How to design a restaurant so it doesn’t go bankrupt? We have answers from two designers working with Restaurant Design.
We stop by for a chat with Suparat “Toh” Chinathaworn and Kijtanes “Him” Kajornrattanadech, two designers who have founded party/space/design (p/s/d). Their new office is situated in the Ekamai neighborhood and feels more like a hip coffee shop or co-working space, rather than a design agency. They’ve only moved into this new home not long ago—previously a space that housed the office of Design Lab, the design studio of Nopadol Limwatanakul, one of Thailand’s leading designers. In fact, both designers have been old alums of Design Lab themselves and have worked together since 2007 before they decided to open their own company.
Toh and Him started out as multi-disciplinary designers that designed a variety of things, from exhibitions, hotels to retail. But the work they feel involved with and enjoy designing the most are restaurants. “We have to use the perspective of an architect, a product designer, interior designer, all the way to a graphic designer. It uses many different arts.” Besides that, Him reveals how they are both foodies who love to eat and are always seeking new restaurants to try. Ultimately, it lead to the decision to design what they are good at. The pair then clearly branded themselves as restaurant designers whom are specialized in designing everything related to the food business, from the interiors, logo, graphics, menu, utensils, staff uniform, down to the name of the restaurant or even the music that is played. Their talent lies not only in designing a beautiful space, but also in creating a restaurant that works.
It’s been a fruitful risk they’ve taken, because the restaurant industry was not this happening 5-6 years ago—nor was there any news of the arrival of Michelin stars. Still, the pair predicted that this business is definitely coming. Toh confesses that it was quite nerve-racking when they first started and if it didn’t work out within 1-2 years, they’d probably have to shut down and go do something else.
As luck (and their sheer talent) would have it, one of their first projects came out successfully. The Thonglor branch of Wine Republic is considered their beacon accomplishment which created a name for p/s/d because Thonglor is considered as one of the toughest areas. Holding the highest turnover rates for restaurants, Toh says, “That space has already seen five different restaurants going broke, but when we worked on it, it didn’t. So now, when people have problems and think their restaurant is going to go bankrupt, they come to us.”
Although the location of Wine Republic is a very good one, the main problem is of the building. p/s/d suggested various solutions to many different problems and recall that in the past, previous restauranteurs have hired interior designers who would only work within their boundaries, but p/s/d looks further beyond that. They’ve gotten over the problem of dark spaces by removing a whole wall and changing the building’s outer façade as well—which resulted in a dead space turning into an inviting terrace. They’ve also persuaded the owners to invest in a stairway structure that became the highlight of the place. The results were pleasing and the pair continued to design 4-5 other restaurants (Too Fast To Sleep, Fine and Dine, Gyodong), none of which went bankrupt. Their popularity then spread through word of mouth—as people in this industry truly seek designers who really understand this business, rather than just designs that will be featured in magazine spreads.
Nevertheless, the restaurant business is not an easy one and its design is not everything. “Food is the main component and design is just the dressing,” Him emphasizes. Toh adds, “If we calculate by percentage, design makes up only 20% while the remaining 80% is about food, service, management, chefs, etc.”
p/s/d believes in fighting for what’s right. Owners have had to be persuaded countless times into paying for designs that will ultimately benefit them in the end. This was a daunting task in the beginning without any awards or profiles to guarantee its success, but after a couple of successful projects and awards that now deck their office walls, clients are more inclined to follow their advice.
Restaurant design is a job that requires experience and an understanding of the business and human behavior. There is no denying that the Internet and social media affect how a restaurant is designed today. The pair describe that when designing a restaurant, a clear number of photo-taking corners must be included. Further investment in interiors, which can create varying ambiances, can be helpful in getting customers to return again.
The restaurant business is livelier than ever and the Michelin results will be announced in Thailand in just a couple of days. This has turned it into a trend of sorts for the rich who want to have a nice restaurant or café to add onto their portfolio. Him and Toh say that these types with money and no understanding of the food business are the hardest to work with, because it’s even harder to succeed if one isn’t into food. This business is for those who truly love it and they part with this message: If you want to have it easy, don’t get into the restaurant business.
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