Eat with Your Eyes: Creating the Full Foodie Experience
The success of a restaurant — whether it is a new concept, a redesign of an established eatery or even a new location for an existing franchise — isn’t just about how good the food is. The best menu, with the most delicious food, will still fail if the experience doesn’t match what diners expect when they walk through the door. But designing and executing graphics for restaurant environments is more “fine dining” than “quick serve.”
It begins before the first drop of ink is placed on the first substrate. Successful wide-format printers who regularly work with restaurant clients note that it is important to be involved right at the beginning from the design stage. Most restaurant owners know their food, but they don’t necessarily know how to translate the vision in their head into graphics that will delight diners. They have no idea how different colors or design elements might increase — or decrease — appetites, or which substrates are food-safe and which aren’t.
“With the ones we’ve worked on, they’ve had a general vision of what they wanted and how they wanted it to look,” says Steve Moran-Cassese, owner of Speedpro Imaging – Marin, based in San Rafael, Calif. “Our job was to say ‘if you want to do it here, here is how it will look, and here are challenges we’ll have to work around.’ It is all about managing expectations. With restaurants more than anyone else, they have a vision in their head of perfection, and we have to take this pretty picture on the screen and make it come to life. We have to make sure we convey things like seams to the client so they understand what they’re going to get; it is our responsibility to point out some of the little things so everyone is on the same page.”
Unsurprisingly, color plays a major role in that consultation stage of the design. Some restaurant concepts benefit from bright, inviting colors designed to catch the eye and stimulate the senses. Others want a quieter, more subdued palette. Still, others benefit from a monochrome scheme. And while the food and personality of the restaurant dictate some of those color decisions, demographics are just as important. It is important to know who the restaurant’s target market is, so the print shop can help choose the right colors for the job.
“Not only do you have the demographic appeal, you have to have the graphic speak the generation you’re looking for,” stresses Karrie Brock, owner, FASTSIGNS of Toledo, Ohio. “But it also has to look appealing, it has to be appetizing and can’t disrupt the dining experience. In a retail environment, they might get a good vibe, but they’re not eating the clothes. At a restaurant, they are going to sit and have conversation and a meal. We don’t want to throw in a color that is unappetizing.”
For example, brighter colors might be used in quick-serve environments because they encourage customers to come in, get their food, enjoy the experience and then leave. Whereas graphics with a more neutral, earth-tone color scheme invite diners to stay and relax for a while. “It all depends on the message of the atmosphere you’re going to be in,” says Matthew Doniger, sales manager at Trinity Graphic in Sarasota, Fla. “Some have branding all over the place, some want artwork from local artists or photographers to enhance the space — it is really just based on the experience they want to provide. When I talk to clients, I start with what’s the overall experience; obviously the food is important, but it is the lighting, the artwork and the graphics that will keep me coming back.”
The Building Phase
While it isn’t always possible, in a perfect world, wide-format printers will be involved with restaurant graphics while the concept is still in the building phase. If graphics are being custom-fit to specific architectural elements, it is useful to be able to dictate things like the height of a dividing wall to match the substrate sizes, eliminating the need for seams, for example.
“We have worked with [designers and architects, individually] and all at the same time,” Brock says. “We really strive to be partners in whole communication process. Too often, signage is an afterthought, when maybe an architect roughed up something or the designer has a color scheme or materials to be used, but in the restaurant industry, it is an integral part — wayfinding, how do you order, where is the dining room, where is the appeal.”
Phillip Yu, creative director for Gamut Media, based in Fullerton, Calif., notes that contractors and designers tend to be very easy to work with, in his experience. The owners tend to know what they want the final vision to evoke and making them happy is what everyone on the team, from the designers to architects to printers, is focused on.
The Next Big Trend
Some restaurants want a classic, timeless appeal. Others are looking to stand out from the crowd and playing off some of the latest trends diners are excited about can be a good way to capture their interest and get them in the door to try something new.
Social media is one of those trends. Some restaurants are looking to embrace the idea of customers sharing their experience throughout the process. “[Social media is] huge,” Yu says. “Now everyone wants customers to be able to take photos. They are creating these selfie stations to stand and take a photo, and a lot of people are starting to incorporate graphics into the walls to go with social media.”
However, not all restaurants are embracing that social media dynamic, Moran-Cassese says. “I’ve been to a few places where it was more about people posting photos, but the restaurants we’ve worked in were higher end, so we just haven’t seen it ourselves.”
Brock falls somewhere in the middle. She notes that she’s not seeing a lot of restaurants she’s worked with specifically design the graphics to attract social media attention, but the end results do lend themselves to social experiences. “I don’t feel like anyone is really welcoming social media, they aren’t opening the doors for that,” she says. “In general, when you walk into a new-to-you place, and it looks cool or different, you know what they’re all about and you get a certain feeling you want to share. Everyone wants to share because that’s our society, but we’re not designing for that — we’re designing for the real-life experience. Ultimately, eating is more social in and of itself, so social media plays into it because of that aspect, but it’s more human contact we need to focus on.”
Beyond social media, what trends are restaurant owners looking to take advantage of? Doniger sees a few different things impacting the type of print work he provides for restaurants, including a push for more eco-friendly substrates, as well as printing on things other than just paper.
One new trend Doniger is excited restaurants are starting to experiment with is “printing directly to glass and edged with lighting, which creates a phenomenal look.”
“We have a design where light travels through the image and doesn’t stop at the edges, so it creates an eye-catching experience,” Doniger says. “We’re also seeing a lot more interest in concrete graphics — a lot of people have blank, empty bars and those spaces can become ad revenue or an art space instead of just being bare concrete.” He also notes that he is starting to see more locations take advantage of wrap techniques, not just on their bars, but even on their furniture and barstools, helping make the overall experience even more immersive and complete.
Other materials restaurants are starting to experiment with include printing directly to metal, which creates unique pieces that can help bring a dining experience to life. There are also new inks on the market that can simulate a much wider range of textures and effects, which are becoming more popular as restaurant owners learn what they can do.
“The offerings we can bring to restaurants are pretty significant,” Moran-Cassese says. “When talking to restaurants, I’ll start suggesting ideas — that’s our job. They don’t know everything available to them, and that’s one of my favorite parts. I like to brainstorm and make suggestions.”
One of the exciting things about working with restaurant clients is the chance for wide-format printers to show off their creativity and expertise. Even when producing graphics for a franchise, each location will be slightly different, with unique challenges the graphics will need to help overcome. Printers bring a perspective to restaurant owners that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s not just about what materials will work best for each area of the restaurant. It is about helping them ensure the entire graphics package contributes to the dining experience, rather than detracting from it.