You only have one chance to make a good first impression and competition in the hospitality sector is heaving. The design of a venue is typically the first thing that catches a customer’s eye and plays a critical role in their decision to walk into or walk away from a venue.

Operators are now placing as much emphasis on the fit-out of a venue as they are on service and food and beverage. So what do the professionals think about the current state of hospitality design?

Hospitality talks to Rachel Luchetti from Luchetti Krelle and Jade Nottage and Cushla McFadden from TomMarkHenry about the total customer experience, the most overlooked design elements and why spaces made for longevity not trends are the way to go.

What are the main considerations before you start working with a hospitality client?
Rachel Luchetti: A lot of it revolves around site selection and whether or not the client has the site. Most of the time, we’re brought in to work on an existing site. Then it’s about researching thelocation and the concept for the offering.

Most operators know what they don’t want and will come to us with a list of other venues they like. We try and listen as much as we can and come up with something they haven’t thought of. It’s 33.3 per cent design, 33.3 per cent service and 33.3 per cent food.

What are the core challenges when designing a hospitality venue?
RL: Time, usually. Typically, we would be engaged for a hospitality fit-out with about six to 10 months to fully design, gain approvals and then tender and go through the construction period. It’s a huge pressure to open for a particular month or season.

Time is money, and the rent-free period is often limited. We’d like more time, but in some ways it’s great because it forces the creativity to happen quickly and then you get great job satisfaction seeing it come to fruition.

Most overlooked considerations in venue design?
Cushla McFadden: Bathrooms have had a history of being overlooked, however are now becoming an integral part of the experience. You can tell when a bathroom design has been an afterthought as opposed to carefully considered as part of the design.

RL: Definitely the cost of services. Mechanical services such as kitchen exhaust and the cost of putting toilets into a venue if they’re not already there. We recommend finding a site that has already been used as a restaurant or has those facilities as part of a base build handed over, more like a warm shell than a cold shell.

Best materials for hospitality venues?
Jade Nottage: Ceramic tiles, engineered timber, reconstituted stones, high rub count fabrics, vinyls and rubbers like marmoleum used in unconventional ways. It really does come down to where these materials are used; there is scope to use less-durable materials is areas of minimal traffic or up high and then use the more durable and potentially less ‘exciting’ materials where they will absorb the bulk of wear and tear.

RL: We always try to keep floor finishes hard for cleaning and maintenance, and we try and deal with acoustics through wall and ceiling treatments rather than floor. Something like Echopanel is so much more effective than carpet at extenuating the sound. You get much more bang for your buck with a product that’s specifically designed for acoustics.

How important is sustainability for clients and architects?
CM: We could all be doing more to make more conscious decisions around sustainability by implementing clever solutions into new designs. We always look at what can be reused from the existing venue before stripping it out including existing equipment, finishes and lighting where possible.

RL: I think it’s one of the toughest industries to be implementing sustainable principles because of the churn nature of hospitality projects. You hope to get 10 years, but you have others that don’t last more than a few years. When we go into a venue that was previously a hospitality concept, we try to salvage as much as we can. But if it’s a cold shell, it is difficult. We try and design for longevity and not for fads and source as many local products as we can.

How would you describe the role of lighting in a venue?
CM: It is one of the most important elements in creating atmosphere. Lighting acts as the backbone to any successful
design, so it’s imperative to spend the time to get it right. It’s also vital to consider how lighting will adapt from day to night. If there are multiple spaces within a venue, it’s important to ensure the light output is complementary, as these spaces will potentially be seen at the same time.

RL: There’s so much to lighting that creates intimacy and certainly it’s about showing off the food and lighting the design elements in a way that is flattering to people. There are a lot of challenges to maintain flexibility and still have really good lighting.

What’s currently trending in venue fit-outs?
CM: We are definitely noticing a desire for more detailed and high-end design. Clients are placing a huge focus on the total customer experience from the moment they enter the venue to the moment they leave. It is no longer only about the dining experience, but guest interaction as a whole from host stands to bathrooms and service.

RL: At the moment, there’s a bit of a love affair with the ’60s, ’70s mod era, which is fun. Sustainability and materiality will make another comeback.

Trend you’d like to see disappear?
JN: An ‘Instagram’ moment being part of the brief! This should happen naturally with good design, rather than a forced element.

RL: I hope cane has done its dash. It’s certainly been overused as of late so I’m hoping the next obsession is with more natural materials. I think craft is in and will be for a long time. We’re also trying to move away from things like man-made stones and trying to be more responsible with sourcing local timbers.

This story originally appeared in Hospitality’s March issue.

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