5 Design Trends in F&B During the New Normal

5 Design Trends in F&B During the New Normal

Singapore, Reopening During Pandemic –

As the city enters PHASE 2 of reopening its economy from its pandemic restrictions, F&B outlets gear up to get back in the game and make up for the loss of time

Story by Evgeniya Lazareva, Founder and Lead Designer of HOT DESIGN FOLKS design studio

Despite permanent new measures, we’re all looking forward to dining in once more: Food Photos from top: Spanish Albóndigas con Puré de Patatas, Meatballs with mash potato serving at Next Door Spanish Cafe; Spaghetti Carbonara at Casa Manini; Boeuf Bourguignon at Gaston Bistro

Whilst everyone is hoping to restart “business as usual”, it is clear that the aftermath of COVID will be nothing like what we were so accustomed to. 

In this transition period, how can restaurants resume their daily operations and offer safe in-house dining experience? 

Here are my 5 take away points from talking to F&B frontliners in the recent weeks:

1

Spread out and adapt 

Co-founder of Casa Manini, Fiona Manini: “Being in a client-centric environment, we must always anticipate our guests’ reactions and questions. I re-did the seating layout and went around with my measuring tape to be extra sure of the space between each table. I would even sit in different seats to have an idea of what the client would see or feel, if the space is sufficient for movement.” 

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Director of Napoleon and Gaston, Jean-Christophe Cadoret: “Keeping a 1-m distance between tables can be a positive change for our customers as we can focus on the experience, on delivering our best service. However, the challenge will be the lunch crowd. Similar to the majority of the restaurants, we offer a set lunch at a discounted rate and this formula relies on volumes.” 

Fortunately, according to the experts this measure will be a short -ived one. Meanwhile, it is worth taking a precaution to future-proof your business with a few smart layout solutions. COVID demonstrated that sharing concepts like buffet, bar counters, banquette seating, extra large tables and benches are hazardous in times of pandemic. Sharing seating types can accommodate large groups but with social distancing and current 5-people dining group limitations you lose a significant amount of table covers. As an alternative, restaurants can prioritise layouts with 2-4 pax tables and booth seating instead. 

Added hygiene measures are here to stay

Designer Christophe Gernigon came up with a slick solution for post-pandemic safe dining proposing a concept of suspended lampshade-like plexiglass hoods to protect individual diners whilst allowing visual interaction. Restaurants received this invention with mixed feelings, since individual perspex hoods interfere with the conviviality of restaurant dining.

Admits Jean-Christophe, “I don’t feel that this type of design is suitable for our restaurants, as it takes away the conviviality and the ease of the traditional dining experience. We are hoping that a year from now a lot of things will return to normal and I would not be too keen to change our design in such a drastic way,” 

As an immediate and less extravagant measure, existing seating groups can be sheltered with decorative screens or dividers in solid finishes. This will enhance an atmosphere of privacy and safety for diners. 

Casa Manini intends to retain its added hygiene measures permanently reveals Fiona: “Sanitising of tables, chairs, menus after each use as well as not laying the table with cutlery and glasses until guests’ arrivals.” 

2

Expand

Gaston Bistro at Keong Saik Road – Jean-Christophe has his own exciting plans of expansion: “Outdoor terrace is an important project for us and we have been discussing this opportunity with the local authorities for quite some time now. Hopefully, in the year to come we might be taking over vacant parking lots to add an outdoor terrace for one of our outlets. With this we are hoping to re-create an atmosphere of a French bistro in Singapore.”

Amidst these new safety features an even safer place to welcome your customers will be outdoors. Natural ventilation is the best preventive measure against accumulation of airborne particles. Let’s face it, we all crave for the outdoors after months of lockdown. 

Natural ventilation is the best preventive measure against accumulation of airborne particles. Let’s face it, we all crave for the outdoors after months of lockdown.

Take the opportunity to open up windows and doors; expand the seating out onto the terraces, patios, parking lots and sidewalks, create more space for pedestrians.

Expansion to the outdoors will of course vary depending on the individual F&B condition and location. Getting all neighbours on board and keeping the noise pollution within the accepted norms will be crucial to claim the outdoor grounds successfully.   

3

Stay contact-light

Casa Manini Italian restaurant’s F&B concept of ingredients- to-go that offer food delivery and no dine-in option. “Now that we have takeaways and deliveries, orders are done primarily via phone call or WhatsApps directly to me 24/7. Clients can also choose curbside to collect and pay via PayNow or PayLah,” adds Fiona

“Since the early days of pandemic, our menu has been available for viewing online and we will continue to do so after we reopen,” shares Chef Houssein Hafian Rodriguez (left), owner/chef of Next Door Spanish Cafe.”

