Rethinking Restaurants For Tomorrow’s Customers

Next Generation Design

7th July 2022

By richard

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How to make Hospitality Businesses Standout

As purse strings tighten, hospitality businesses need to stand out, remain relevant, and take advantage of new growth opportunities – but they can reinvent the wheel, says Harrison’s Richard Samarasinghe, Head of Strategy.

Like fashion, the hospitality sector is cyclical. What was in vogue five years ago will rise again but with a fresh coat of paint, determined by the customers with the most purchasing power as well as the socio-economic climate.

These changes can be minimal or extreme; open kitchens, farm-fresh products, sleek modern lines and reclaimed fixtures have all come and gone, each time discovered by a new generation who leave their own mark on the trend. But that isn’t to say they aren’t worth paying attention to. The restaurants who refuse to keep pace risk falling down; Byron, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Strada and Carluccio’s were brought to their knees over the past two years despite their previous success.

Today’s no different. Customers have never been so cautious with their money at a time when there’s so much opportunity to spend it. Hospitality businesses are competing with theatres, cinemas, clubs and other entertainment venues, meaning they need to offer more as a result. And the answer may just lie in what has come before…

Old ideas, new ways of thinking

It doesn’t need to be a new idea. Dr. Martens today sells the same defiant spirit they did 20 years ago. And probably 20 years before that. The irony is that, while they’re associated with anarchy, they’re a brand like any other and have to adapt with the times. Their vegan range was an attempt to appeal to an ethical Gen Z audience – and it succeeded.

Similarly, authenticity is a valuable trait for a restaurant to have. But it’s something that several chain restaurants struggle to convincingly portray. Nando’s, for example, has a rich South African heritage. So, when tasked with rethinking their restaurant design, we incorporated the works of African artists, designers and manufacturers. The result? A brand image that’s closer to the chain’s origin. Hospitality moves in circles.

But the next steps won’t always be obvious. The role of good designers is to challenge the market and not always choose the easy wins. What worked in the past may or may not meet the needs of tomorrow’s consumers. Our role as designers is to improve these repeating trends each time. Sometimes, it’s not about delivering a new idea, but repackaging an old one to meet new users’ demand.

Lockdown accelerated innovation

One ‘trend’ that doesn’t seem to be going away is off-premise channels. The hospitality brands that had already sold products outside of their venue pre-Covid fared better during it, despite the level of risk and huge amounts of development needed. For some, it seemed like a long play and a low priority. But when the pandemic hit, it paid off and many of our clients benefited.

Brands need to be thinking not just about the on-site experience, but other touchpoints and routes to market. To take Nando’s as an example again, their Peri Peri sauces aren’t just on their dining tables – they’re on the supermarket shelves. And when they launched into retail, reviewing the in-store experience was a key part of our remit to drive impulse purchasing and incorporated in the new store designs.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this innovation can’t come at the cost of the on-premise experience. As well as off-premise sales, Nando’s also reconfigured and fully integrated their in-store condiments, serveries and drinks areas so that these workstations were more customer-facing.

Innovation enhances the experience

Of course, any innovation you deliver impacts your back-of-house functionality. An open kitchen for greater guest engagement has a knock-on effect on how that kitchen is designed, for instance. The same is true if you provide off-premise products as this disrupts the flow of back-of-house staff – you’ll need to create additional space if you don’t want that to harm the on-premise customer experience.

To combat this, you may want to consider dedicated pick-up and delivery areas. This had a huge impact on the South African chain, and so did introducing more natural planting and foliage. While seemingly just small aesthetic changes, these plants have reduced noise, boosted satisfaction, and increased the amount of money customers are willing to spend. Kerb appeal improved, as did staff productivity.

But what experiences will tomorrow’s customer crave? That’s the million-dollar question. No one can truly say, although we can identify, adapt, and take past market learnings forward using the new tools we have at our disposal. This can be in the form of stronger brand engagement through deeper storytelling, or an effective way of showing fresh products – allowing the guest to have a strong connection with a brand message.

Ultimately, though, trends will come and go. The key is to reinvent them so efficiently that the next generation of users can claim ownership of them. This is made easy when you build a strong foundation that looks at all customer aspirations, considers all touchpoints, and engages your audience maturely. Combine that with employee wellbeing and innovative technology, and your brand will be here to stay.

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