While at the Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas this year, I had the opportunity to listen in on a conference session titled ‘Dining’s New Direction’ (Speakers: Alessandro Munge, Principal at Munge Leung, Ralph Gentile, Principal at Ralph Gentile Architects, Stephen Francis Jones, Principal at SF Jones Architects, Glen Coben, Principal/Founder of Glen & Co. Architecture).

With the recent completion of another restaurant, the issue of balancing design, service and food quality has been on the forefront of my mind, making this topic especially timely. The only aspect of this equilateral triangle that I am in charge of is the design.

The quality of food (for the amount charged) as well as the level of service (ideally exceeding expectations) are equally important, yet out of my control.

As a designer, I am charged with asking questions at the start to assist my client in defining what they want the experience of their restaurant to be. In the words of Glen Coben, “how can I collaborate my design to enhance the guests’ experience while reinforcing the client’s core values?”


In understanding and reinforcing the client’s core values, the question of being trendy often comes up. The conference speakers all touched on what trends mean to them and their design.

One of the architects, Ralph Gentile, even stated that “not all trends matter” and that we should “find our own insights while looking for inspiration, promise and realization.”

The foremost concern for a designer is developing a concept to drive the entire project and client goals toward success.


Speaker Alessandro Munge develops his ‘story’ for each venue by visiting locales and incorporating authentic elements or artisans into the design concept. These tangibly connect the guest to their experience, which may be different each and every time they come to the particular restaurant, bar, lounge, etc.

When creating brand design, understanding the demographics of the client’s target markets and where they can advertise themselves to bring in those guests is key to the concept being successful. It is important to remember that bigger doesn’t always mean better. As stated by Glen Coben, the goal should be to “register in a meaningful way with the guest.”

The ultimate goal is to achieve a trend of success for our clients. Repeat clients speak volumes more than lists of individual design projects.


As a designer at WORTHGROUP Architects & Designers, it is my personal mantra not to design to the current trends, but rather to morph concepts into what’s next.

This is not to say that all trends should be overlooked, particularly when it comes to products that can enhance guest experiences. Discovering new materials that are ‘cutting edge’ can visually add sophistication and layers to communicate the story behind the design.

Suggestions can be offered to the client on how to use different technology to actively adjust spaces in real time to create positive experiences. Loud noise levels due to open kitchens, hard surfaces and lively conversations can be controlled with an app and turned into white noise that fades into the background rather than turns away guests.

Trends should be a tool, not a decision-maker.


Trends in social media certainly can’t be overlooked.

As we all know, social media and its forums communicate one guests’ experience (out of five possible stars on Yelp, for example) faster than that of a published food critic. While lacking the prestigious backgrounds, these comments are not to be ignored as they readily show up in potential guest search results.

It’s time to accept that social media is a trend that is here to stay. Social media has a tangible impact on the design world. It’s time we made social media a more integral part of the design process.


In today’s social media-driven environment, there are a plethora of forums to use as a means for getting client input on their time, not just during business hours.

In his presentation, Glen Coben shared his new method of collaborating with clients during the schematic design phase. He used the example of a private Pinterest board that he shared with the client and chef on one of his projects. By the next day, the chef had pinned over 200 items with comments about what he liked and didn’t like; a picture worth a thousand words, indeed.

How have we NOT already incorporated social media to make client communication easier and more direct? It can be used in conjunction with other methods in our toolbox, enhancing the efficiency of GoTo Meetings, Skype, FaceTime, and in-person interactions.

Just as design presentation methods have evolved from watercolor renderings to 3D computer renderings with technology, so must design communication methods evolve to keep with the times.

Social media is a tool that can be harnessed by designers and clients throughout the design process, creating more interactive communication and concept execution. The beauty in using these techniques is that they allow communication to be done on everyone’s own schedule and when their creative juices are flowing best, be that 3PM or 3AM.


Each speaker had different perspectives on what ‘Design’s New Direction’ might be. Topics such as brand designauthentic design, the evolution of visual design concepts, and ‘words of wisdom’ to keep us going were also explored. Some of these thoughts rang true with what I work on every day. Many of them sparked conversations and provided new ideas to explore.

Our goal is to demonstrate to our clients that we can be curious and inquisitive, passionate and zealous, engaged and involved, resourceful and imaginative. By doing this, we open doors for artfully developed concepts, repeat clients and overall successful projects.

We can utilize the power of social media as a design tool and use modern material advances to achieve client experiential goals. The goal is to keep projects current but never trendy; fresh and timeless.

The issue of balancing restaurant design, service and food quality can benefit from many aspects of new technology. When design is complete, the other two legs can stand strongly, reinforcing client goals in a positive guest experience.

All of this is possible through asking the right questions from the start.