Restaurant Branding By Design


by Marni Andrews

When sisters-in-law Amreen and Seema Omar went from serving Indian street food at a Toronto farmers’ market to a 50-seat downtown restaurant, a trip to Mumbai with Toronto firm Jump Branding & Design helped inspire the decor for Bombay Street Food.

“The identity of the brand is no longer just the logo,” said Eric Boulden, president of Jump Branding. “The brand or the story is a better description of the experience projected to its guests. These stories do happen through signage, but can also be expressed through the way the bill is presented, the personality and tone of communication, the origins of the food, authenticity of the recipes or signature concoctions that make the space, brand and experience defensible.”

Another recent Jump Branding project is the flagship Basil Box location at the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre in Toronto. The fast casual concept also derives inspiration from exotic street food — in this case, the markets of Southeast Asia.

After spending time in Thailand and Vietnam, Basil Box founder Peter Chiu wanted to adapt Asia’s healthy local food for a western palate by toning down the spice level. At the same time, Chiu wanted to retain the authentic ingredients of those cuisines.

Chiu said the design goal for Basil Box was to target urban professionals and millennials with a modern, clean interior that references traditional Southeast Asian materials such as basket weaves (which became a floor-to-ceiling wall feature) and bamboo.

The design also took into account the millennials’ affinity for technology with the addition of power outlets under the tables.

“We look to create social moments within a space, places the guest will naturally use to socialize their experience and share with their following,” said Boulden. “Restaurants are fast becoming the emotional connecting point for consumers.”

In the last decade, Boulden said menu expectations have shifted, driven by millennials’ desire for better and unique experiences.

“In the last 10 years, expectations of menu strategy have shifted from wrap it and bag it to chef-inspired, recipe-driven meals with an origin of ingredients story,” Boulden said. “On average this group is spending 23 per cent more on eating away from home, and they aren’t eating what their parents ate.”

Simon Shahin, founder and CEO of BUILD IT By Design, said today’s diners want to drool over more than the meal. They expect a restaurant’s decor to be appetizing as well.

“The most recent trend is clients looking for a way to incorporate a selfie wall or marketing area that customers will utilize for social media, specifically Instagram, which helps to brand the location,” said Solid Design & Build Inc. founder and design principal Ian Rydberg. “While social media is a great tool, it has also caused restaurant goers to have a rather limited attention span.”

Tech Talk

With technology changing at a rapid pace, Shahin said restaurants are revamping their interiors to incorporate convenient grab-and-go counters.

As well, interest in innovations such as a bakery oven that could be operated via a mobile phone could reveal a world of possibilities.

Technology is becoming more sophisticated and it’s being integrated seamlessly and sometimes invisibly into the customer experience, said Richard Dirstein, principal, executive vice-president, design and innovation, Shikatani Lacroix Design.

He mentioned tabletop digital menus, ordering tableside using a tablet, one-way digital signage, data-driven signage, interactive technologies such as touchscreens and projections, and immersive experiences using augmented reality and interactive projection mapping as examples.

“A lot of the newer technology can be integrated into a space without the need for much modification. However, technology must have a purpose. It’s important to not add digital for the sake of adding digital,” he explained.

Shikatani Lacroix recently designed a new 400-seat restaurant concept for Boston Pizza at Front and John streets in Toronto. With an immersive digital strategy, the prototype features multiple digital feature walls to create an “engaging Boston Pizza canvas,” said Dirstein.

Boston Pizza rendering

Helen Langford, Boston Pizza senior vice-president of foodservices and design, noted the new restaurant prototype features about 50 per cent more screens than the chain’s other locations. In addition, having specific screens dedicated to live feeds allows more personal interaction at the table, since guests are not checking their phones for that information.

There are also two touchscreens, one in the waiting area with a copy of the menu and one in the take-out/delivery area highlighting game-day specials. A state-of-the-art kitchen video system is also being tested.

Dirstein said that one of the challenges of the BP project was designing a space that could easily accommodate groups of all sizes. The solution was flexible restaurant seating with modular segments for scalability. And every seat in the house has a view of a digital screen.

