RESATAURANTS COOK-UP NEW DESIGN STRATEGIES
F&B INDUSTRY ONE OF THE WORST IMPACTED SECTOR BY THE PANDEMIC WORLD OVER, IS SHIFTING SPATIAL DESIGN STRATEGIES TO ALLOW PATRONS TO ENJOY EATING-OUT ONCE AGAIN AND DESIGNERS ARE TRANSFORMING RESTAURANT DESIGNS FOR THE NEXT NORMAL.
Text: Dolly Singh
After the COVID-19 F&B outlets are undergoing significant changes. From social distancing to providing contact less services it’s a big task for the hotel & restaurant industry to survive in such critical times. The only solution to this crisis is adapting changes in the interior & design of restaurants. All the staff need to wear masks and gloves, even they need to wash their hands regularly to maintain hygiene.
Though there is still a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus, its rapid person-to-person spread is a threat to the way restaurants operate. And while many restaurants are suffering financially, some are coming up with creative ways to reopen while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Some changes are short-term while others are here to stay. As per these challenging times, architects & designers are researching and identifying new patterns to redesign hotel structure to provide security & hygiene to their customers.
Owners are seeking design professionals to help them update properties to meet health & safety goals. In response, designer’s focus has shifted to creating design led safe environments that would require reimagining planning and space layouts. The main driver will be short term pivots focused on safety and sanitation. Reza Kabul, President, ARK Reza Kabul Architects stated, “Restaurants have always considered design changes with the intention to enhance the dining experience and to make operations more efficient. Hygiene has always been a key factor in the hospitality industry, and stringent benchmarks have been in play. With the offset of the global pandemic, these hygiene factors will hold higher importance in the design of hospitality spaces. Space demarcations have already been the new norm and a quick solution that does not involve massive changes. Going ahead materials like anti-microbial surfaces, disinfectant systems, plexiglass partitions, shall find themselves into mandatory design requirements of a restaurant space”.
Shobhit Kumar, Principal Architect, Rakhee Shobhit Design Associates was of the view that the new dine-ins will probably be a privilege left to bigger establishments which can sustain on a reduced capacity. “With customers being increasingly aware of social distancing norms and other requirements to mitigate the spread of infection, the restaurants will have to look for a newer and more innovative way to entice the customers. The new dine-in restaurants would differ from the present traditional layouts as new trends will evolve and imply. Such as theme-based dining experience, like a mock-up, or pod-like dining arrangements will be experiments which will be toyed with. Also, contactless order system, with sanitising systems for tableware, pre-sanitization zones before the dining area will be additions done to the dine-in restaurants.”
Mitu Mathur, Director, GPM Architects & Planners added, “In order to sail through the crisis, the F&B industry has depended on takeaways and online ordering. This in turn, points to a potential requirement of the line split up, which shall demand separate kitchens for dining-in and takeaways. It can lead to a demand for separate menus to facilitate standardized packaging of food, which can in turn aid in avoiding food wastage. A close eye for eco-friendly packaging will steer clear of environmental degradation. Restaurant layouts that previously served to maximise space utilisation, will now give way to hygiene centric layouts with ample circulation space that responds to the social distancing needs of the pandemic.”
Fahed Majeed, Chief Architect, Fahed Architects feels optimistic that we will overcome the present situation. “I believe that the present financial model is based on prevalent ROI that’s based on active foot fall. With the reduction in cases governments worldwide are trying to normalise life as we knew pre-covid. The possible shift would be perhaps in a visible increase in the online order. But the impact is going to be different for the fine dine versus regular dining restaurants. As a species we are very resilient and aim to get back to our routine habits.”
Abhigyan Neogi, Architect, Chromed Design Studio said “Whether it’s requiring temperature checks or adding blockages at regular intervals, restaurants around the world have gotten creative when it comes to abiding by social-distancing measures. As far as restaurant design is concerned, the new dine-in restaurants have undertaken a more conscious approach and measures are being taken to comply with the global SOPs, touch less technology including automatic doors, voice-activated elevators, digital menus for restaurants, etc. are now part of the new normal. In terms of design, extensive use of glass or acrylic partitions to create physical barriers is seen, as a result of which the customers are feeling safe while eating out. The amount of furniture has been reduced so that patrons can be socially distant, and the restaurant can operate at a lower capacity. Surfaces that can easily be sanitized are being used and dedicated sanitizing stations have become an integral part of the design scheme. Open and well-ventilated areas that are comparatively safer are inevitably a huge hit during these challenging times. Hence, developing a comprehensive diagnosis to serve the needs of the local population by introducing new design schemes in the development of restaurants has been a game-changer so far.”
