5 Design Trends in F&B You Can't Ignore in the New Normal
As Singapore is about to enter Phase 2 of reopening later this week, F&B outlets gear up to get back in the game and make up for the loss of time. Whilst everyone is hoping to restart “business as usual”, it is clear that the aftermath of COVID will be nothing like the usual we were so accustomed to.
In this transition period, how can restaurants resume their daily operations and offer safe in-house dining experience? Here are my 5 take away points from talking to F&B frontliners in the recent weeks:
- Spread Out and Adapt
- Diners’ Trust
Spread out and adapt
The most immediate and significant impact restaurants faced and will continue to work with is social distancing.
Co-founder of Casa Manini, Fiona Manini shared, “being in a client-centric environment, we must always anticipate our guests’ reactions and questions. I re-did the seating layout and went around with my measuring tape to be extra sure of the space between each table. I would even sit in different seats to have an idea of what the client would see or feel, if the space is sufficient for movement.” The restaurant intends to keep a reduced number of seating even post COVID. “I actually like how much more spacious it is now. We’re permanently giving up extra seats to ensure that everyone is comfortable for future dining in,” added Fiona.
Director of Napoleon and Gaston, Jean-Christophe Cadoret told us that, “leaving 1m distance between tables can be a positive change for our customers as we can really focus on the experience, delivering our best service. However, the challenge we see is with the lunch crowd. Similar to the majority of the restaurants, we offer a set lunch at a discounted rate and this formula relies on volumes.”
Fortunately, according to the experts this measure will be a short lived one. Meanwhile, it is worth taking a precaution to future-proof your business with a few smart layout solutions. COVID demonstrated that sharing concepts like buffet, bar counters, banquette seating, extra large tables and benches are hazardous in times of pandemic. Sharing seating types can accommodate large groups but with social distancing and current 5 pax dining group limitations you lose a significant amount of table covers. As an alternative, restaurants can prioritise layouts with 2-4 pax tables and booth seating instead.
Designer Christophe Gernigon came up with a slick solution for post-pandemic safe dining proposing a concept of suspended lampshade-like plexiglass hoods to protect individual diners whilst allowing visual interaction. Restaurants received this invention with mixed feelings, since individual perspex hoods interfere with conviviality associated with the restaurant dining as we know it.
“I don’t feel that this type of design is suitable for our restaurants, as it takes away the conviviality and the ease of the traditional dining experience. We are hoping that a year from now a lot of things will return to normal and I would not be too keen to change our design in such a drastic way,” admitted Jean-Christophe.
As an immediate and less extravagant measure, existing seating groups can be sheltered with decorative screens or dividers in solid finishes. This will enhance an atmosphere of privacy and safety for diners.
Taking anti-virus fight a step further, “sanitising of tables, chairs, menus after each use as well as not laying the table with cutlery and glasses until guests’ arrivals,” will be an added hygiene measure that Casa Manini intends to retain permanently revealed Fiona.
With all precautions in place, an even safer place to welcome your customers will be outdoors. Natural ventilation is the best preventive measure against accumulation of airborne particles. Let’s face it, we all crave for the outdoors after months of lockdown.
Restaurants can take an opportunity to open up windows, doors, expand the seating onto the terraces, patios, parking lots and sidewalks, creating more space for pedestrians. As we see a big push across the globe to promote walking & cycling, local authorities may become more inclined to support individual restaurants’ efforts and speed up the recovery of our communities.
Leading design agency Rockwell Group has been developing an “open street concept jump-start kit” for restaurant businesses in New-York, proposing templates for outdoor dining right in the middle of Manhattan busy streets.
Jean-Christophe shared his own exciting plans of expansion, “outdoor terrace is an important project for us and we have been discussing this opportunity with the local authorities for quite some time now. Hopefully, in the year to come we might be taking over vacant parking lots to add an outdoor terrace for one of our outlets. With this we are hoping to re-create an atmosphere of a French bistro in Singapore.”
Expansion to the outdoors will of course vary depending on the individual F&B condition and location. Getting all neighbours on board and keeping the noise pollution within the accepted norms will be crucial to claim the outdoor grounds successfully.
"At our current space, we wouldn’t actually be able to extend to outdoor seating. At most we can do - a seating for 6 at our shop front. We would have to be mindful of noise pollution as we are located in a private housing estate. However, if there is the remotest possibility to appeal for reclamation of more outdoor space, I would definitely do so and draw up a proposal on how I would be using the space,” highlighted Fiona.
Contrary to some views that contactless dining is a fad and a short lived trend, over time physical will be replaced with “contact-light”. Following contactless payment, physical menus will become rare as some of the restaurants are already actively adopting QR-code technology and online pre-orders.
“Since the early days of pandemic, our menu has been available for viewing online and we will look at continuing making it available for viewing even after we reopen,” shared Chef Houssein Hafian Rodriguez, owner of Next Door Spanish Cafe.
