The nature of COVID imprinted hybrids on restaurateur’s conscious. At times, brands want to flex less throughout a single day to take advantage of mobility and behavior changes. For instance, a coffee shop in the front that turns into a lunch café at noon with a full wait staff. “The initial idea is just to make sure we understand what the flow and circulation should be,” he says. “But most importantly that [the client] understands what their own concept needs to be, because that will present us and you and your team from going in circles of what this is and why is this laid out in this manner.”
“How to make the most out of one space revenue wise has become important,” Valverde continues. “So that you can hit different markets at different times for more revenue.”
Customers coming back to dining rooms still want a memorable experience. That hasn’t changed. If anything, the space has to provide that more than usual given what it takes some guests to make the leap back. Celebratory occasions are on the rise for a reason. Consumers are turning to restaurants as an escape and place of reconnection, Valverde says.
A feature Coevál has pushed lately is “motion arts.” Basically, this boils down as a digital display inside a restaurant that could be an NFT. Or, it could show up as a video art piece that moves continuously throughout a day.
So instead of having a mural or wallpaper, Coevál places these motion art pieces in hallways, on the way to restrooms, etc., to create a technology-centered feature that enables a space to constantly change.
“That ‘Instagram moment’ that operators kind of cling on to is the entire restaurant should be technically Instagramable,” Valverde says. “The space needs to be layered. There needs to be textures and colors and lightning. … We get this request weekly and almost daily from different clients: ‘Everything looks great, where is my Instagram wall?’ So what we’re trying to do is figure out a nice balance between motion arts, and then interior design to make sure that the space feels like it’s an entire Instagram moment versus a neon wall that says ‘I love Tacos.’”
“I think what’s important is figuring out what the next step is going to be past an Instagram moment,” he adds.
Another shift of late was a transition to closed kitchens. The open-kitchen, on-display movement before COVID reverted somewhat, in many cases as a response to health regulations, Valverde says.
Part of it, however, is also a consumer pivot to help people feel safer. “Our last few clients have requested closed kitchens because they just want to focus on the environment,” he says. “I think the trend is coming back. And then the high-end restaurants are having expo kitchens with islands and a really nice showcase.”
Supply hang-ups have challenged designers just like it’s hamstrung operators. Valverde says they’re “scrambling constantly” to make sure whatever they spec and source is ordered and purchased quickly. What’s in stock, how soon can they get it, and ensuring the manufacturer isn’t backed up have become staples of the deisgn experience.
Pre-coronavirus, Valverde says, Coevál could build restaurants within 12–14 weeks. It now takes “easily” 20–24, even 26 weeks. “Almost double,” he says. You have lead times on fixtures and from general contractors. Layer that on top of permit expediting (they’re also backed up) and procedures and regulations, and everyone is left waiting for the puck to start moving.
Prices on metal, concrete, and “everything else that you would think is not going to be very expensive,” Valverde says, have gone up “dramatically.”
Coevál has seen significant ranges in projects, too. Some operators are taking aim at 16,000–20,000-square-foot boxes while others are trying to keep it under 3,000 to ensure they can pay rent if things go awry again.
Overall, though, the design world reflects what’s always been critical for brands, Valverde says. Whether it’s a website or Instagram or the lobby of a restaurant, the verbiage, feel, and language of a brand not only draws guests back to restaurants, but rewards them for making the trip.
“I think people just want to go back to what it was before,” he says.