which North Design is also creating packaging.’Yauatcha is not a logo-led identity. The graphic shapes and colours are as important as, if not more important, than [the logo],’ says Coysten.
He adds that the shapes and colour schemes are inspired by the aerial view of the shapes tea makes as it grows in the fields, and by the steam and smoke that rise from both tea and dim sum.
As for the future of bold branding for the UK’s dining establishments, Coysten is ambivalent. ‘It really depends on the restaurant concept. If it demands a bold identity, then fine. But functional design will always be the key, as you need to communicate to the customer,’ he says.
But Bignell is unequivocal. ‘The emphasis is switching round as brands become more important. Chefs and restaurateurs are realising it’s a valuable, tangible asset, and are paying much more attention to their identities and branding,’ he asserts.
UK eating-out habits, 1998-2003