By Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA
Great restaurant design is akin to meeting a stranger who greets you with a grin from ear to ear. First impressions are everything, and what could be more welcoming than a smile or an inviting, comfortable and energized space that signals you are in for a good time?
A restaurant’s environment speaks volumes about the brand. Instantly it forecasts to the consumer the distinctive features that set one concept apart from another.
Today, technology also plays a larger role in a restaurant’s ambiance. Wifi, IPads and other devices can all help attract a wider customer base, especially younger guests.
At Tin Drum Asiacafé, a regional, fast-casual Atlanta-based chain, the units are designed to feel like a lively, bustling street- side Asian eatery with urban but upbeat décor. The units reflect the childhood of founder and CEO Steven Chan, who grew up in Hong Kong.
“I don’t believe consumers should get ‘good design’ only in up-market concepts. We all live under the same sun and should have the same right to enjoy what good design can bring to us collectively,” says Chan, who majored in architecture and building at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Well said. Today’s restaurant guests want great design no matter the check average. The look and feel of a restaurant is as important to the brand as the taste of the food or the enthusiasm of the staff.
At Miller Zell, one of the premiere design and strategy firms in the country, there is a philosophy that the restaurant industry has “an unlimited license for theater.” The Atlanta-based firm, which is a proponent of four walls marketing, has a reputation for using creative design that leads to “architecture as billboard.”
Clearly, if a restaurant’s design can market from within, there is a real opportunity to reach and retain a wider audience.
A case in point is Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which had a complete overhaul when CEO Cheryl Bachelder took over the brand. The concept, which was founded in 1972, has seen a surge in its sales, franchisee profitability, customer counts and stock price since the redesign has taken root systemwide. About one third of Popeyes stores already have the new Louisiana redesign in place.
“The red and orange colors are reminiscent of the original design of the restaurants and also suggest a dash of spice,” says Bachelder. “You will also notice new brand graphics on our packaging and restaurant point-of-purchase materials.”
Bachelder’s comments speak to one of the commandments of restaurant design: it should be seamless throughout the interior and exterior, and extend to technology and signage, including menu and packaging.
Dick Lynch, who is global brand development officer for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, says that the first step is always articulating a brand vision. “It should be a simple, clear statement of the brand that informs and inspires all elements of the brand and is embraced by all its stakeholders,” he says.
That makes good sense. How can you design a great restaurant if it isn’t clear exactly what the brand should stand for?
As Chan puts it, “At Tin Drum Asiacafé we believe restaurant design is as tangible as food or service and all part and parcel of this thing we call ‘restaurant.’”
And that thing we call restaurant is part and parcel of the brand. Ask yourself:
• What does my restaurant’s design say about my brand?
• Is there a flow from one feature to the next?
• Is the lighting in harmony with the rest of the space.
• Does it strike the right mood?
• Are the tables positioned correctly?
• What does the exterior say?
• What about the bathrooms?
Virtually every detail within and without the four walls of a restaurant should sing in harmony.
Two local restaurant chains that know the importance design plays in the overall dining out experience are Fresh To Order, a concept that features fine dining food in a fast-casual setting, and Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint, the original create your own pizza ‘joint.’
From the moment you walk in Uncle Maddio’s front door, you get the sense that the colorful, highly energized space is a traditional pizza joint where classic meets contemporary and “friends meet friends.”
At Fresh To Order the ambiance serves as the perfect backdrop for a concept that is pioneering a new category, ‘fast fine.’ Fresh To Order’s design is sleek and contemporary with the use of metal finishes and strategic use of color throughout the restaurant.
“Just like our fine-dining quality food, the restaurant environment is the next evolution in the fast casual segment offering guests an inviting, warm and friendly atmosphere,” says founder and CEO Pierre Panos. All of these restaurateurs know that the first impression can create a lasting impression of loyal and happy customers for the future. If you haven’t yet, take some time to look around your own restaurant and see what the environment says to you.
Ellen Hartman is president and CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice industry.