Tina Norden has been designing hotels and hospitality spaces around the world for 20 years. She was the lead designer for boutique art hotel South Place in London, and is currently overseeing the design of two Park Hyatt Hotels in Jakarta and Auckland and a boutique hotel refurbishment in Prague. She is also the Project Director for two Rüya restaurants in Dubai and London’s Mayfair. Conran and Partners have designed over 100 bars and restaurants in recent years, many of which are located or associated with hotels, including the award-winning 2015 Sleeper pop-up bar.
The beauty of hospitality design – whether a hotel room or a restaurant – is that it caters to very simple and fundamental human needs which have not changed over many centuries.
Eating, drinking, sleeping and socialising are the basis for our well-being and physical requirements dictate some key fundamentals.
That said, we are now constantly searching for new experiences – so a key factor today is a strong and unique personality, non-generic and location specific. We want a real person cooking food they are passionate about, using local ingredients in an environment that captivates but is still approachable and relaxing.
A tall order but an exciting challenge for the whole team to deliver a great restaurant – and one that requires a design approach which creates this unique personality in a subtle and layered way. Gone are the days of big statement restaurants – we now care more about the food we eat and its provenance than an expensive chandelier dangling above.
That is not to say we are not partial to a bit of glamour – quite the opposite. But the key is an emotional connection, a narrative thread that runs through the project with all components working together to create the overall experience. Guests want to feel the people behind the venture and their passion for the project. Whilst new restaurants often look deceptively simple in their design, this is usually the result of creative editing as much as financial astuteness.
Hotel dining outlets are no exception – hoteliers have long woken up to the fact that bars and restaurants, in addition to generating good financial returns, can also function as a ‘draw’ for the hotel, rather than as an afterthought. Whether hotels manage their food operations themselves or partner with local experts, the industry understands where it is heading and works hard at getting it right.
Traditionally, money was spent on the dining rooms in hotels, even though these were often loss-making, ‘prestige’ features buried amongst the overall revenue and often upstaged by less exuberant local restaurant offerings. Hotel restaurants now have to look at the same rulebook as other food offerings in their local areas and compete on a level playing field – and having to serve breakfast to guests is no longer an excuse.
Asia has been leading the field with hotels providing innovative and high-quality dining experiences. This is being adopted across Europe and North America, with hotels offering experiences not just for guests but also for their wider communities. Experiencing this clear relationship between a hotel and its locality is absolutely key for many travellers today. ‘Generic’ is now a dirty word and a brand standard can only extend to operational and functional aspects – specificity and creative thinking are required for each individual hotel.
As designers, we aim to create engaging concepts based around the food offer, local culture and guest experience. The trick is to ensure these spaces become part of the story of the hotel rather than treating each as separate entities, ending up with disparate and confusing messages. This does not mean everything looking the same – if executed well, public areas are animated to create a vibrant environment people want to be in, while still creating spaces that look, feel and function very differently.
The fun lies in, say, libraries doubling up for high tea, meeting rooms turning into pantries and guests being allowed to eat or drink anywhere. The thread binding them together is a clear understanding of specific customer needs, aspirations and preferences to create an increasingly symbiotic relationship between hotel and restaurant.
Today, it should not even be a factor whether a restaurant is in a hotel or not – it should simply be honest, inspiring, fun and serve delicious food. If the restaurant happens to be in an equally inspiring hotel, that’s a welcome bonus!
Uniting the visionaries of hospitality concept, design, style and innovation, join us at Sleep + Eat on 20-21 November.