What are the top trends you’re seeing in the design of restaurants today?
Lifestyle-focused luxury is a top trend. There has been a shift in the way people perceive the notion of luxury, with a move away from ‘flashy’ design towards a more experience-driven sense of comfort. Luxury is now expressed through a customer-centric perception of an optimised lifestyle, rather than ostent.
Flexible formats is another trend. Driven by the need to engage with consumers where, when and how they wish to engage, we’ve seen F&B operators offering a much broader array of physical footprints from which to serve their customers. This can range from food trucks at the beach and kiosks in the airport to ‘express’ formats in urban centres and more expansive locations in residential areas.
From a design perspective, the concept and visual language need to be versatile enough for various formats without losing the brand’s identity.
In what ways has the recent boom in F&B in the Middle East had an impact on design?
Historically, the most common F&B brands available in the GCC were international quick-service and fast-casual brands franchised on a large scale by local businesses. Similarly, many F&B outlets were confined to hotels and malls. As a result, designers were usually shackled either by the rigour of existing brand guidelines or by the regulations of commercial landlords.
Regulations have relaxed and rents reduced, and property-owners are entering the F&B market. This has seen an array of homegrown concepts springing up across the GCC in new types of designated – often outdoor – destinations. (In Dubai, for example, La Mer, Box Park, JLT, Kite Beach…).
Throughout the region, independent operators are adding vibrancy and colour, as well as a more authentic, experimental approach to design. Previously, consumers might have been likely to eat or stay somewhere because they were familiar with the brand, whereas now there is much more inclination to ‘discover’ and try something new because someone is intrigued by how a place looks.
So how has the growth of social media and technology changed the sector?
Social media and technology have spawned crowdsourcing on a previously unimagined scale: nowadays everyone is a critic and everyone has a platform from which to share their views. This means the experience offered by a hospitality brand has become more important than the ubiquity of the brand itself. Consumers share their good and bad experiences, and they are influenced by others.
From a design perspective this has led to the creation of experiences that are more individual and eclectic, often tied to the heritage or surroundings of the hotel or restaurant. Similarly, designers are driven by the never-ending quest for the most ‘Instagrammable’ moment.
Since many people began photographing and tagging their every move, they are much more aware of their own ‘brand’ and, as a result, the brands with which they wish to associate themselves via their social channels. This too has an influence on design thinking.
How can hotels use design to deliver better business results?
Consumers typically use AirBnB to cut costs on short-term accommodation and/or gain access to a more authentic local experience. In order for hotels to compete with these benefits, they need to focus on both the experience and the added value they can offer, irrespective of the price-point at which they operate.
Emaar’s Rove and Kerten’s Cloud 7 are both good examples of hotel brands in the Middle East that offer competitive pricing without compromising on comfort, convenience or style. They have tapped into the growing market of budget-conscious yet experience-hungry international travellers, delivering 3-star locations that have become destinations in their own right.
Alila comes to mind as a hotel brand that prides itself on creating premium experiences offering the best in location, design, sustainability, and service. Each hotel design is unique and reflects a contemporary interpretation of its location. From conceptualisation through to operations, the group excels in high-end service, while staying conscious of its impact on the natural surroundings and community.