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!


But What if it Works?

Getting Your Restaurant Off The Ground

Several times in my career I’ve experienced restaurant projects that I just can’t get off the ground.  This has always been down to clients who keep changing their minds about the design and putting the launch date back, mostly for flimsy reasons. I even had one small project that went on in an endless spiral of unnecessary design revisions and self-imposed setbacks for 8 years.  In the end I had to remove myself politely because I couldn’t live with the frustration and disappointment.

This typically happens between couples or businesses run by families or committees who are not comfortable together.  I’ve noticed that they seem to appoint advisors as relationship counselors or mediators instead of facing up to their own internal differences.

The Indecisive end up wasting huge sums on drawings and designs that never get implemented.  So, whilst consultants like me get paid, the wasted effort is too big a drain on our creativity.

The strange thing is that it's always my best ideas that get squashed so I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is not fear of failure but fear of success.

Because if the design works, things are going to change and, although I embrace it, not everyone else is ready.  Some prefer the idea to the reality.

Asteroid Impact

I think that the answer is to set a clear timetable and agree the launch date up-front.  You can then set deadlines after which decisions made can only be changed in exceptional circumstances - asteroid impact for example.

Get everyone to buy in and then launch.  Ready or not.

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


Beware The Restaurant That No-One Else Wants

This is a Mistake Novices Sometimes Make.

In most regions chain operators know when a viable property becomes available and landlords often have their pick of desirable tenants

It may not be safe to assume you've been lucky finding a property no-one else has snapped up first. Chances are it's not what it seems. It may be too small to be viable or run down and too costly to refurbish or it may be located where their aren't enough customers

Independent operators who know what they're doing can sometimes earn a good living from properties the chains don't want to manage but it's important to know why the big operators turned it down before you take it on

And that you do the sums to make sure you can get the profits you need pay back your investment

Even if you make a success you're still vulnerable to a chain opening near and benefiting from the market you built up

Please take care. I've seen this go wrong and it has devastating effects