Canadian Pizza Magazine

marketing insights: A side order of atmosphere, please

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

REIT Macerich, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based mall, conducted a survey to
determine what triggers would cause shoppers to spend more.

REIT Macerich, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based mall, conducted a survey to determine what triggers would cause shoppers to spend more. To their surprise, this 2004 study showed that fountains had huge power to attract shoppers and enhance customer mood. Furthermore, they reported that happy customers spent on average $25 more per shopping experience. If we pause to consider our own shopping experiences, chances are that we’ll admit that it’s easier to part with our hard-earned money when we’re relaxed, happy and optimistic. When you look at your restaurant, how does the décor contribute to a relaxed, generous customer? When it comes to your interior design, are you creating a great mood or is it simply window dressing?

What’s your curb appeal?
If you are located on a busy street, intercepting traffic on foot and in cars will be the most important goal. The exterior is your restaurant’s best marketing tactic. It is the first thing the person sees and it is also meant to attract future costumers. Attractive urns, flowers, awnings and yes, perhaps even a fountain, may be ways to stand out and look inviting.

Finishing touches
Make sure everything in the restaurant is completely finished. No open sockets or wires dangling from the ceiling and keep the floor looking as new as possible. Invest in some designer switchplate covers. For a relatively low price, they’ll make your restaurant look much more upscale.


Turn on the charm
If your operation isn’t in the fine dining category, go for “charming and approachable.”  Wooden chairs with matching wooden tables can still be rustic and warm. Fresh flowers are lovely on the table and can be well worth the investment. Keep arrangements simple and use candles if flowers aren’t in the budget.

Be consistent
Pick a tone, a time, a vibe and make it your guiding force for all decisions around restaurant décor. Try to resist picking up pieces for your restaurant that are a great deal just because they’re inexpensive. A mish-mash of décor themes will only dilute your brand. If you don’t have the budget for artwork, try partnering with a local art gallery to see if you can display some pieces on their behalf.  They’ll have a trained eye for what looks best. 

A lovely loo
A nice, clean bathroom is always appreciated by customers but it also has financial benefits. The Journal of Food Service reported in 2009 that a clean, well-cared-for bathroom had a positive impact on the customer’s perception of the establishment concerning food safety. The study also found that a clean latrine also encouraged repeat visits to the restaurant.

Tune the tunes
Music is also part of the ambiance and can be one of the most difficult things to get right.  Although music isn’t, strictly speaking, décor, it does have a huge impact on the ambience.  Pick something upbeat but fairly neutral (Starbucks gets it just about right with its choices).  Chances are your staff is made up of young people and they’ll want to switch the channel to something with more of a grunge vibe. Keep in mind your target audience may not share the same taste and will avoid your operation if they don’t like the choices, so it’s imperative that you keep things in check.

Here are a few restaurant trends, established and emerging: 

Wood with a story: Vancouver’s Pourhouse bar showcases 28 feet of reclaimed Douglas fir. The floors at Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar in Ottawa are made from lumber that resided for the past 100 years at the bottom of the Ottawa River. Beautiful cutting boards are a great way to present charcuterie, pizzas and breads, and often they can be made from reclaimed wood. A wine bar would do well to have a French oak floor.

The industrial look: Many restaurants are housed in spaces once dedicated to industrial purposes and the restaurant has continued to celebrate the tone and manner of the space. Brick walls, roll-up doors and concrete floors should be highlighted if you are converting an industrial space into a restaurant. Minimalism is a big trend right now, with white, open spaces providing a canvas for beautiful food.

Let there be light: The Edison bulb lighting trend is linked closely to the industrial trend. Exposed bulbs dangling from the ceiling have been around since about 2002, when trendy eateries in New York first started displaying them. This trend also nods to the Steampunk design theme that’s prevalent in fashion right now.  It combines vintage/Victorian cues with a touch of technology. Think of the movie The Golden Compass or Sherlock Holmes and you’ll understand the vibe.

Mismatched crockery: Combining a number of vintage pieces on one table is a consumer trend that’s starting to show up in some restaurants. No longer is it vital to have everything “matchy-matchy.” Mash-ups of colours and styles are all the rage . . . provided there is some unity through the choice of linen, flowers or silverware.

Raise your glass: If you are striving for an authentic Italian experience and have been serving your wine in a tumbler, consider an elegant stemless wine glass instead. As growth of wine sales continues to outpace that of other alcoholic beverages, a strong wine program will be key to the success of a licensed operation. A beautiful, stemless glass will target the trend but still make the wine feel special.

Divide and conquer: Be sure to create divisions in your dining room that give the appearance of private dining areas. Strategically placed planters, harvest tables or dividers will create that space for people to book for special small group occasions. Being group-friendly is often the path to financial success.

Above all, your décor should make your restaurant memorable, distinctive and on-trend.  These things are the elements of a strong experiential brand that’s worth the price of admission.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.

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