Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ai3's Dan Maas, "Leveraging FLOW" in Sante magazine

Recently published in Sante, a magazine for restaurant professionals. www.isantemagazine.com

"The Leverage of Flow: How to Harness Flow & Intimacy for a Better Guest Experience." - By Dan Maas, Co-Founder and Principal at ai3, Inc.

When talking about the flow of a restaurant, most restaurant experts focus on the physical flow of food to the dining room floor. While food flow is critical in restaurant design, so are several other aspects of flow, including timing, pace, and communication between the chef, kitchen and service staffs, and guests.
Good design should infiltrate all aspects of a restaurant, but, most importantly, it should enhance the guest experience. This involves orchestrating many moving parts, all centered on creating positive social interactions around food and drink. Here are a number of tips to help foster these interactions, while still allowing a restaurant to funcion efficiently.

TIP 1: Design for the Director
The host/greeter plays the role of "cruise director," yet is often overlooked in restaurant design. When guests arrive at a restaurant, that seemingly normal greeting experience is actually the point where they elect to become an active participant in the restaurant's flow, allowing the host or greeter to lead the way.
A good host will always have an eye on the kitchen, as well as the dining room and the bar. To do so, he/she should have visual accessibility to the entire restaurant. Coordinating the flow between the dining areas and the kitchen requires continual contact between the host and the chef to ensure that no guest is waiting too long in one location and that the kitchen can always handle the order load.
Also, the host is typically the first and last impression of the dining experience. This poses many design questions. For example, can the host station be seen from outside the restaurant, allowing guests to connect and interact with the dining experience before actually entering the space? Is the host station adequately lit for the task, and does that lighting add to the overall restaurant experience? Does the design level of the host station reflect the design concept and mission of the restaurant?

TIP 2: Create One Flow with Many Options
The repeat guest is king, and the restaurant design should play a part in enticing guests to return. To that end, flow and circulation throughout the dining spaces should allow guests to easily discover all the available seating and dining options, including the bar, chef tables, private and semi-private rooms, communal tables, intimate booths, counters, patio and outdoor dining, and so forth.
This creates more opportunities for connecting guests to the vision of the restaurant, and gives them the sense that they have only experienced a small portion of what is available. If guests understand whay they are missing, they will make a mental note to return and try something different at a future visit.

TIP 3: Manipulate Flow for Intimacy
In some situations, lack of physical flow is acceptable, even desired. In a restaurant with a thriving bar scene, for example, a crowded bar is the goal. To achieve this, your designer should realize that tight spaces are okay. Saying "excuse me" forces interactions, both with the staff and other guests. Lively, crowded restaurants and bars promote conviviality, which in turn feeds their success.
The design and flow of the bar presents numerous opportunities to reinforce social interactions. The bar should have as many outside corners as possible, as guests gravitate to them in order to speak across the bar with other patrons. While some long, skinny spaces do not cater to outside corners, gathering nodes along a bar can serve a similar purpose.
Close quarter dining, such as communal tables and banquettes, also encourage social interaction. Unique design elements, textures, artwork, and accessories around such areas become objects of conversation among guests and generate specific buzz about a restaurant. Here, tight flow is an advantage.

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