It was very fitting that just a week after closing our October restaurant issue, we teamed up with culinary trade organization Culintro on Wednesday for our annual restaurant design panel at the Wythe Hotel (convenient, as I live down the street in Williamsburg). This year, the topic was the new face of fine dining, and we brought in three restaurant design heavy hitters: Robert Polacek of Puccini Group, who discussed two very different dining offerings for a West Coast and East Coast Four Seasons; Will Meyer of Meyer Davis, who explained the thought process behind Beachcraft, Tom Colicchio’s new restaurant at the 1 Hotel South Beach; and Greg Keffer of Rockwell Group, who delved into Chefs Club, and the challenging process of coming up with a scheme that speaks to not just one chef, but the restaurant’s rotating roster.
Big ideas throughout the conversations: think about the first and last impression; always bring in authenticity of place; make sure the storyline runs throughout the entire space as well as the branding touchpoints; the idea of transparency—in the design, the food—is paramount; create a sense of drama or theater beyond the plate and surrounding the chefs; and that crafting various seating options allows guests to have a different experience each time they visit. In fact, a unique, memorable experience is what all guests are looking for, in any dining environment.
Before the panelists presented and the Q&A portion of the evening, Culintro asked me to share a few key restaurant design trends we at HD are seeing. Here’s a quick rundown.
1. Fine dining is becoming less formal, more relaxed—sans white tablecloths and over the top luxurious details. Again, it is about an experience, a sense of place, a level of authenticity. Of the 500 entries we received for our 2015 HD Awards competition, 90 were submitted in our upscale/fine dining category—and because of this increasingly more casual take on fine dining, it was one of the hardest for the judges to comb through. They kept asking, ‘Is this fine dining?’ As a result, they created a whole new award for the Grey in Savannah, designed by Parts and Labor Design in a former Greyhound Bus terminal: Fine Dining Redefined.
2. Urban farms that are not just a sit down and eat experience, but an educational platform. An urban farm is ambitious for any city but especially Singapore where the land is scarce. Enter Open Farm Community, a 35,000-square-foot property complete with a coffee shop, educational components, a sculpture garden, working gardens, ping pong tables, and upscale dining. It’s family friendly and eco friendly in its design by greymatters (think recycled timber, salvaged dock wood, and antique window and door gates), and with its food—ingredients are grown on property or sourced within 248 miles, and even wine is brought in through biodegradable kegs.
3. As fine dining becomes more relaxed, casual dining has become more stylish—and many options are even helmed by fine dining chefs. Take Uncle Sam’s, a burger joint, in New York by Alvarez + Brock Design; Riverside Food Court in Brisbane by MMO Interiors; and the Noodle Rack, a 540-square-foot noodle shop in Changsha, China by Lukstudio.
4. Good food and good design for the masses, from wowing restaurants at airports (for example, in the new United Terminal at Newark Airport or I Love Paris in the city’s Charles de Gaulle airport by India Mahdavi) to museums, including Danny Meyer’s newest at the Whitney museum in New York designed by Renzo Piano.
5. And last but not least, game halls and beer halls are all the rage (like the Game Room at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel by Roman and Williams), turning a bar into a destination, and once again, creating a different, fun experience. With so much of our lives driven by technology, people are craving connection with people, and that comes from dinners and nights out.