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Simon Hall, Simple Simon Design, on getting the most out of on-trade design

Published:  26 November, 2012

You can have the best chefs and the finest wines known to humanity, but you are not going to get people coming to your restaurant if it looks awful. Restaurant design is often overlooked as one of the key ingredients in a restaurant's success. Here we talk to Simon Hall, managing director of Simple Simon Design, who has projects on the go such as the River Cottage canteen Bristol, due to open next year, about what he sees as the key trends in restaurant design.

You can have the best chefs and the finest wines known to humanity, but you are not going to get people coming to your restaurant if it looks awful. Restaurant design is often overlooked as one of the key ingredients in a restaurant's success. Here we talk to Simon Hall, managing director of Simple Simon Design, who has projects on the go such as the River Cottage canteen Bristol, due to open next year, about what he sees as the key trends in restaurant design.

Simon Hall is clearly an optimist. He sees opporunities where many just see failures. Take the large number of pubs that have closed in recent months and years as the large pubcos look to cut back on their nationwide estates. For Hall this has meant the chance to work private investors and small multiple operators with the courage and imagination to reinvent them.

Simple Simon Design works across a spectrum of clients and currently sees an "incredibly polarised industry", which ranges from a cheap and cheeful carvery pub for a large pub company, to a 500 square metre top-end food and drink establishment for Bath Ales in the very heart of the West Country.


"The top end of the pub market continues to thrive, there are plenty of members of the public who have come through the recession unscathed and there is an ever-increasing number of good operators throughout the country offering a broad selection of beers and wines, great food from quality ingredients. These are served in comfortable and welcoming surroundings that meet or exceed our ever-increasing levels of taste and service expectation," says Hall.

However, he adds there is plenty of action at the budget end of the market, too. "With the growth of branded pub food chains such as the Sizzling Pubs, Flaming Grills and Hungry Horses, etc, which offer a cheap steak and chips or a roast meal at little more than the price of a pint. These venues have learnt that delivering a hot square meal to a repeatable standard can drive business, and although the margins are lower if the turnover is high enough, then the profits are still there for those prepared to roll up their sleeves."

The trickiest and most competitive part of the market, according to Hall, remains the middle ground, where USPs are harder to come by, and where it's ever more important to create the stand-out needed to survive. Hall anticipates this being a continuing trend for years to come.


In terms of design,  Hall says it is common for tastes to turn to the more traditional at times of austerity, and this latest recession has been no different. "In the current instance, much of the style palette has come from the industrial environment, with enamelled factory lamps, exposed galvanised trunking and bare brick walls, and this industrial reference is a new thing.

"Nonetheless, these industrial styles still remind us of our safe childhood homes, with mixed-up pieces of domestic furniture from across the ages, a range put together in a way that echoes our homes where quality pieces are bought rarely - and often decades apart - which creates the eclectic look so prevalent today."

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