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The PacMan Lego installation at The Cowfish in Birmingham.

Make Your Restaurant's Design Pop with Custom Features

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When it comes to successfully implementing custom features, it's all about partnerships.
By Sarah Pike May 2018 Expert Insights

Custom features within any restaurant space can become a brand trademark used to spark interest, entice guests and create brand recognition. Restaurant operators rely on their designers, and the partnerships they bring to the table, to create a successful finished product. Therefore, it’s important for operators to be mindful of who they choose for an architect and designer and the type of third-party relationships they bring to the table.

So, what are these custom features? A curated glass centerpiece in a dining room, a custom-designed vintage sign, or an eye-catching wall installation are all elements designed by a team of architects and brand engineers—working with fabricators and other craftsmen to make each element come alive. The relationships between the architects, brand engineers, fabricators, fine artists, woodworkers, and other craftsmen, become imperative to the project.

If the space includes commissioned artwork that is brand related, it takes a keen eye from the designer to find artists that produce work in line with the interior design and brand attributes. Once an artist is selected and contracted, the designer provides guidance throughout the process to ensure the art stays aligned with the branded environment.

Custom fixtures for restaurant or retail spaces allow the final product to feel cohesive. Partnering with talented fixture engineers and shepherding them through the intent takes dedication from all parties. It’s important to work closely with the fabrication team to make sure the customer experience feels right for the brand and the fixture displays merchandise in the best light.

In order to do this successfully, designers and brand engineers must communicate design intent to the fabricators. This is where unique challenges often arise. It’s important for designers to use the right tools and technologies to make sure their ideas come to life in the way they are intended. Drawings have to be on-point so fabricators and other craftsmen have something easy to follow and create.

It is truly an iterative process in that sometimes the drawings are brought to them and communicated in a way that has a direct outcome on the final product. Sometimes, smaller samples are created that reflect the right texture, finish and scale. Designers have to spend a lot of time working through the details. If the third-party relationships aren’t strong, the product can turn out less than ideal.

Therefore, the best course of action is to over communicate. This pertains to every phase of the project—from the initial drawing to the deadlines, file types and type of software used to create the right element. For instance, multiple vendors may need to be connected on the creation of a lighting fixture to ensure the piece not only delivers for the brand, but also is executable. And so that relationship building becomes a process of connecting the right people at the right time with a project. Putting in the time is key.

The overall benefit to the entire project is that we, as designers, get to deliver a custom-branded piece that is unique to the concept. This is especially important in industries that are oversaturated. We are able to provide our clients with pieces that are on-brand and create a unique guest experience. Designing these custom pieces with the talented makers of the world allows brands to step outside of tired trends.

In addition to over communication, it is important that designers maintain expectations throughout the project, and this requires a strong collaboration between all parties. Designers don’t always know the best way to put something together and they have to rely on their craftsmen to bring the vision to life. Once you find people that you connect with and who can get those pieces made, they become valuable parts of the team. Don’t lose them. By building the right relationships, and in the right way, a bright idea can turn into a big reality. It takes time, effort and a commitment to the project; but the final outcome is always worth it.

Sarah Pike is the Art Director at starrdesign, a Charlotte, North Carolina–based company that focuses on connecting brands with people through creative environments and responsible processes.