Looking Delicious

September 17th, 2014 by Andre Marquez Architects

“Three-quarters of consumers say going to a restaurant with family and friends is a better use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up.” (National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Pocket Factbook – http://ow.ly/BwUPb)

Whether for business, pleasure, or convenience, eating out has become a normal part of everyday life. In the US, with its myriad chains, local coffee shops, and five-star chef owned and operated venues, the choices seem never-ending.

Like the difference between a gourmand (a lover of good food) and an epicure (one with sensitive and discriminating tastes especially in food or wine)… dining out encompasses very varied experiences… from McDonald’s (for the young gourmand) to Spain’s El Bulli (recently reopened as a foundation and food lab).

Here in the United States, restaurants have become fixtures of the landscape, and essential components of any respectable commercial development. According to restaurant industry’s QSR magazine, “Shopping centers across the country are investing, turning to food as a way to lure guests back… The role of food in a mall is important and will continue to be.” (http://www.qsrmagazine.com/reports/new-food-court)

Once upon a time, the theory was that restaurant designers focused their work on selecting colors which supposedly made people eat more. The advent of the outrageously expensive minimalist meal and the prospect of way too many restaurants painted ketchup red and mustard yellow led to a revisiting of this theory.

Realistically (and some would add, sadly), the decision of where you eat today has as much to do with ambiance and location as it does with the food. This is why restaurant designers have to take into account not just what food is being served (Sushi bar or line kitchen?), but also who the potential, ideal diner is.

For some examples, let’s look at the 2006 Superior Achievement in Design and Imaging awards (SADI). Au Bon Pain’s Pembroke, Massachusetts location, designed by Sasaki Associates, Inc. demonstrates this approach. Seating options include private booths, a lounging area, as well as hard seating on stools at the food bar. Small stands allow for self-service selection of anything from fresh fruit to chip bags. This establishment obviously caters to the casual diner, looking for a fast paced, energy driven environment.

A more dramatic example is provided by the Atrium Champagne Bar designed in 2013 by Foster + Partners. Located in the lobby of the ME Hotel in London, with minimal furnishings and decorated by jellyfish projections on the walls, this space exudes elegance and exclusivity.

Think of your favorite lunch time restaurant, and consider whether it is also your favorite place for night time dining. Restaurant designers today work closely with owners, investors and chefs to bring to life not only their own vision, but the vision of those they hope to serve.

In our own architecture firm, we have had opportunity to help bring some of these visions to life. A local sub chain needed a new identity. For years the franchise owners subscribed to the “anything goes” style. Shop owners were not given interior design guidelines, other than kitchen fixtures and operating practices. A new color scheme and finish standards, were used to create a unique international brand.

In Old Towne, Portsmouth, Virginia, the old (abandoned) Woolworth building was transformed into Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Sports Bar. With separate areas for large screen event viewing, a large bar with smaller screens for livelier, social interaction, and a “fine dining” quieter area, this restaurant has been a key player in the revitalization of its historic Portsmouth neighborhood. Patrons include young people coming to watch “the game,” couples, looking to sit by the wood burning fireplace, or groups of friend enjoying some ribs, beer and people-watching on the outdoors terrace (http://www.rogerbrowns.com).

This leads us to the ever important real estate mantra, location, location, location; to which we would add, synergy, synergy, synergy. In today’s market, who’s around you may be as important to your success as your street address.

How does this affect eating establishments? It depends on which establishment you are talking about. For a new restaurant trying to appeal to the business lunch crowd, high visibility, easy access, and convenient parking are a must. For the chef looking to attract the high end epicure, the availability of enough space for the requisite large kitchen and wine cellar, are essential.

Having said that, for the well known chef, the “if you build it they will come” (and spread the word) tag trumps the visibility (and location) card. This is the case of Sidney Meek’s Stove the Restaurant in out of the way Port Norfolk, Portsmouth VA (http://www.stoverestaurant.com).

The U.S. restaurant scene continues to grow, and sales of $683.4 billion are projected for 2014. As we have seen, location, design, clear targeting of patrons, in addition to food quality and variety, all combine to increase the chances of success for new restaurants.

Guten Appetit! Bon appetite! ¡Buen provecho!

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