This month’s guest writer is Chris Brown, director of catering consultancy Turpin Smale. Here he discusses how design, humour and styling can create a café experience to remember:
Cafés have often reflected a somewhat amateur start to life but, sadly, as they have become bigger and busier, the look has become more corporate – counters with glass-fronted chiller cabinets, stainless steel aplenty and a lack of a distinct identity. What was unique has become commonplace and forgettable.
The high street and visitor attraction café market is moving in a clear direction. Quirky, creatively designed cafés feature recycled, natural materials and boast a sometime half-finished look. Wood, leather, brick, stone and raw concrete are preferred to stainless steel. Old tables and assorted recycled chairs are preferred to uniform new furniture. In an age of austerity the beauty of this approach is that it should cost less. It may take time to trawl through e-bay and junk shops but it is time well spent.
A good way to obtain some more creative thinking is to limit the budget. Some of the very best examples of memorable cafés are the ones that have spent the least. I am not suggesting that kitchens should be domestic grade – far from it; spend handsomely on the work horses of coffee machine, dishwasher, combi oven and refrigeration – but release the creative genie in the front of house by halving the available budget. One of my favourite examples of inexpensive and creative design is the Thai street food restaurant ‘Grab’ in the City of London where the walls are sheets of corrugated iron and the bases of wooden pallets.
Look at our Pinterest Photoboards on the Great Cafes Blog for what we are talking about – a counter made from a washing mangle, hams and handbags hanging from the ceiling, a museum display case containing cheese, seats made from upturned mop heads. It is hardly surprising that even the largest catering companies are appointing creative directors to guide them in creating memorable cafés.
One of the instant signs of success, if you get the design right, is to get customers wearing a smile when they enter. You will be ensuring a memorable experience has begun and that they are not just visiting a food refuelling point. Humour is the weapon and the best and least expensive example I have come across recently is the “mine’sapint” wi-fi access code in a yacht club bar.
‘Everything must say something’ is another mantra to remember. Be it the name of the café (Look Mum No Hands for a cycle café), the cutlery holder (Lego or Tate & Lyle tins) or the chairs (industrial paint container boxes), every constituent part of the café has been thought through to create a lasting impression.
Having taken our London Café Tour, one of our clients gave a powerful insight of how to make your café memorable: “it starts with imagination, not catering skills. This is all about our offer, not about providing refreshments as an end in itself. Food as theatre/experience and not because we all need to eat. Most of this is about front of house and presentation, not what happens in the kitchen. We can have a brilliant offer without a kitchen at all!”
For more information visit www.turpinsmale.co.uk and check out their award-winning Great Cafes blog written especially for professional café operators. Caterer Blog of the Year.