Calgary restaurants focusing on design and architecture
Published on: February 6, 2015 Last Updated: February 6, 2015 1:36 PM MST
From left to right, Kelly Morrison, Kristen Lien and Kate Allen of RAD Architecture in Calgary. Photo by Nathan Elson.
Nathan Elson / Calgary Herald
With restaurant and bar sales at record levels in Alberta, it’s not a surprise that owners in the city are increasingly investing a lot of time and money in the design and look of their establishments these days.
And Calgary’s RAD Architecture, which began in 2009, has been at the forefront in creating the ambience and atmosphere to enhance the menu selection and customer experience at dining and drinking venues throughout the city.
“It really depends on the concept that the client brings to the table,” said Kelly Morrison, who owns the company with Kristen Lien and Kate Allen. “They’re all different concepts which is great. A lot of fun. So we work with them to execute it. We learn what they’re trying to do with the food concept and the overall feel of the space, the experience they want and then we tie that into design. And we work very closely with them.”
Since the company first started in 2009, it has completed and opened 24 establishments in the city, said Lien, adding that currently it has 26 other projects on the go from the design to the construction stage. Most the projects have taken place since 2012.
“I feel the trend is more toward these privately-owned boutique spaces where people are looking for a memorable experience that kind of punctuates their every day life. So that’s what we strive to create is these experiences that are unique and that stand out,” said Allen.
They’ve worked on establishments from 1,000 square feet to more than 10,000 square feet.
The restaurant industry in Calgary is flourishing. No wonder when you look at the statistics. Alberta restaurant and bar receipts hit a record high of $745 million in November, up six per cent from the previous year. With that many people opening their wallets in discretionary spending, it’s no surprise that many new restaurants keep opening up in the city.
Food, customer service and atmosphere are the three key elements in whether or not a restaurant survives, particularly in such a competitive environment that has developed in Calgary.
John Gilchrist, well-known city restaurant reviewer who has been to many establishments here and elsewhere, said the most prevalent thing now is that modernist, sleek, hard-surfaced, whatever the building gives you kind of look. If it’s an old building, you expose the brick and the sandstone.
“It’s huge,” said Gilchrist of a restaurant’s design. “I guess it’s somewhat like household design in that anything goes as long as you do it with panache kind of thing.
“What you see a lot of, of course, right now is hard surfaces. What we see a lot here is kind of a West Coast, light industrial look that’s championed by
places like Earl’s with the hanging Edison lamps and lot of exposed brick work, exposed duct work. It sets the tone. It lets people know what level is this at. Is it casual? Is it family? Is it high tone? What exactly is the level here and it helps identify the tone of the food too. It really conveys the tone of the food and sets the tone for the experience that you’re going to have.”
Jon Molyneux, vice-president of operations with the Concorde Entertainment Group, which has 16 restaurants/bars in the city with brands such as the the National Beer Hall, Double Zero Pizza, Model Milk, and Clive Burger, said RAD Architecture has worked on the majority of the company’s establishments in the past four years.
“I think (design is) every bit as important as everything else that we do from the moment that we first sit down and start conceptualizing a new project to the actual completion and opening – trying to create the atmosphere and mood that really captures the essence of the concept is extremely important to us,” said Molyneux.
“And I think Calgary is growing up right before our eyes when it comes to the design we’re seeing in restaurants and bars. I believe that Calgarians are more well-travelled and have seen what’s happening in other larger markets and it’s great to see some of that influence finding its way back to Calgary.”
He said achieving the perfect mood and atmosphere for the concept has become very important to a lot of restaurant owners.
Donna Dooher, interim president and chief executive for Restaurants Canada who has also owned restaurants, said thoughtful design work for establishments is imperative these days.
“The design is very important and ultimately it speaks to your brand whether you be a quick service environment or a fine dining establishment. You walk in the door and right away there’s a lasting impression that’s going to be made by your customers. So the decor is very important,” she said.
“Restaurants, dining establishments, even take-away food counters, they’re all becoming an extension of our own personal space. A big part of the design element has to be functionality of the environment to ensure that it delivers that seamless experience to the guest.”
Debi Andrus, assistant professor of marketing with the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, said people want to have an experience today when they go out spending their money for dinner.
“For restaurants, this is becoming more and more important. Ambience has always been something that people paid attention to. If you’re going into a deli versus a high-end restaurant you have different expectations. The competition has changed a little bit. Consumers’ expectations on what they are willing to spend money has changed. So ambience and design is really, really important. We’re talking about the lighting. How comfortable it is,” said Andrus.
“If a person is comfortable. The lighting. The design. The decor. The colours. These are all becoming very, very important to enhance the menu.”