How to Start the Design Process


Making a restaurant inviting for both sexes takes some work.

I am always curious about the design process. How do you work with the restaurant? Do they tell you flat out, we want to attract women versus men? How do you make a place welcoming for both sexes? I am sure there are different ways to do that.

How do you work with a restaurant company?

Simply put, the work begins with gathering information and listening.

If there already is an existing restaurant, we stop by to form a basis for asking questions and for understanding. Existing or new, we check out the proposed site for the concept as well as the competition in the area.

Early on, we will schedule a simple interview with the goal of understanding the project.  We want to hear what the restaurateur has in mind and about what works and what doesn’t. We want to know about the food and to understand early on exactly who the target audience is. We want to hear the restaurateur’s dreams as well as the expectations of budget.

After this first get-together, we will assemble a work plan indicating the tasks involved in completing the work, the personnel assignments, number of hours needed to complete the task and resultant fee. The work plan will be accompanied with a proposal, and if accepted, a contract will be drawn up.

Once the proposal is accepted, we then ask the clients to pull together images of things they like; colors, restaurants, people, landscape, art, and lighting. This helps us to interpret their words.

We do the same. A tool that we use consistently is the Image Wall. Colors, photographs, objects and other images that convey a style or intent go up on the wall. It is like brainstorming with visuals. These images and those from the client will be pinned up on walls in our conference room. They will represent many different takes on a subject. Exteriors of buildings, materials, textures, lighting, and furniture styles are the usual topics.

As we work through the Image Wall, some things are removed while others are added. This takes place over several weeks and several meetings, as we get closer to nailing down the project. At each presentation the concept becomes more defined and more real. The budgets are updated and product availability is determined until, finally, we go into production documents for pricing and construction.

Do they tell you flat out, we want to attract women versus men?

There is not usually a flat-out statement that they want to attract more men or women. The truth is, if we are able to attract more women, men will show up, too.

When working on a project that is more of a nightclub or bar, the dynamics of how the bar or room is laid out can generate more ready ability for men and women to casually meet each other. This can foster casual conversation, and where it goes from there, who knows?

We usually assume that an equal number of men and women will patronize most restaurants, though sports-oriented operations obviously tend to attract more men. We do take into consideration the menu and how a place may suggest an atmosphere that is more masculine or feminine, or more family-oriented.

A discussion around colors during the schematic design presentations will bring out adjectives like masculine or feminine. We will present materials and colors that offer several options to draw out a preference for color or style.

How do you make a place welcoming for both sexes?

The atmosphere in a restaurant is such a personal thing. Masculine to one may be feminine to another. Is food masculine or feminine? Not sure. The design will need to respond to the menu and the targeted audience and the neighborhood where it resides.

Can a place that could be described as masculine be attractive to women? Is that true in reverse? This question begs more questions.

I don’t really think in terms of masculine or feminine when approaching the design of a project. I do know that light, airy, flowery spaces and pastel colors are sometimes described as feminine. Dark woods, deeper colors and low light levels are often described as masculine. We as a culture seem to have accepted these labels, and we as designers use those terms as well because they are in such common usage.

I think it is true that if we were designing a restaurant that focuses on breakfast and lunch, we would use colors and light levels that could be described as feminine, lighter and brighter. Conversely, a steakhouse may take on wood tones and colors that might be considered more masculine. Is it cultural or just personal preference?

If we were to look back on the Victorian era, given our accepted descriptions of things masculine and feminine, I might describe that style as feminine.  Men and women of that era accepted that as the style of the day.

We as architects and designers strive to attract both men and women equally in most projects. We also strive to be true to the concept that will direct us to one side of the spectrum or another.


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