Better than it needs to be

A lot of people who contact me just want a new restaurant cheap or quick, and normally both.  They can rarely afford a designer, let alone the costs of building the design itself.

I politely decline to work on projects like these because I don’t find fulfillment in taking money for designs that I know will never get made, only frustration.  It’s really better for people on a budget or in a rush to save their money and make do without a designer.

Instead of design, they can create customer engagement with nothing but the power of their personalities. This works if they are outgoing, warm and generous but often traps them front of house full time.  No days off, ever, which is cool, if that’s what they want.  Some do.

What if we look at that restaurant another way though?

Instead of making it as cheap as possible and building it fast why not make it more generous, more fair, more responsive to its customers than it needs to be? Why not deliver the food and service with more flair, more care and more urgency?

Why not create a compelling message around good food and drink in a refreshing, comfortable and stimulating environment?

This builds a much stronger business with the right foundations for growth and expansion because it isn’t reliant on the charisma of just one person but instead on the power of its generous ethos, which is embodied in its design.  A design that can be repeated time and again and which can be managed by a team and not just one person.

Of course the type of people who create restaurants like this do it because they can, not because they have to. They invest the time and money it takes without fear.

I’m on board with people like that, every time!


13 Fruit Pies And Other Short Stories

Too Many Prawns

I had a delicious lunch in an Indian restaurant recently and then someone reminded me of this famous quotation . . .

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

This made me wonder if all 18 King Prawn dishes on the fish section the huge, multi-section menu were really necessary and why so many restaurant owners fall into the trap of thinking that offering their customers more options leads to greater profits.

18 Prawn Dishes In One Section of One Menu

18 Prawn Dishes In One Section of One Menu

The Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less,  is a book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety.  Here’s why: we humans are more afraid of making the wrong choice than we are of making no choice at all so when confronted with a large array of options we’ll most likely either buy the one we already know we like or we’ll buy nothing.

You might think that this means that you have to offer every customer a dish that they already like but that’s what leads to an unmanageable menu (perhaps with too many prawn dishes) to anxiety for your customers and to an inefficient business that’s difficult to manage.

The World’s First Business Computer

Most probably you’ve never heard of Lyons but chances are that if your grandparents are British they’ll remember them with affection.

In 1894 Lyons started as a teashop in Piccadilly, London and, from 1909, developed this into a vast nationwide chain of teashops known as Lyons' Corner Houses.  Lyons also ran high class restaurants and hotels. From the 1930s Lyons began to develop a pioneering range of teas, biscuits and cakes that were sold in grocery stores across the world.

Leo 1 - The World's First Business Computer

Leo 1 - The World's First Business Computer


After the second world war the top management of Lyons foresaw the need of new electrical computers for organising the distribution of cakes and other highly perishable products. Therefore, they helped finance the University of Cambridge's Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), built their own programmable digital computers and, in 1951, became the first business to use a computer. The Lyons Electronic Office, LEO 1, It handled the company's accounts and logistics.

Of course by today’s standards LEO 1 was slow and crude. It was also huge, taking a whole large room to create the computing power of a modern hearing aid.  Nevertheless, it enabled Lyons to analyse sales data in unprecedented detail.

13 Fruit Pies

When I was a small kid in London Lyons Individual Fruit Pies were a treat that we always took on family picnics in the country.  First introduced by Lyons in the 1930's, long before I was available to eat them, these square-shaped pies had fruit or fruit puree fillings and were individually boxed.

Eventually, and perhaps due to the analytical power of early computing, the individual pies were made in 13 different flavours:  apple, apricot, raspberry, rhubarb, gooseberry, mince, blackberry & apple, blackcurrant, cherry, orange, peach, pineapple, and lemon curd. Sometimes these flavours changed but as one was added another was taken away so that the total range only ever numbered 13 choices.

It turns out that 13 flavours are the optimal range of choice.  Jam manufacturers’ too found that any more choice than 13 options often leads to lower sales, not more.

Worth remembering then because the chances are that if you have fewer than 13 choices on your menu, your restaurant will do better, not worse.

