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The Caterer

Reader Soapbox

01 July 2004
Reader Soapbox

I'm a hotelier, not a designer. Yet, day in, day out, I get sucked into a world of swatches, mood boards and mouldings, supported by futuristic prices and prehistoric delivery dates.

Across our industry, more and more hotels and restaurants succeed or fail by the way they look, rather than their pedigree or how they operate. When will we ever get back to concentrating on the true essence of our business - hospitality?

These days, everyone is vulnerable to the subjective critique of customers and staff alike. We kowtow to a world driven first and foremost by image.

Understandably, atmosphere, ambience - call it what you will - has for centuries been at the heart and soul of our business, but here in the UK we are, on the whole, pretty lousy at it.

Up and down the country, midmarket pubs, hotels and restaurants suffer by being drab, uninspiring and predictable. Often those who can't afford to employ a pure designer - or more to the point, those who can't find one - will end up dabbling in DIY, and overdosing on dados, nasty borders and architraves.

Independent owners and operators were generally not born to be designers, yet the moment a refurbishment opportunity arrives there's little option but to give it a go - and, my goodness, it shows.

Beware, however. Worse than your own design faux-pas is the danger of recruiting an architect-cum-designer. Of these, there are two types - deadly dull or extreme. The deadly dull are indeed deadly dull, while the extreme ones are often young and inexperienced, drafted in simply out of desperation by the client. They're given free rein to establish their newly acquired dominance with floating walls, cheap features and useless lighting systems that you can neither see by nor buy bulbs for.

They're eager to carve a name for themselves, but their focus is all too often "design without purpose". The key to success in designing, if you choose to do it alone, is to get a good team around you and go slowly.

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