Many shifts in the restaurant industry in relation to COVID-19 are not knee-jerk reactions; but were happening anyway. Transformations that had begun pre-pandemic include, apps to place order, robots and decline of buffets and sharing concepts. The new trends that are emerging include anti-microbial materials becoming commonplace and creative design concepts around social distancing.
Shoeb Vazayil, Founder-Partner, Mecca Spaces added that there could be thousand predictions made, but the key to all is flexibility, accommodating the ever-changing numbers with the time to come is the real challenge. “Developing nuanced solutions to a variety of seating types & configurations will be critical to ensuring financial viability while keeping staff & customers safe. Immediate response would be to focus on efficiency and conspicuousness of pick-ups, curb side pick-ups and deliveries. Designated exchange zones to control delivery, customer hand-off, don and doff procedures, ventilated storage, cooking, and disposal of possibly contaminated materials. Traditional back-of-house functions could move forward. Going out in the open or on rooftops outdoor dining will become more prevalent as compared to the traditional idea of dine-in within four walls of the restaurant. New design language development in terms of restaurant landscapes from eating pods to antimicrobial materials.”
QSR FORMATS UNDERGOING CHANGES
Given its predefined structure in terms of branding and services, Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) concept offers unique design challenges for the architects, be it creating new concepts, or reinventing the existing ones
According to Reza Kabul, QSR’s survive on a system of limited-menus, standardized ingredients, and pre-prepared food. In the recent years it gained a lot of momentum with the fast-paced lifestyle of several metropolitan cities across India. For QSR’s the focus has always been on the kitchens, cooking spaces, and service areas as compared to the on-premise consumption area. In light of the recent global scenario several QSR’s had shut on-premise consumption, catering only to take-away and deliveries. More so, the design thought behind a QSR has always been inclined towards creating a more functional retail experience as compared to a hospitality outlook.”
“Interior design plays a consequential role in a QSR setup. The objective is to generate an atmosphere that puts the customers at ease while they have a memorable dining experience. In most cases, customers like to frequent a QSR because of its ambience and interiors in addition to the food. Therefore, every quick restaurant owner should vigorously invest & plan on embracing distinctive and attractive ideas for their restaurant’s interior design that creates a high recall value. In the next few years, the use of minimal yet functionally efficient design language will acquire massive popularity. With uncomplicated design and ease of access that comes with lesser furniture, one can achieve a quicker turnaround. The use of casual seating which can be quickly sanitized is another viable option for QSRs to reflect and implement. Restaurants are steadily going back to simpler styles rather than complex structures. Customers now want to see everything and are keen on observing how their food is prepared. Hence there is an exponential rise in openconcept or glass-enclosed kitchen,” said, Abhigyan Neogi.
“To start with the acute impact of COVID is going to taper with time however, there are certain values that are going to stay ingrained in our society. Basic safety etiquettes as maintaining safe distance or covering your face etc. Going forward these tested safety measures would be still prevalent as it reduces the overall infection transfer- of any kind. So I don’t see a substantial change post COVID. The QSR brand space will however have changed for sure because of its larger foot fall. The substantial change would be behind the service counter to make delivery with minimum contact,” expressed Fahed Majeed.
Shobhit Kumar shared, “Quick Service Restaurants brand interiors will probably be guided by two things – the increase in takeaways/deliveries during the lockdown period and the social distancing norms being brought about due to the pandemic. These two reasons will be responsible for internal layout changes. Apart from these changes, there would be an immediate concern to use surfaces/materials which are anti-bacterial/fungal in nature. Without any doubt, their physical presence will not be scaled down. However, the footprint of space they require may need a re-look, as dine-ins will reduce.”