How to Name Your New Cafe or Restaurant

Getting the right name for your new business can make or break it.  The right name can cut through competition clutter at launch and get your proposition in customer’s minds fast and for the right reasons.


The right name will pay in the long term too, by creating more recognition you’ll save on public relations, marketing and advertising forever.

Thing is many go about choosing names the wrong way.  Not long ago I had an email from someone wanting to launch a chain of restaurants starting in Dubai but spreading worldwide.  This is a laudable business objective. I receive similar proposals quite often.

A few weeks later I was copied in on a circular email from the same person with a questionnaire containing a list of new brand names.  The intention was to elicit feedback and choose a name based on popularity.

Surveys like this are next to useless since they are dependent on a poll of personal tastes, which are normally prejudiced by comfort and convention. When you ask people what they think they’ll most likely take it as an invitation to criticse and you’ll end up with a bad name that meets the least resistance.

To roll out fast a new offer has to be disruptive, unconventional and edgy.  People will often react against such edgy ideas in a survey but then adopt them in practice.

If Richard Branson had listened to others I doubt he’d have named his company Virgin. There are lots of similar examples.

So what’s the best way to choose a new brand name?  Surprisingly there’s more science to choosing names than there is art so you can adopt a sys-tematic process that almost guarantees success.

Wally Olins was probably the world’s foremost expert on branding.

Here is what he once wrote about naming a business

“Like symbols names are emotive. Creating and introducing a new name is difficult and complex for the following reasons:

First names have no real life or meaning until they are put into a context, so it is extremely difficult for the people going through the process to appreciate the power of the name until after the event.

Second, individual preferences and feelings are very important.

Third, a very large number of names are already registered and is it difficult to find ‘free’ names.”

I’ve found this to be very true so to help me guide people to choose good names I use the following criteria.  You can use them too.

A name should:

1.         Be easy to read and pronounce, preferably in any language

Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written?  A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant.

2.         Have no disagreeable associations

This is a common mistake so try to avoid negative words or connotations.  ‘Chock Shock’ would not be a good name for a chocolate bar.

3.         Be suitable for use as your outlets diversify into different activities

4.  If possible, relate to the offer.

The last two can be mutually exclusive.  McDonalds is a name that does not re-late to the activity of its outlets.  Pizza Hut is a name that does.  Pizza Hut could not easily sell burgers but McDonalds has sold pizzas; both are successful.  First, decide if you want to diversify your offer, if not don’t worry about 3 and concentrate on 4.  If you do want to diversify then you’ll need a neutral name that does not relate to your offer. Instead you can fulfil both criteria with a name that relates to the core values of your business. Try to come up with unique core values.  If the name would look as good or better on another type of business it does not relate enough to yours.

5.         Be registerable, or at least protectable

This is complex and can be slow.  Specialist lawyers will check the name register for a fee.  You should pay them to do this. In the UK you can check the register for free yourself at Many multinational organisations have banks of already protected names and if you inadvertently use one they may have the legal right to stop you and take your profits. At the very least you’ll pay a lot to fight them off.  Common words can’t be protected (but logos using them can be trademarked).

6.         Not date or go out of fashion

7.         Be idiosyncratic       

The last two tend to go hand in hand, be brave and be edgy!

8.         Be something with which a powerful visual style can be associated

Ask your designer to do some rough logos. If they need to add a lot of graphic frills to explain what your outlet does then I’d suggest you start over or get another designer.  Most of the best brands have simple logotypes without complex symbols.

9.         Have charisma

Ugly doesn’t sell, remember this if you invent new words or spellings too. 

A very few names will fit all these criteria but you’ll find that if you keep them short and they trip off the tongue then you’ll be on the right lines.


Anyone can come up with the right name but it may take a long time to arrive. The skill is in resisting the temptation to let time pressure force a poor choice early.

Don’t adopt a name that doesn’t meet all the criteria and don’t worry about who likes it. If you conduct a survey make sure you ask people to judge the name against the criteria and not on personal tastes. In fact if any of your friends like it’ll almost certainly be too conventional.



Spreads from a design guide for a new grill bar and restaurant with a powerful name and visual style