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How to Design Restaurants & Bars that Enhance the Customer Experience

Here at Freshome, we particularly love looking deeper into the design of residential architecture and interiors but just occasionally we also get curious about other areas of design, such as hospitality design. What makes a great restaurant or bar? How do you ensure that the customers will have a great experience and want to return and how can the design of the space help to achieve certain business goals? These were the questions that we wanted answers to so we decided to ask some experts.

Blacksheep was set up in 2002 by Tim Mutton and Jo Sampson because of their shared passion for design. The award-winning agency excels in creating spaces that really perform, from hotels, bars and restaurants, to retail environments, work places and residential spaces. We caught up with Creative Director Jo to find out more about Blacksheep’s work in restaurant and bar design and what exactly it takes to design a space that really works.

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Can you give us a brief introduction to Blacksheep?
Co-founded in 2002 by Managing Director, Tim Mutton and myself, Blacksheep is a leading design agency specialising in the creation of exceptional branded food and beverage experiences, designing award-winning restaurants, bars, hotels and spaces. Based in London, the studio boasts specialist teams who understand the importance of an all-encompassing, holistic hospitality design service including local market analysis, brand positioning, innovative concept creation/implementation and integrated graphics and branding.
Blacksheep has established a global reputation for creating outstanding hospitality environments. As well as redefining London’s nightlife scene over the past decade with award-winning projects The Cuckoo Club and Whisky Mist, Blacksheep’s international hotel clients include Fairmont Hotel Group, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Accor Hotels and Marriot Hotels & Resorts.
Blacksheep has created worldwide retail concepts for the Waterford, Wedgwood and the Royal Doulton Group and implements international shopping environments for luxury goods company, Hermès. The agency enjoys a continuing partnership with renowned British chef Jamie Oliver, successfully rolling out the design of his Jamie’s Italian chain and, most recently, his Union Jacks restaurant concept.

How did you get involved in hospitality design?
I graduated with a first class honours degree in design, which propelled me to fast track my career in the industry. I am a specialist in the creation of luxury interiors for hotels and private homes, as well as in the design of cutting-edge retail spaces and I have a keen stylist’s eye for the very best in furniture and fittings. I cut my teeth working with renowned agencies Studio De Lucchi, Terence Conran and United Designers who sought out and found a designer who could match and embody their own hard-won reputations for luxury and excellence.
Born in the UK, Tim was inspired to start his career while working in bars in his early twenties. Intrigued by watching people interact and use the space in hospitality environments, Tim went on to study Art and Design achieving a BA Hons in Interior Design. From here, he established himself working in leading design practices including the renowned Terence Conran and United Designers.

You claim that Blacksheep flies the flag for design that doesn’t play by the rulebooks. What does this mean?
We don’t follow trends, we define them. Research for concepts isn’t based on what is out there now or what’s current; as this will be dated by the time our work comes to fruition. We look at trends and try and stay one-step ahead so our work has longevity.

To what extent can the design of the restaurant or bar measurably contribute to the effectiveness of the space as a business?
100%! The location of all the elements from circulation spaces, to seating areas to the bar all contributes to the operations of a space. If people can’t get a drink or the food is stone cold then the space fails, and that affects the business.

What strategies does Blacksheep have in place to enable the design of venues that contribute to happier guests and higher spending?
It is all down to good planning of the place and making it work, something that customers would not be aware of. Then it is about atmosphere, from lighting to music. People have to feel relaxed, but before we start on a project we research extensively into the offer and the location, making sure that what we are designing is relevant to the local or targeted demographic.

Consumers who visit restaurants and bars obviously do so in order to fulfil certain psychological needs. What tools and strategies do hospitality designers have at their disposal to ensure that these needs are successfully met?
I don’t think that it’s so much about psychological needs but social ones. The customer chooses which venue is better suited for their particular mood or requirements. Are they going somewhere to hopefully meet someone or are they going for an intimate dinner? This decides the choice of venue.

What would you say are the main design elements that affect the length of time that customers spend in a restaurant or bar?
Food, comfort and service! Service is particularly important – feeling welcome and wanted. Also the atmosphere has to be conductive to helping you relax and enjoy the occasion.

What are the main challenges that hospitality designers are faced with today?
Main challenges are clients finding good sites at the right rents. This has a major impact for the budgets of projects and the effects on the bottom line for the owner. As a consequence price points for food and drink can be affected, which will have a further impact on the demographic for the restaurant.

What are the most common mistakes that are made in the design of restaurants and bars?
Fundamental planning – ie kitchens, circulations etc and being able to service a restaurant properly and atmosphere. It is key to get the right ambience, not too cold or not too loud and from a food perspective not too many dishes. Not having a defined offer – less is definitely more when it comes to mains.

What is the most important thing to remember when designing a bar or restaurant?
The customer! How we are going to attract them, how are we going to give them an amazing experience and what’s going to make them come back?

We would like to thank Jo for giving up her time to answer our questions and for giving us an insight into the work of Blacksheep. We would love to hear about your experiences of great restaurant or bar design though. Tell us what it is about your favourite restaurant or bar that keeps you coming back and how can the design make for a better dining experience?

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