Designing an experience

Recent openings around the country have shown that New Zealand diners are starting to expect more from their restaurants – not only in terms of food, but also from the environment in which they are eating. Restaurants, when it comes to design and fit-outs, are responding in kind.

“Restaurateurs have come to the realisation that design may be one of the most important factors for success in an increasingly competitive industry,” said Dwayne MacEwen, a partner at DMAC Architecture, a Chicago-based design firm. “Our clients these days are always looking for new and innovative designs.”

Little Creatures has opened its first New Zealand brewery in Auckland’s Hobsonville Point, and the fit-out has been carefully designed to reflect the heritage of the space.

“Little Creatures is all about its connection with the community and we truly want this brewery to feel like a home away from home for Hobsonville Point locals and visitors alike,” explained Mat Tolhurst, Lion hospitality director. “Embodying the quirks and eccentricities the brand is loved for, this brewery is the perfect spot to bring the family and enjoy a craft beer and meal by the water.”

Two additional dining options are located inside the brewery – Salty’s, serving seafood dishes including a variety of fish and chips and seafood delights, and Kittyhawk, a café bistro.

Ignite Architects led the design of the brewery, which is filled with nostalgic design elements in a nod to the history of the Sunderland Hangar. Built to house TEAL’s giant Seaplanes in 1939, the hangar’s original 9m tall doors can be spotted behind the main bar. KittyHawk’s vibe is that of an officers’ mess while Salty’s bar is made from the hangar’s original timber purlins. The hangar’s concrete floor has been retained, showing off its cracks, imperfections and heritage.

“We wanted it to be more than just a restaurant or a brewery,” said Tolhurst. “We wanted it to be a place where people could come and feel comfortable, so we’ve made sure that the design reflects that.”

At Auckland International Airport, the Glamp Grounds is Joylab's latest major addition to the food and drink offerings in the Auckland International Airport. Glamp Grounds captures the iconic Kiwi holiday vibe and serves it up to airport travellers. The project was a collaboration between Joylab, design firm Ctrl Space, fit-out specialists The Fit-Out Collaborative and hospitality furniture supplier Harrows.

“A variety of materials were used for the table surfaces throughout the project, adding to the eclectic vibe,” Harrows wrote in a blog post about the fitout. “The Excesla Tops, usually an outdoor product, added to that outdoors-in Kiwi picnic vibe. Boundary Tops, made from hard-wearing high-pressure laminate were also prominent throughout the project, combined with solid timber Classic Leaners, and Tripod Leaners.”

Working with both the client and the designer, the fit-out and furniture plan was developed to infuse the character of the Glamp Grounds into carefully thought-out designs. Through close collaboration and shared knowledge of the industry, the keen Kiwi ‘spirit of adventure’ was reflected in the high level of personalisation in each piece.

Custom furniture designs played a large role in the fit-out also, with unique picnic tables creating a real feature and helping to create calming, relaxed zones within the busy layout. It was these bespoke pieces that helped enhance the Glamp Grounds’ point of difference.

As usual, social media has been a main driver behind these trends. Social media is a key aspect or marketing for any business in this day and age – restaurants can use it as a free marketing channel and build up a dedicated following, offering specials and promoting events through Instagram, Facebook or even Twitter. By constructing a space that impresses diners, they are more likely to share images of their experience on social media, and generate further free marketing opportunities for the restaurant.

These two projects also buy into the idea of communal dining. The Little Creatures brewery features long tables in a single dining area, while Glamp Grounds has park bench seats and long stretches of banquette seating – intended to reflect the communal campground experience. Dining out is trending away from being a private experience and more into becoming a shared and social experience.

“Restaurant design has become much more communal blurring the lines between a space to dine, work, and socialise, and as designers, we want to ensure that they spend more time in these spaces,” said MacEwen.