Ten Rules for Refurbishing
Hasty redesigns can trash a business What follows is essential reading for operators planning to renovate.
1. Use professionals
Work with people you want to work with. Clashes of any kind, whether theoretical, practical or personal will damage the process. Look at the work that team members have done previously. Talk to their clients. Understand what their strengths, beliefs and abilities are and ensure that these marry with your requirements. There is a great deal of trust involved as all refurbishments are in some way one-offs. No-one has refurbished your venue this particular way before and the clear and effective communication of all elements of the project throughout the process relies on all parties understanding common goals.
Use professionals and bring them in early to resolve issues before they become a problem. Bad advice is worse than no advice. We have been called in many times to rescue projects that have gone to site without having basic necessities and strong opportunities considered. Having the refurbishment’s construction stopped while corrective surgery is put in place costs time, money and lost trading.
2. Know your market
Every venue has a particular existing client base and mixes of various age groups, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, likes and persuasions. Every venue also has opportunities to attract new clientele, especially due to shifting demographics.
Knowing your existing and potential clientele and their needs and desires is essential in beginning the design process. There’s no point in designing the grooviest bar in the area if it doesn’t suit your market. Likewise there is no point not designing the grooviest bar in the area if your market will only come if they’re provided with the right environment to be seen in.
If you know who your market is and what they’re looking for, then the refurbishment can be designed and built to satisfy a specific list of aims and objectives. Taking the mystery out of working out what to do with your venue and working to goals gives your venue the best chance of success.
3. Divide and conquer
Make sure you understand the break-up within your market. Understanding the times and reasons they come to your venue are essential to keeping every punter happy. No one environment will be likely to satisfy everyone at all times.
There should be a range of different environments within the one venue that any one of your groups can call their own, not just the one look and feel throughout. Give different spaces their own character with colour schemes, lighting, furniture and ceiling heights that vary from the next. Consider operable walls between rooms, so that different groups can be kept apart at times when they need to be. You’ll be able to keep the rowdy pool tables crowd happy in their hide-away, while the family dines next door.
These spaces should have the opportunity to change their character over the course of the day and night, giving every square metre the maximum use. For example, use dimmable lighting, drapes and moveable furniture to change a TAB area to a happening cocktail lounge with the flick of a switch, a quick pull of a curtain over the windows and changing the images on the monitors to the latest music videos or video art.
4. Exploit your venue’s character
In a highly competitive marketplace, what will ensure success is giving your patrons an experience they want that they cannot get anywhere else. It is a matter of concentrating on what makes your venue different, not on what’s better than the competition. It’s all well and good having cheaper beer, more comfortable chairs and a bigger space, but it if your venue is the only one in the area where you could open up your front bar to the street and give somewhere for people to sit and people-watch, then make sure this is exploited.
Every venue has its own natural personality, core strengths and character that once identified consciously can be used effectively to drive the entire refurbishment.
5. Reinforce an identity
It is imperative that a comprehensive identity for the venue is established and reinforced wherever you have the attention of your patrons. This includes the exterior, the interior, logo and branding, signage, uniforms, flyers and promotion of all kinds. Consider your venue as a brand that needs to be sold. Identify the strengths of your venue and what sets it apart from the competition and sell it.
Get a logo designed that communicates the look and feel of the venue. Select colours and finishes that are sympathetic to the graphic identity and use them throughout the fit-out. Pull the biggest punch from your refurbishment budget through reinforcement.
You might have a venue with a heritage based upon the local railway station. Re-brand the logo with a font or letter style inspired by the railways. Use heritage colours in locomotive grey-greens, reds and steel blues. Give an industrial air to the venue with robust shapes and strong lines. Without needing to resort to literal theming, your venue will be unique and memorable whilst unmistakably reinforcing strengths of the local area. Isn’t that what a local is all about?
6. Give customers something to do
Licensed venues are first and foremost entertainment venues, in that they’re somewhere to go for something to do. A pretty room with a bar in it is not enough reason to stay unless there’s a focus on an activity that happens there.
If there’s no view then provide a view with an exciting and visually interesting interior. Add colour and movement with TVs and open the room out to an area with movement of people. Consider serving food to previously food-free areas. Set the big screen up with chairs arranged theatre-style in front to mimic the excitement of being at the game. Build in a feature that has events of its own. Nothing like feeding time at the shark tank to get the room excited.
7. Check rules and regulations
There are a multitude of authorities that have a say in what is permissible or not in all refurbishments. Local councils, a variety of government departments, Australian Standards, fire departments and Police among others all have the power to approve or not approve your refurbishment at any stage of the process, including once the venue has been opened. Make sure you allow enough time and get professional advice to keep your operation on track.
8. Strive for a workable space
Operational efficiency is a must to ensure owners, managers and staff are able to service the patrons in the most effective way. Pulling the back of house functions into a central service core is an easy way to allow for staffing numbers to be cut back at quiet hours, whilst ensuring no patron is left waiting at the bar. This also cuts down the distances required for re-stocking and allows for tighter security.
Keep service corridors to a minimum. Every square metre is valuable and so is every extra step your staff need to make to get around and do their job. Position bars so that they straddle two or more rooms, especially where there is a cashier or TAB function required. Rear-stocked fridges from a cool room increase efficiency of stocking. Design the bar layout with no more than two steps required to complete a sale. Make sure the wash up area is easily accessible without having to traverse the bar service area.
Consider all aspects of the operation, from delivery to cleaning. Provide ample storage rooms without needing to go up steps. Ensure the music and lighting is programmed to achieve the desired effects without your staff randomly changing the ambience to suit their taste. Every detail should reinforce the overall experience.
Provide flexibility in layout so that staggered opening and closing of rooms is possible. Operable walls are ideal to do this. Simply close off or open the area as required without any potential security or staffing issues.
9. Ensure good traffic flow
Wherever possible, we strive to provide the ability for patrons to do laps of the venue. When able to go around the venue in a constant path of travel without dead-ends, patrons discover more of the venue and never face the embarrassment of walking into a room only to discover they have to turn and retreat back the way they came. Essential for nightclubs and other more socially active spaces where looking good and looking at who’s around are a strong focus of the entertainment, this traffic plan holds true for all parts of the venue.
10. Consider staying open
Even if you wish to re-launch your venue with a bang, it may be more effective to stage the refurbishment over time, particularly if you have a strong and loyal following. If only parts of the venue are out of service at the one time your existing clientele can be retained by moving them from one end of the venue to the other as the rooms are completed. This also gives them a constant stream of entertainment from watching the refurbishment and involvement in the process as they see it happening around them. Consider also having soft openings (without any fanfare)to allow the venue to be road tested before advertised ensuring all the small issues are ironed out.
By Stefan Elliott
Stefan Elliott B.Arch MDIA is principal of Swerve Design and a councillor for the Design Institute of Australia.