Deseo in Scottsdale employs one on site, Orlando-based The Capital Grille organizes an annual contest to find one for its annual fundraiser, and Charleston’s Social Restaurant + Wine Bar hosts them monthly.
We’re talking artists. Restaurants that work with them are finding it’s a profitable customer draw.
“Art helps whet the appetite,” says Jonathan Raduns, a food merchandising consultant with Denver-based National Restaurant Consultants. He advises on the aesthetics that influence the purchase of food.
One of his clients, Shirt Factory Café in Medina, New York, turned the rural venue into a satellite art gallery with the purpose of driving traffic into the facility and “adding to company profits through food and beverage sales.”
Rather than seek out random art, however, the restaurant partnered with an art-focused nonprofit to bring themed art to the restaurant on a rotating basis.
Did it work? “Yes,” Raduns says, “it helped bring in new customers by creating a cultural opportunity that wasn’t there before.”
At Deseo, guests come in to watch artist-in-residence Nelson Garcia-Miranda paint live. It’s part of an almost nightly happy hour event. The Cuban artist, formerly a dishwasher at the Westin hotel where Deseo is located, draws in the customers, while providing an extra revenue stream for the high-end property.
Not a bad deal, since his paintings, which adorn the walls of the restaurant’s lobby and lounge, have earned upwards of $10,000.
Michael C. Bush, business consultant and owner of 8 Factors, a California-based consulting firm that works with restaurants, agrees this kind of arrangement works well.
“You want to create an environment where people can say, ‘I really like being here.’ And art is one of the most powerful ways to create that feeling. It can even overpower poor service,” he says.
Zachary Alan Smith, general manager at Social Restaurant + Wine Bar, agrees. “It’s about creating a moment,” he says about his restaurant’s decision to incorporate monthly Starving Artist events. On the first Wednesday of every month the restaurant hosts an art opening and sale with local artists, jewelers and live music.
Proceeds go directly to the talent, Smith says, but his restaurant sees profits, too. The event triples what his restaurant takes in financially on any other Wednesday, and the only cost he incurs is the 2.5 percent fee the credit card company charges for any transactions.
“It’s a fair trade,” he believes, “They’re helping me create a new and vibrant ambiance on a monthly basis.”
If you’re interested in putting new art on your walls, to find the artists, visit your local library, use a local database, or ask at art supply stores.
Alternatively, you could hire an art curator. Chicago-based artist Claudia Smalley worked with one through Green Zebra, the vegetarian contemporary restaurant in Chicago that she’s been partnering with to showcase her abstract paintings.
“I’ve discovered restaurants are very interested,” says the artist, who contracts with six or seven restaurants each year.
There can be a drawback to working with local artists, however: Strange art.
“We’ve had some weird stuff,” Smith says.
“Yes, restaurants should be picky,” says Smalley, “then it’s a pairing that makes sense.”
By Jackie Dishner