“Having face shields on top of our masks is not an issue if it becomes compulsory for F&B businesses, but for sure we will continue to use the masks for both front and back of house,” reckons Fiona. “We’ll need to see how things go in the weeks to come; be adaptable and flexible to changes if we intend to keep our business going.” 

4

Localise

This is an opportunity to explore in-house farming

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Contact with external services such as food suppliers can compromise any safety measures. Localizing food production, where possible, will help minimise the exposure to potential contamination, and will also ensure the maximum freshness of the food. Vacant rooftops, interior walls, window seals and other underutilised spaces offer an opportunity to explore in-house farming. 

Says Fiona: “I’m all for in-house farming. I love how great chefs like Alain Passard and Thomas Keller are able to grow their own vegetables for their restaurants. But space is such a luxury in Singapore;  if I could add a vegetable garden, I definitely would. I’ve tried growing my own herbs indoors at the restaurant with Gro Lights and it’s a challenge. Amazingly, my two lemon trees are still there, amidst some other green indoor plants that are pretty healthy. If we could change for rooftop farming, that would be ideal.” 

In a response to the recent disruption of global supply chains, Singapore intends to accelerate local food production setting out an ambitious “30 by 30” goal – 30% increase of home-grown produce by 2030. The space constraint of the island nation is recognised as one of the main challenges and the government is developing a plan to turn car park rooftops in public housing estates into urban farms. 

“Urban farming is a great opportunity for the local restaurants to venture into. We don’t have a rooftop in our venues, however I would be definitely keen to participate and support local farming initiatives,” says Jean-Christophe. 

Considering the advantage of having fresh produce with no nasties at our fingertips, the farm-to-fork movement has been growing rapidly in popularity across the globe. However, successful harvesting does require a level of commitment from the restaurants, often increasing the workload as well as posing consistency and quality issues. 

Diners’ trust 

Open Kitchens are a good way to showcase the cleanliness of food prep and facilities. (Photo) Next Door Spanish Cafe’s inspiring interiors with its Iberian and Moorish elements designed by Evgeniya Lazareva of HOT DESIGN FOLKS

Beyond taking precautions in operations, restaurants have a big challenge of winning back the trust of the community. Diners may be discouraged from entering the restaurant if it seems unsafe. 

“There will always be customers who are particularly concerned about safety. Our plan is to re-open in a “backwards” manner. We will take similar steps as we did for the lockdown but in a reverse manner, following the governmental guidelines,” reveals Jean-Christophe.

“We will adhere to the rules and innovate ways to bring the same level of satisfaction to our customers regardless of the situation. We are confident to give our 150% when we receive dine-in customers again,” concludes Chef Houssein Hafian Rodriguez.

Clear visible floor and wall markings, visual signage explaining processes for ordering, pick-up and social conduct will help provide trust in standardised compliance in the short-run. 

Long term solutions may include making the invisible-visible such as opening show-kitchen and visible prep areas to let customers see the safe operations and clean food handling. 

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Conclusion

Food service market is worth SGD$8.3billion, creating over 200,000 job opportunities in Singapore alone. Vital players in the lives of the local communities and the economy, restaurants are deemed as “essential services”, yet very few are prepared to operate successfully in the “new normal.” 

This pandemic has revealed the fragility of our food system, setting out the new rules and guidelines for communal safety, transforming restaurants literally overnight. Whilst some of these trends will be short lived, others are HERE TO STAY as it becomes clear that safe dining experiences will remain a high priority in our minds for a while. 

Leading design agency Rockwell Group has been developing an “open street concept jump-start kit” for restaurant businesses in New York, proposing templates for outdoor dining right in the middle of Manhattan busy streets. 

Special thanks to Fiona, Jean-Christophe and Chef Houssein for taking time to share their experiences. 

Photographs courtesy of Napoleon Food & Wine Bar and Bistro Gaston; Casa Manini – Italian Restaurant; Next Door Spanish Cafe photo by Hisyam Osz; Jean-Christophe Cadoret, director of Napoleon Food & Wine Bar and Gaston restaurants; Fiona Manini, co-founder of Casa Manini; Chef Houssein Hafian Rodriguez, owner and chef of Next Door Spanish Cafe.