The Supporting Cast
When talking to operators about their venues it is very easy to focus on the ‘big’ things. In food-led outlets this tends to revolve around what food should go on the menu and in wet-led venues its more about what drinks should be stocked behind the bar. And whilst these are clearly very important they are only part of what will help create the overall ambiance of any given outlet.
Very much like a film or play I strongly believe that what separates the good from the great is often influenced by the role that the supporting cast play. When this happens to quote a phrase originally coined by Aristotle “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. This is as true in the world of hospitality as it is in other parts of life.
So do operators appreciate how the ambiance of their venues can be improved by paying attention to some quite straightforward things?
The colour of money…
Getting the colour scheme right is definitely something which can have a big impact on how customers feel about your venue. For example if your offer is around more natural ingredients then using neutral brown, green or blue tones can create a more earthy feel. If you serve food predominately from one country or region then using colours associated with that part of the world or even the flag of the country in question might be worth considering.
You also need to think about how your colour scheme will work during different times of the day. Simple white walls may help create the appearance of space during the day, but this may make your venue feel a little too clinical or sparse, during the evening service?
A more subtle way of producing an alternative feel is to use a variety of napkins or table clothes across different parts of the day. Brightly coloured paper napkins may help create a more relaxed feel at lunchtime, whereas white linen napkins clearly feel more formal and maybe better suited to customers who are having dinner in the evening. If you have the right sort of tables you may even decide not to have table clothes during the day but then use them later on or even only at weekends. As well as giving your venue a more refined feel linens can also help reduce noise. A loud bustling atmosphere may be great in the day but as the evening approaches it might feel quite intrusive.
Success on a plate…
A few years ago a number of restaurants started serving meals on slates rather than plates. While this worked for some guests there was also quite a vocal group who took a very different view. Those anti to this trend even set up a website to campaign against it, wewantplates.com! From a personal point of view it’s fair to say that over the years I have been served chips in a number of different vessels from a variety of conical shaped dishes right the way through to miniature shopping trolleys. Whether you like the idea of this style of presentation or not is probably quite personal. However before choosing this sort of approach you need to think clearly whether your customers will appreciate it or not, especially once the initial novelty has worn off.
The size, colour and type of tableware you use in your venues can also have quite an impact on how customers see you and your offer. In some cases taking a very neutral approach may seem the safest course of action, alternatively if you are more daring that may pay dividends.
The concept for the Mowgli restaurant group revolves around Indian street market dishes. Their
signature menu item is served in a traditional 4 tier tiffin box – Office Worker’s Tiffin. And from personal experience I can confirm that this choice of tableware definitely enhances the overall dining experience.
Along different but similar lines I would imagine that most diners would be quite disappointed if when in a Chinese restaurant they weren’t served their meal in one of those famous blue bowls, which are known as linglong porcelain.
It’s probably fair to say that these days we live in very casual times when it comes to workwear, with companies or professions which insist on employees being in suits and ties dwindling on a daily basis. Having said that the role of uniforms or uniformity when it comes to those working front of house in the hospitality trade has never been more prevalent.
When it comes to uniforms it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. In some cases it may be appropriate that your teams are dressed exactly the same head to toe, in other instances the informality of just wearing the same polo shirt or t-shirt may be more in keeping with a casual style. Whichever approach you adopt you are helping to promote your brand, even if the uniforms they wear aren’t branded! It is also a great way of projecting a more professional approach as well as making it easier for guests to know who works there versus other customers. I also think that uniforms can make servers and other members of staff appear more reliable and trustworthy.
I would also suggest that most staff on balance also prefer to wear a uniform, assuming it fits well and isn’t too garish. It helps give them an identity and hopefully an affinity to the venue as well meaning they don’t have to worry about what they wear when they come to work.
The sum of the parts…
Back to Aristotle. Whether it’s your venues colours scheme, the type of the tableware you use, the colour of your napkins or indeed the design of your teams uniforms they all have a role to play in painting the picture you are trying to create for your customers.
The colour of your walls aside they are also things which you can play with or tweak at different times of the day, different days of the week or even different times in the year. Don’t be afraid to experiment with some of these, ideally one at a time, to get to the best balance for you, your team and most importantly your customers.