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Concept, decor or food: what’s the recipe for a successful restaurant?

A lesson in designing a contemporary restaurant for the diners of today.

There is no alternative to good food. But does a restaurant work only because of the food that it serves? Not really! There are a few more parameters that go into the making of a successful restaurant. The finer details of the décor, concept or theme paired with good vibes can probably be the right answer (and it doesn’t hurt if you have a killer social media team who know how to create a buzz all year through). Recently, we attended an interesting panel discussion hosted by The A in Lower Parel where Ayaz Basrai of The Busride Design Studio, Sumessh Menon of Sumessh Menon Associates, and Riyaaz Amlani of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt Ltd, discussed how dining concepts click and lead to successful translation of brand identity in the hospitality space.

Mumbai | This eatery incorporates Asian-inspired style into modern decor
The team at Sumessh Menon Architects, helmed by Architect Sumessh Menon, has given the space a distinctive Asian look with hints of contemporary design

So, concept, decor or food, what makes a difference in making or breaking a restaurant? Here are a few takeaways from the conversation. 

Proof of Concept

Amlani, the serial entrepreneur, believes that one size does not fit all when it comes to concepts. “As a restaurant owner, you must first ask yourself – what is it that I want to achieve?” Once you have the central idea under control, everything else can be put together like a jigsaw puzzle. For instance, you wish your restaurant to be a space where people can have conversations; you design the layout in a way that it makes the patrons relaxed. You could then add artefacts that start conversations. Ayaz adds, “As a designer, it is essential to talk at length with your client. These conversations could lead you two to ideas that you might not have considered while working on the concept.” For instance, when you visit The Bar Stock Exchange, you are looking at drinking at affordable prices and they usually get large groups thus most of the outlets of the brand offer tables for bigger groups while the bar is hidden away on one side.

Interior Design | Typhoon Shelter in Mumbai takes you inside the eye of a hurricane
Typhoon Shelter is located in the thriving Phoenix Mills compound in Mumbai | Interior photography by Kunal Bhatia

Location and Design

Once you lock your concept, Ayaz feels, you need to understand the soul of the location to arrive at a layout design. The design of the space helps you establish the vibe. Ask yourself: Do you want to gradually welcome the guests into the concept? Or do you what them to come face-to-face with it right away? According to Sumessh, the right layout can make or break the space. For instance, if you want a space to have a romantic feel, you lay it out such that there are cosy corners that attract the couples. If your bar counter has some rare collection of alcohol, you must flaunt it, right? And hence when you enter Kode, you can see the island bar out front, displaying the aged Japanese single malts.

Sound and Light Show

As per the designers on the panel, their biggest design pet peeves are bad lighting and acoustics. A bar can’t be too bright and a restaurant can’t be too dark. So as a designer, it is one of the most important elements that can’t be taken lightly. Bad acoustics can make people shy away from your eatery. Both these elements decide the mood and the crowd at the space. So play it wisely. The best example for that would be Toit Brewery that is perfectly lit at the same time the music does not stop you from having conversations over your pint. Luna at St Regis, on the other hand, is dimly lit, but the menu comes with a backlight making it easy for you to read it.

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Flea Bazaar Cafe, Lower Parel, Mumbai
Flea Bazaar Cafe, Lower Parel, Mumbai

Art of Decorating

The designers unanimously agree that while a client might bring in a Vastu expert to dictate the layout; try to talk them out. Instead, Sumessh feels that a restaurant should keep a budget aside for enhancing the table experience and getting the HVAC (heater, ventilator and air conditioners) right. He suggests that getting the right kind of crockery and centrepieces helps create an impression that they take home with them. While the right temperature in the dining area can make the customer experience as pleasant as you don’t want you guest sweating or shivering through the meals. The perfect example of table experience could be that of when Fatty Bao first opened in Bangalore, social media was flooded with its cutesy Channapatna salt and pepper shakers and panda chopsticks.

Old is Gold

When looking for space, it can be a good idea to replace a restaurant space that is shutting down. You, of course, learn from the mistakes made by the previous owners and make your original idea work to your advantage. Flipping a restaurant can be a great way to save money as the earlier property will have laid the basic foundation and even licences for a few. It not just reduces a cost, but also helps you start your restaurant earlier. The best example for this would be Bastian. Space was earlier a Gangster them bar which shut down. Chef Kelvin Cheung turned the spot around making it one of the busiest fine-dines in town.

[“Source-architecturaldigest”]