Setting the mood 

Andrew Muller, business development, Louis Interiors Inc., said he’s seeing a trend of straight lines in furniture, especially with banquettes, which are now featuring built-in plugs. He also noted restaurants and designers are being bolder with colour and fabric choices.

“Restaurants want to stand out when their patrons post, tweet or snap photos to social media,” he said. “Guests today are tired of waiting and expect a waiting area that is comfortable and fun. The lounge seating needs to make a strong first impression and not turn off customers before they even try your food. Today’s customer puts an added emphasis on having the decor picture-ready.”

BUILD IT By Design recently worked with Paramount Fine Foods to build their Richmond and Spadina location in Toronto. Shahin said lighting and furniture play a large part in how a restaurant brand defines itself visually. This year, he is seeing restaurateurs move away from buying pieces off the shelf and toward more custom furniture, fixtures and lighting.

With the Paramount project, the design team used custom lighting to set a refined mood and custom wood tables, banquettes and chairs. Prior to installation, the entire restaurant was laid out in BUILD IT By Design’s facility as it would be in the final space so ownership could make adjustments before the restaurant was operational.

“It’s one thing to see a space in layout, but it’s another to be able to navigate it fully built out like customers and staff would,” explained Shahin.

Rydberg is seeing a lot of Art Deco trends in furniture. In lighting, he says the main trend is warm, rich brass.

“Our clients are all looking for that standout feature or element that will identify their brand as well as have a long-lasting effect on their customers,” Rydberg said.

Tammy Demaine, owner/partner, Bum Contract Furniture Ltd., said a patio with nice furniture will attract customers. “And a patio full of customers on a nice day is a bonus to the bottom line,” Demaine said.

Boulden said as the lines blur between quick service, fast casual and casual dining, lighting choices have shifted. Bright fluorescents have given way to the warm glow of Edison lamps in quick service restaurants and casual dining. LED lighting has provided the opportunity to control colour, temperature and lumens, while overall ambient light levels have lowered, coupled with carefully curated use of light that provides theatre within the space by utilizing light and shadow.

“Creative lighting has become an art in itself,” says Nipun Sharma, chief operating officer, Baton Rouge Steakhouse & Bar. “It follows through under the bar counter, on the floor, around the windows, on the walls and also from the increasingly popular open kitchen. A bright kitchen is increasingly on display front and centre in most modern restaurants today, even if the adjacent dining room is dark and quiet.”

Lighting in a restaurant can change everything, says Sharma, adding clever ways of engineering lighting and colours may influence ambience more than fancy decor.

Colour me rouge 

For Baton Rouge’s recent restaurant rejuvenation program in Oakville, Ont., there was a big challenge — how to attract a younger or newer customer base while not alienating the existing regular customers who contribute more than $100 million in sales to the 25-year-old brand.

“We had to carefully balance keeping all the good stuff that made our brand survive and thrive, while also making it current and vibrant,” explained Sharma.

To that end, Baton Rouge analyzed every detail with regards to restaurant design, including staff uniforms and menu covers. This included hiring Marie-Chantal Milette, designer and colour consultant at Kryptonie The Colour Agency.

Milette said research shows people make a subconscious judgement about a person, environment or product within 90 seconds and that between 62 per cent and 90 per cent of that assessment is based on colour alone. Other studies show that ambient lighting modifies the flavour of wine and our willingness to buy more.

“Everything that comes in contact with the customer has to convey a consistent theme of design and functionality that stays true to Baton Rouge’s history and brand promise,” said Milette, noting the new location features red, burgundy, cognac and copper colours.

Red, for example, is appetite arousing, while burgundy makes the customer see the brand as more refined. The cognac colour worked well with elevating the drink menu, while copper is currently trendy, she added.

The incorporation of lighting and colour was part of Baton Rouge’s rejuvenation of their Oakville restaurant, which was highly successful based on customer response, according to Sharma.

Dirstein noted good design is good for business.

“Eating at a restaurant is an investment in time. Restaurateurs are not only competing with other restaurants, they’re competing with anything that takes up an hour and a half of someone’s time,” he said. “Done right, design can help customers escape and immerse themselves in an experience. It’s all about the experience.”