Experiential Dining Experience

The ABDA Design Challenge – What’s the next big thing in experiential dining?

Imagine the freedom to design a hospitality venue of your choice. No restrictions and no real deadline, just pure and simple creativity. Each month we’re going to give our designers a new challenge which truly allows them to get their creative juices flowing and showcase their own personal design styles and flair.

To kick-off this new feature, we’ve put talented designer, Paul Siekbe in the spotlight and we absolutely love what he’s put together. After seeing his creation, we sat down with Paul to find out how he found this experience and learn more about the thinking behind the project.

What brief were you given for this design project?

It’s no secret that the food and beverage sector has been under extreme pressure and over the last few years we have seen several high street chains closing. One way that certain brands are bucking this trend is by offering diners something a little different and new.

For this brief, I was told a client was looking for “The Next Big Thing” in the experiential bars and restaurant sector. These businesses have seen a rise in popularity in mixed mode entertainment venues, themed with additions such as pool, darts, VR and live karaoke etc.  They acquired a Victorian building, which was originally a fish market, in a major UK city and engaged ABDA to form a concept and design to utilise this.

As part of the brief, equal emphasis was placed on the food offer and the entertainment, with a simple but well-defined, high-quality menu. The space needed to be versatile and aspirational, that could easily be configured to run special events as well as providing relaxing surroundings which would entice diners to make an evening out of their visit. I was also told the design needed to age well and I had a budget of around £1m for the interior fitout.

What was your inspiration for the design you have created?

Early 20th century Britain is an era which is currently very popular in both interior design, fashion and pop culture with shows like Peaky Blinders and the big screen adaptation of Downton Abbey leading the way. I wanted to explore this period, taking inspiration from Art Deco and the back-street jazz clubs of London and Paris. For my design, I’ve explored combining these styles with the growing trends of alternative cabaret, group games and bar games.

Tell us about the research you completed for this design.

There has been no shortage of film and television covering this era over the last few years so I did have a head start, however, I felt it was important to really understand how people of those times would have experienced the high life. There are still some amazing places in the UK which give a glimpse of this bygone age. One of these is Eltham Palace in South London. The transformation of a historic building into a stylish Art Deco residence demonstrates the importance of light and space. Vertical height gives a true dimension of luxury.

What demographic would you aim this venue at?

I think it’s those in their late 20s and upwards who are aspirational, creative and cultured. It’s anticipated that the creation of this type of venue would encourage diners to want to create their own mini events by sharing the experience with their friends and enjoy the time in groups.

Describe some of the key features of your design.

  • The pillars are a feature which has been retained from the original building, a late Victorian fish market. I wanted to use them to give the design elegance and grace, which is a hallmark of the era.
  • For the seating, I’ve built in a combination of loose tables with tub chairs which will make guests feel enclosed and intimate whilst watching the entertainment, and large booths for groups. All the seating is luxurious and comfortable as this is a venue where you would stay the whole evening.
  • Lighting is absolutely key to any design and I’ve made this low, moody and golden with bold neon statements to draw the eye. The use of strong metallics and crystal in the lighting provides contrast to the botanical patterns which feature in the design. Lighting is only placed where it is needed and uses rechargeable table lamps. You will see lights around the stage and a combination of traditional and modern chandeliers over the booths and staging. Around the croquet lawn the lighting evokes an atmosphere of a park or bandstand with stylised streetlamps to the perimeter and lanterns hanging above.
  • The stage is formed using luxurious green marble. I’ve set this lower than the norm to give a more intimate connection between the guests and the performers. Guests are as much a part of the show as those up on the stage to give a real inclusive and warm feel to the venue.
  • Signage is formed using brash, red neon against textured backdrops. Playful and memorable phrases have been used to guide guests to the different zones making the customer journey simple.
  • The mezzanine level houses restrooms and a seating area that could be used for VIP events and private dining to maximise revenue opportunities. This area is signalled with oversized artwork and neon but is much softer with velvet drapes to the walls and quilted leather to the doors, the textures of which are accentuated with neon light.
  • The fluted design of the Corinthian columns, so beloved by the Victorians, is echoed in the bulkhead detail over the booths and on the chef’s food pass.

How on-trend do you think this design is?

It’s very on-trend. The use of marble and botanical print along with oversized live planting was a strong feature from Milan Design Week this year. It was showcased really well at The Manzoni by Tom Dixon. Plus, the use of Art Deco features and golden hues provide much-needed escapism in uncertain times.

How would the different elements you have designed help drive revenue?

People usually go to themed “mixed mode entertainment bars” for just a few hours as they have a pre-booked timeslot and go on elsewhere for drinks and food later. This space is designed as a destination for the whole evening where dining and entertainment are completely integrated. The variety of group games allow diners to personalise their experience further against the backdrop of live entertainment. Creating areas that can be hired for private dining and VIP events also provides a potential revenue stream, aside from the regular drinks and food.

Can you give us some examples of how you have considered the customer journey when creating your design?

The guest experience would start as soon as a customer walks through the door. Visitors would be greeted by the concierge, dressed in period costume and in character, with a Meet and Greet ticket booth. The view into the main restaurant has purposely been restricted by screening until they walk through to receive the sumptuous interior.

I’ve divided the space into four key areas for the cabaret, bar, games and lawn games and these are all signalled by the neon signage that is visible as soon as you enter.

What is your favourite part of the design for the Cabaret restaurant?

I really like the sculptural nature of the balustrade to the mezzanine and the bold artwork which reinforce the feelings of elegance and luxury whilst giving the restaurant a distinctive and unique look.

Is this the kind of venue you would like to visit?

Absolutely! I often go to alternative cabaret events such as those organised by Moon and Mischief and White Mischief. These are held in quirky private members clubs, old cinemas and other interesting buildings around London and it’s always fun to have an evening of indoor games such as crazy golf or bowling. To have a permanent venue of eccentric entertainment would be amazing!

let’s have a chat about your next project…