Interaction between restaurant staff and customers could be limited through designated take-away points, food collection and order counters.
“Now that we have takeaways and deliveries, orders are done primarily via phone call or WhatsApps directly to me 24/7. Clients can also choose curbside to collect and pay via PayNow or PayLah,” added Fiona.
Entrance and restroom doors, faucets, soap dispensers will be gradually replaced by sensors or a less costly foot pedal technologies. Antimicrobial materials and finishes will gain a much higher importance and become a new norm for design.
Where face-to-face contact is unavoidable, PPE will be a must in a short run. Luckily for us, product designers have already come out with a number of attractive alternatives to the traditional surgical mask. A face-shield designed by Joe Doucet looks more like a stylish accessory and as Joe revealed, he "tried to create a face shield that people would actually want to wear rather than simply put up with it."
“Having face shields on top of our masks is not an issue if it becomes compulsory for F&B businesses, but for sure we will continue to use the masks for both front and back of house,” reckoned Fiona. “We’ll need to see how things go in the weeks to come, be adaptable, flexible to changes if we intend to keep out business going.”
Contact with external services such as food supply delivery can compromise any safety measures. Localizing food production, where possible, will help minimise the exposure to the potential contamination, not to mention it will also ensure the maximum freshness of the food. Vacant rooftops, interior walls, window seals and other underutilized spaces offer an opportunity to explore in-house farming.
“I’m all for in-house farming. I love how great chefs like Alain Passard and Thomas Keller are able to grow their own vegetables for their restaurants.” However there are of course challenges, as Fiona explains further, “space is such a luxury in Singapore, if I had the opportunity to add a vegetable garden, I definitely would. I’ve tried growing my own herbs indoors at the restaurant with Gro Lights and it’s a challenge. Amazingly, my two lemon trees are still there, amidst some other green indoor plants that are pretty healthy. If we could change for rooftop farming, that would be ideal.”
In a response to the recent disruption of global supply chains, Singapore intends to accelerate local food production setting out an ambitious "30 by 30" goal - 30% increase of home-grown produce by 2030. The space constraint of the island nation is recognised as one of the main challenges and the government is developing a plan to turn car park rooftops in public housing estates into urban farms.
“Urban farming is a great opportunity for the local restaurants to venture into. We don’t have a rooftop in our venues, however I would be definitely keen to participate and support local farming initiatives,” mused Jean-Christophe.
Considering the advantage of having fresh produce with no nasties at our fingertips, the farm-to-fork movement has been growing rapidly in popularity across the globe. However, successful harvesting does require a level of commitment from the restaurants, often increasing the workload as well as posing consistency and quality issues.
“Can we produce quickly and enough? Do we have enough time to do all this when we are already busy running a restaurant? I am pretty good with plants but I would probably need to hire a gardener’s help as well,” pondered Fiona.
Beyond taking precautions in operations, restaurants have a big challenge of winning back the trust of the community. Diners may be discouraged from entering the restaurant if it seems unsafe.
“There will always be customers who are particularly concerned about safety. Our plan is to re-open in a “backwards” manner. We will take similar steps as we did for the lockdown but in a reverse manner, following the governmental guidelines,” revealed Jean-Christophe Cadoret, director of Napoleon and Gaston.
Clearly visible floor and wall marking, visual signage explaining processes for ordering, pick-up and social conduct will help provide trust in standardized compliance in the short-run.
Thinking of long term solutions making the invisible-visible will play a big role in the process of recovery. Branded chef and waiting staff uniforms, open show-kitchen and visible prep areas are a great design strategy to let customers see the safe operations and clean food handling.
“We are very fortunate to have a good support of regulars who can’t wait to come back to dine at our restaurant, and many of them have known us since the day one. They know and trust our attention to cleanliness and hygiene, in the preparation of our food as well as the maintenance of our dining environment. We will be continuously mindful of the little details to make their experiences with us even better,” added Fiona Manini, co-founder of Casa Manini.
Food service market is worth $8.3bln(SGD), creating over 200,000 job opportunities in Singapore alone. Vital players in the lives of the local communities and the economy, restaurants were deemed as “essential services”, yet very few were prepared to operate successfully in the “new normal.”
This pandemic revealed the fragility of our food system, setting out the new rules and guidelines for communal safety, transforming restaurants literally overnight. Whilst some of these trends will be short lived, others are HERE TO STAY as it becomes clear that safe dining experiences will remain a high priority in our minds for a while.
“We will adhere to the rules and innovate ways to bring the same level of satisfaction to our customers regardless of the situation. We are confident to give our 150% when we receive dine-in customers again,” concluded Chef Houssein Hafian Rodriguez, owner of Next Door Spanish Cafe.
Special thanks to Fiona, Jean-Christophe and Chef Houssein for taking time to share their experiences. Check out their outlets in the links below and enjoy!