“QSR’s changed the ball game for the restaurant industry & became a hit within no time, It has become a convenience store to a great extent. Serving the meatsweet diet from a very limited menu with a higher amount of take-out’s & deliveries having limited seating to offer. Post Covid-19, QSR proving their worth yet again. The essence of QSR lies in its cleanliness & transparency which plays a pivotal role with the psyche of the customers helping them build trust over their constant fear of the virus. Culinary Robotics could possibly take over, elevating cleanliness standards, erasing the uncertainty of the employees being infected or not maintaining the hygiene standards. This would cut down the kitchen size & make it more time efficient for the QSR to maintain football even when the regularized intake of customers has been cut down to 50%. Design wise a new form of architectural modernism could raise, embracing simple lines, strict geometries & modern materials and the rejection of ornamentation such as intricately carved wooden furniture which could have possibly collected dangerous microbes,” added Shoeb Vazayil.
FRONT OF THE HOUSE CHANGES
• Fixed banquets, booths, and extended bar seating reconsidered as movable seating pods or be designed with barriers or enclosures to isolate each dining party.
• Tables that can be adjusted as two tops, four tops, or combined to be six or eight tops might be more commonly used.
• Outdoor seating becoming an important element to incorporate in all restaurant designs.
• Reduction in seating types like communal table seating, food halls, liquor/kitchen bar seating.
• Moving away from soft surfaces like cushions, drapes and carpeting, or porous hard surfaces like wood, granite, and certain plastics and tiles, in favour of nonporous choices like stainless steel, porcelain, laminate, and solid surface
RESTAURANT DESIGN BREAKING BARRIERS
The association between new food safety protocols and feasible business models for restaurants is intrinsically a structural relationship. By introspecting, analysing & optimizing the business processes, we need to adapt to the rapidly changing environment.
Theme-based dining experience, like a mock-up, or pod-like dining arrangements will be experiments which will be toyed with. Also, contactless order system, with sanitising systems for tableware. Pre sanitization zones before the dining area will be additions done to the dine-in restaurants. Apart from these trends, there would be an immediate concern to use surfaces/materials which are anti-bacterial/fungal in nature as health and safety will be a priority.
“Given the current situation, people are less likely to dine out in a restaurant if it opens at full capacity. Restaurants will adapt and invest in constructing a separate take-out section, with adequately spread out sitting areas. All areas should be properly compartmentalized with a direct way of navigation. There will not be any more cramped, intimate & closely packed restaurants, instead, open & lavish spaces will feature in the priority list while designing a restaurant. The creative use of space to maintain distance and maximize seating will take center stage such as, the use of antimicrobial materials and ‘eating pods’, said Abhigyan Neogi.
“The concept pods are emerging in different parts of the world but very soon there would be memorabilia’s of an imminent Post-COVID era. The idea of robots serving is something that’s being relooked at actively- however it does not make the whole process contactless at the moment. Then of course the concept of 3D printing food is also something that will see massive progress going forward. People would be able to highly customise the flavour or the composition of the food, stated Fahed Majeed.
“Masked waiters, tables spaced six feet apart, plexiglass barriers, Bumper guards contactless orders & maximum digitization, even stuffed animals occupying seats, eating pods, as amusing as it may seem, the social distancing norms play a pivotal role in the changing design landscape. It’s one of the most important ways to build that sense of assurances for its patrons. Comfort and Convenience go hand in hand. Rebranding, improvised packaging, Contactless orders, Touchless payments, Handle-less doors, opened & closed by foot or wireless sensors, Japanese style robot WCs (replacing new piece of paper over the seat after each visit) will go from novelties to must have. Increased usage of Copper or biodegradable cutlery, cardboard furniture since the lifespan of the virus on cardboard is lesser than most other materials. Corn starch based food packaging as it is biodegradable, organic, makes an excellent alternative to petroleum-based packaging or traditional plastics, explained Shoeb Vazayil.
