Bad planning and design can ruin a perfectly good meal, as DANIEL DURING often discovers
Ever sat down for dinner to find that you sink into the chair and have to reach for your knife and fork? Or find that you need eagle-eye vision to read the menu wording? Design often seems to take precedent over practicality in restaurants around the region, and all it needs is simply a little more attention to detail at the planning stage to eliminate potential irritation for your customers.
After 15 years working with leading hotel companies and restaurant groups in the region, the same flaws crop up in cities from Kuwait to Khartoum.
Bathroom functionality is an integral part of restaurant design, but a badly sited soap dispenser that drips onto the floor instead of into the trendy sink you have spent thousands of dollars on, is a surefire way to keep the housekeeping team busy mopping floors every half hour, as well as being a health and safety hazard.
And while we are on the subject, we have all been faced with toilet doors that open inwards and negate the hygiene factor after you have just washed your hands Ė while others maybe havenít. The best bathrooms I have seen ensure that access from the common areas to the sink units is designed to be door-less Ė or at the very least, come with a push instead of pull action.
Out on the restaurant floor, while the current penchant for subtle mood lighting undoubtedly adds atmosphere to any venue, if you are trying to read the small print on the menu then how about having a menu light to hand for those customers without 20/20 vision? For maximum clarity without compromising on style, the use of contrasting paper stock Ė think matt white with strong black text in a clear font Ė can make those award-winning dishes leap off the page and whet the appetite of your salivating dinner guest.
A personal bugbear is tables that are a few inches too low, so that when you reach for your knife and fork, you are required to engage those slack stomach muscles and perform an abdominal crunch to enjoy the meal. Great for exercise junkies, but guaranteed indigestion isnít so enjoyable. And while coffee table dining is perfect for a relaxed social occasion, there is often a disconnect between relaxing in a lounge chair and being able to eat comfortably. Itís a recipe for disaster if twirling a forkful of spaghetti or cutting into that rare T-bone steak runs the risk of the food ending up in your lap instead.
Designers and owners/chefs need to lock heads and look at the menu offering to include tapas and finger food-style dishes to enhance the experience.
Waiter stations are often the forgotten relative, with wall-facing set-ups taking the serverís eye off the ball as he turn his backs on his tables to tap in the Micros order; not to mention the fact that the customer is presented with a view of his back rather than a welcoming hospitable smile.
Finishes are one element that can make or break a restaurant from a sound management point of view. If the floor finish is of the rock hard variety then that accidentally dropped fork can stun the room into silence in an instant. Hard floor, wall or ceiling finishes will also amplify the chatter of happy diners to a level that has you straining to hear what your neighbour said about the dish of the day while not being able to notice that your boyfriend is actually proposing.
This can also be exacerbated by the entertainment system, with either too few speakers to deliver an even sound to every corner of the room, with instead a few poor tables subjected to a blaring cacophony of music just above your head that makes hearing impossible. Regardless of whether you want soft background music or a louder ambient tone, it is important that there are ample speakers dotted around the room for an evenly distributed sound.
Achieving the perfect balance between creating a buzz and requiring raised voices to continue a conversation is key to commercial success. While none of us want to dine somewhere that feels like a library, the choice of hard and soft finishing, as well as sectioning the venue to create pockets of ambient sound, is vital.
At six feet, I am all too aware of the dilemma of being able to cross my legs, especially if the trendy designed table is too thick to do so. The golden rule formula to remember is that you need to have a table that is 70 to 75 high, with chairs at 40 to 45 cm, which allows 30 cm of distance from the bottom of your spine to the top of the table. And if you do not have a good 25 cm between the top of the chair and the bottom of your table, then itís bruised knees all round. So opting for those gorgeous vintage Omani window frames with glass tops may look good, but theyíre not going to be user friendly.
Air-conditioning is a blessing in this part of the world, but unless you want to stock up on pashminas, make sure that the wall-sited linear diffusers arenít issuing an Arctic-like chill down upon your diners Ė especially the ladies in their minimalistic Armani evening dresses. Suppliers always tell you that this is how itís meant to be, but cold air moves downwards, even if the air-conditioning fins are trying to force it out semi-horizontally. The best thing, in my opinion, is to locate them in coved areas or simply not position them directly above tables.
And the biggest design culprit of them all? Being seated on a banquette thatís too high or too low, so that your companion on the chair opposite is either looking up at you, or is Ė literally Ė looking down their nose at you from an additional 20 cm height. It doesnít sound like a big deal, but sinking into a squishy cushion can make even a grown man like me feel like a naughty child in front of a parent.
An Argentinean native, Daniel During has been living and working in Dubai for over 15 years. He founded Thomas Klein International (TKI) in 2001, following the successful development and management of the Wafi Pyramids complex. Prior to that, During worked with Hyatt International Hotels across the world in a variety of executive management roles. He speaks six languages and is a keen traveller, sailor and equestrian.