Design on the menu

With so many restaurants on the high street competing for customers, creating unique dining experiences is becoming increasingly important. Emily Gosling looks at ways restaurants are standing out from the crowd

A number of recent restaurant projects have been exploring the boundaries of technology and interior design as designers strive to push the limits and restaurateurs ensure they edge ahead of the growing competition.

Frequently, interiors are harnessing new technologies such as using mobile apps to pre-order food; and interiors are drawing inspiration from as diverse reference points as shipbuilding, rock formations and museum installations.

Marco Rebora, founder of the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards, to be announced next month, says, ’With the recession, it’s become extremely competitive to run a restaurant. You always need new ideas, but it’s a very delicate balance between novelty and longevity.’

Examples where this is being addressed include Macaulay Sinclair’s Inamo in St James, London; Jamie’s Italian branches; and Ab Rogers Design’s Pizza Express in Richmond, London.

The Pizza Express experimental Living Lab concept aims to celebrate the art of conversation, using parabolic domes and panelling to improve acoustics. It features a central staged space to showcase the pizzaiolos [chefs] handcrafting the food.

The design uses interactive technology to allow diners to dim lights, call for service by lighting their dome and play their own music using iPod docks.

Ab Rogers Design creative director and owner Ab Rogers says, ’It was the best commercial brief I’ve ever had. They wanted us to look at kids, improving acoustics to create great conversation and a way to call for service, so we took it quite literally.’ He adds, ’It allows you to customise the space it’s an extension of the passion people have at the moment for their own personal space.’

People need to define their own look and feel for longevity, push new ideas

Joanna Sampson, Blacksheep

Rogers says much of the design was influenced by the consultancy’s previous museum work, such as at the Science Museum, as shown in the restaurant’s ’stealthily’ educational video games for children.

He adds, ’The technology’s not new, but it’s becoming more accessible. It’s about marrying the handcrafting of the food and the technology to create an experience.

’It’s not enough to just design a slick-looking restaurant in the high street you have to look at the performance, the comfort and the experience rather than just the aesthetics.’

Jamie’s Italian restaurant designs aim to escape a ’chain’ feeling by using site-specific interior design for each branch from a number of consultancies: Blacksheep, Stiff & Trevillion and Martin Brudnizki.

Blacksheep designed the Jamie’s Italian branch at London’s Westfield shopping centre. Joanna Sampson, Blacksheep creative director, feels that increased competition is forcing restaurants to push the boundaries with novel interiors.

’It’s such a competitive market there’s a call to develop a unique experience,’ she says. ’People need to define their own look and feel for longevity we need to be pushing new ideas.’

Stiff & Trevillion designed interiors for the shipbuilding-inspired Portsmouth Jamie’s Italian branch, which opened last month.

Mike Stiff, Stiff & Trevillion director, says, ’Authentic food is reflected in authentic materials. There’s an honesty about the design and the food that’s complementary.’

Though Stiff stresses the importance for restaurants to create a ’cultural experience as well as a dining one’, he feels technology should be purely functional.

He says, ’The most interesting thing is infrastructure and how technology can make it more efficient.’ He adds, ’When it’s all just gimmicks, I don’t foresee a lot of people doing it.’

Pan-Asian restaurant Inamo uses digital touchscreen table menus and projections, and London’s St James branch, designed by Macaulay Sinclair, features interiors inspired by natural forms and cellular structures to express ’nature and movement’.

The original Inamo branch opened in 2008, designed by Blacksheep. Sampson says, ’The difficulty is in designing something that’s not gimmicky. Inamo was innovative it was meant to be waiterless, so the technology had a real purpose. You can’t just do it for the sake of it.’

Next month sees the opening of Yoobi, a new sushi restaurant concept in London’s Soho with branding by Ico and interiors by Gundry & Ducker.

A triangle graphic device is used for the interiors and branding, which reference the conical temaki wraps the food is served in.

Ico design director Vivek Bhatia says, ’On the high street you have to stand out and be distinct from everybody else everything needs to be delivered in an interesting way.’

However, Bhatia feels food should always take priority. He says, ’It’s a creatively led space, but the food comes first and foremost. The experience has to be interesting, quirky and ownable to them. The look and feel is just one part of that.’

’There are so many restaurants on the high street those who can invent will be the winners,’ says Rogers. ’Historically, there’s been more arrogance in the design we’re aware now that the space is only as good as the product.’

Ab Rogers’ restaurant design tips

  • ’It can no longer be about simply creating an image now you must take a more sincere approach that aims to offer customers an exciting experience. A great restaurant should offer an emotional and sensorially stimulating environment centered around good food and great service’
  • ’Pay special attention to the performance of the restaurant. The way it sounds, smells and generally nurtures its diners all needs to be considered in its design. Relevant technology should be introduced, but to enhance the way in which the space operates rather than as just a novelty feature to make it more fashionable’

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