Mitu Mathur added, “The selection of materials that are hygiene-friendly and do not let germs and viruses stick to them for long is crucial. Designers are already including materials like stone, engineered stones and less use of fabric and wood to facilitate easier cleaning of surfaces. The inherent anti-microbial properties of copper and brass have also caught the designer’s eye for strategic and judicious use in the interiors. Waiting areas are likely to become wider to enable proper social distancing. With the bar tops going deeper and sneeze barriers growing taller, you’ll also observe clear bifurcations between tables and booths, be it with folding doors, plastic curtains or movable partitions. There has been innovation in terms of providing services such as ‘On the go’ trucks for facilitating private celebrations as well. An upcoming demand for pick up stations and kerbside pickup areas will be observed. The land constraints in some places might not facilitate drive-thru facilities which could be another fix to the crisis.”
French designer Christophe Gernigon has proposed suspending individual plexiglass hoods shaped like lampshades over tables so diners can eat and reduce their risk of airborne infection. Arts centre Mediamatic has designed small greenhouses for a restaurant in Amsterdam that guests sit in.
SHORT TERM & LONG TERM TRENDS
Design in the hospitality segment has always been perceived to add value to the customer’s dine-in experience. While the shelf life on restaurant designs is quite short as compared to other interior spaces, the core of the design is built to quickly adapt to changes easily and cost-effectively. This could include accounting for additional seating, or extra space into the kitchen, to integrating newer equipment and technology into the functionality of the space.
Fahed Majeed thinks that there are not going to be very many long-term changes. “The contactless delivery is going to be a fad. Systems of checking the wellbeing and hygiene of food delivery agents will be still popular. The possibility of mechanised washing systems delivering food via robots are catching up- there are a few examples worldwide today. This would lead to an absolute contactless delivery in the very true sense. The present COVID exposure gives these technologists a boost to push their inventions. But these systems reaching a midsegment restaurant is still a decade away.”
BACK OF THE HOUSE CHANGES
- In fine-dine, open kitchens, live kitchens or open food bars where patrons can see their food being cooked under hygienic conditions would take precedence.
- In QSRs, greater adoption of the line approach with meals prepared directly in front of guests.
Shoeb Vazayil said. “Layouts & spacing restrictions may possibly be a short lived with restaurants coming back to their original destiny over time. Contactless dining also seems as a passing fad through contact-light dining may stay for a longer period of time. QSR designs may see a major change, where the emphasis on originality would be unlike ever before. With fewer people dining out, experience based dining will garner more attention. Escapism will be increasingly important in restaurant design creating world that are slightly surreal. Open kitchens will become the new ‘In’ thing, as transparency is the key to play with the psych of its customers. Pandemic will also accelerate many trends that were already in motion like increased automation through robots & apps.”
Abhigyan Neogi was of the view that the novel coronavirus has inflicted a rise in radical & comprehensive restaurant interiors, while physical menus, cash payments, and buffets will largely be abandoned, restaurateurs are aware of the fact that there will be fewer people dining out. “Using original and escapist designs to create surreal and special experiences in restaurants could be the long term trend & a lasting design legacy of the pandemic. QSR’s are pushing for more originality. In fact, it is highly likely that the current pandemic could give birth to a similar transformation in restaurant design by inculcating simple lines, strict geometries, and modern materials, and the reduction of ornamentation such as intricately carved wooden furniture that collected dangerous microbes. Minimal furniture placement and design in order to maximize space and ease the sanitization process are set to become a long term trend.”
Shobhit Kumar said that despite the fact that the human race is a resilient one, no temporary measures will help sustain the industry. “Design trends or any such experiment which aids in increasing interest in customers will be here to stay. As the user is increasingly getting aware of the new safety norms and health standards which are expected of the restaurants, going back to the pre-COVID way of functioning may not be acceptable to patrons.”
Mitu Mathur said “New standards will be laid, amendments in building codes will be made and among these shifts, the restaurant industry will see a completely new reality. New normal of the post-covid thought shall prevail. Take out spaces and open-air seating will be prioritised yet again, in which the restaurant facility could finally take a long-awaited breath of respite. These are the challenging times and we as Architects and Designers shall combat not with bullets or missiles but with the creativity of minds”.
Design is an ever-changing response to the needs of our society While, designers and restraint owners are experimenting with new concepts, general consensus is that these are temporary changes pivoted towards health and safety, in time public spaces will return to normal function.