Full Plate-ZWA serves up design solutions

For cities like Chicago, hotel restaurants not only serve guests of the property, but also the locals and tourists staying at other locations. They can become the “It” place to be seen for locals, or the dining establishment that everyone visiting the city must try.

Design firms creating a hotel restaurant, or renovating one, have the task of not only constructing something that will attract the most customers, but also follows the hotel operator’s vision. And, it all has to be done under a set budget.

Zimmerman Weintraub Associates LLC (ZWA), a hybrid project management and design firm based in Chicago, has plenty of experience working with owners to create the restaurant that works best for the property. Recent projects include renovations of The Kensington Hotel in Ann Arbor, MI; InterContinental Chicago; Fairmont Chicago; and the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley.

Like any firm designing or renovating a hotel restaurant, ZWA faced some challenges earlier this year when renovating the Copper Fox Gastropub locations at two local properties, Courtyard Chicago Downtown/Magnificent Mile and Chicago Marriott Midway.

“In a fast-paced world of ever-changing personal demands, people find the sensory experience and spirit of discovery related to dining a vital ingredient to maintaining work/life balance,” said Dan Hennessy, head of corporate strategy & growth, ZWA. “To fully deliver on this expectation while creating an experience-driven, unique design for two similarly rebranded hotel restaurants, Copper Fox, held special challenges that allowed us the opportunity to refine and improve upon original plans. Both restaurant locations were visually blocked from the lobby by walls, which created a lack of connectivity and visibility to the guests. At the Courtyard Chicago Downtown location on Michigan Ave., a massive air duct serving the lower level meeting spaces was located inside this wall and had to be integrated into the ultimate solution.”

He continued, “Additionally, the budget couldn’t accommodate major changes to the primary utilities of the space, so existing bar and kitchen functions and locations needed to also be incorporated into the design. Ultimately, ZWA aligned the vision of ownership and management with the budget to deliver cost-effective solutions.”

Hennessy pointed out that there are challenges that designers face with every restaurant project, especially when the eatery is for a branded hotel.

“Understanding the nuances that separate the hotel guest from the dining guest, and then creating a design concept that will fully liberate the restaurant guest from the hotel connection while maintaining a symbiotic relationship between the two is critical,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges unique to hotel restaurant design is achieving the required space flexibility to address the broader range of offerings that a hotel provides to a much more diverse clientele than at a typical freestanding restaurant.

“For branded properties, maintaining a balance between ownership’s vision and brand guidelines is a very complex technique requiring skillful negotiations and thoughtful applications of brand knowledge,” he continued. “Having a well-established budget and scope prior to commencement of design is mission-critical to sharpen design priorities and to avoid surprises later in the process. This is where design connects to project management.”

Hennessy provided some solutions to those challenges:

• Utilize a shared menu and graphic identity across multiple properties and brands while creating unique interior designs for the locations. This allows greater operational flexibility and savings for ownership while remaining true to creating a local sense of place and allowing the design to cater to the customer base at each location.

• Provide a variety of seating types and spaces to foster flexibility for the diverse clientele of a typical hotel restaurant, complete with communal experiences, as well as private and semi-private dining options.  

• Break down barriers between the typical lobby and restaurant wherever possible to create a dynamic F&B experience which increases both venue visibility and restaurant revenue. 

• Educate and familiarize yourself with a brand’s aspirational goals. This is critical in order to guide the ownership’s vision in alignment with these objectives. Early discussions and team building between all groups is highly important in creating a successful design. A sound business strategy grounded in customer knowledge and project management execution will set your restaurant project on the right path. 

• Create a beautiful, sensory-driven experience that connects with guests on a visceral level. This will ring true and authentic, offering a path that they feel compelled to explore.

Trends in hotel restaurant design are constantly evolving, and Hennessy pointed to a few he has noticed of late.

“As designers, we endeavor to identify and apply sensory elements that will deliver this promise. Greenery, decorative plants and living walls will continue to be applied as we draw the connection between natural features and health and wellness,” he said. “More restaurants are growing their own herbs and vegetables, and rooftop gardens are functioning as the delivery system for these products as well as a connective space where a restaurant guest may pick the vegetables to be used in their gourmet salad.”

He continued, “Technology will continue to impact design, particularly as it relates to lighting. Restaurants will have enhanced control over lighting characteristics, being able to control individual lamps in any area of the space, changing color, dimming and turning them on and off.  Lighting fixtures will also evolve and will feature art-inspired designs to create unique, never before seen elements. And, lastly, less truly is more as identity will be defined by the intricacies of fine details over the abundance of visual cues.”

Hennessy concluded by explaining what designers want to get out of their projects, as well as what restaurant guests are expecting out of their dining establishment. “While convenience, efficiency and speed continue to shape our daily lives, particularly around work/life productivity, a counterbalance to this rigid, formulaic requirement is a need to connect on a visceral level to people, place and things,” he said. “We want to experience and feel the newest gastropub or recently opened night-spot. We crave the unpredictable, and we want to be pleasantly surprised. Discovery empowers our enlightenment, becoming germane to our humanity.”HB