Found your USP? Now find your TLC

Time and again I read the same tired advice about USPs. “Find your Unique Selling Point and your troubles are over, your business will grow, you’re on your way to world domination.”

Easy, except it isn’t because in food you almost certainly won’t find a new USP. Chances are that at best what you’ll find is a common selling point, with a novel twist.

However, thankfully there are two reasons why you don’t need to concern yourself about your USP:

First and most obviously, because most people don’t want something unique most of the time, they just want that novel twist, and,

second and most importantly, because the world moved on from USPs way back.

How The World Moved On

USPs have been part of the mantra of sales training since the 1940’s and are lame business advice trotted out by sales trainers and business gurus who haven’t understood how during the same period branding, originally an ancient intuitive art, became scientific and omnipotent.  Branding came about mainly through the work of extremely far-sighted and talented graphic designers whose brilliance still remains widely misunderstood and unappreciated, perhaps because non-designers find it hard to perceive how much effort great design takes.

Branding seeks to differentiate by attaching a calculated set of emotional core values to a name, behavior manual, logo and visual style.  Branded organizations and products convey consistent messages and create value added desire even when there’s often no added value (although they work best where there is). Whole categories of goods with little or no intrinsic merit are built on nothing but branding: energy drinks and bottled mineral water are examples, so are expensive running shoes that aren’t used for running. These items have no USPs, they have common selling points with emotions attached. I’m not going to name names but I am sure you can think of many more.

Are Your Labels on The Outside?

Branding can be used for good or bad objectives but either way it is a highly manipulative tool. It’s mainly used to add shareholder value to common products.  We see that some brand names are worth squillions yet many branded products are unhealthy or consume unsustainable resources and exist only to appeal to our fragile personal vanities.

As a result, many people are starting to see through brands and there are early signs that branding is losing trust. A counter-branding, no-logo, culture has begun to emerge.

I predict that people from the future will look back at our times and wonder why we all wore the labels of our clothes on the outside instead of the inside. They won’t get taken in as easily as us, they’ll look for more than shallow branding.

What’s next?

So if people don’t want USPs and they can see through brands what do they want?

That’s easy: they want sincere, generous and personal products and services, made just for them.

Dale Carnegie pointed the way back at the beginning of the last century.  In 1936 Carnegie wrote a famous book called How To Win Friends and Influence People, it’s still in print today and now we’re becoming social it’s more relevant than ever.  It’s a long book full of many examples but two of its points are:

Never talk about yourself, talk about the other person, because people only like to talk about themselves, and,

everybody likes to feel important.

You can test this for yourself next time you meet someone new. Simply ask them a few questions, listen and see what happens.

The Speed of Light

The internet has given all of us a means to talk to one another person to person.  So businesses can now communicate with every individual customer socially one on one.  Much more importantly, according to Dale Carnegie, individual business people can listen to their customers and in doing so make them feel important. 

So you (not your PR consultant) can find out what interests to each of your customers and you can engage with them sincerely and personally.  Your customers can share their insights with you and their friends and you can get accurate, honest feedback all for next to no cost except a little time. In other words, you can build genuine sincere engagement with your customers. At the speed of light. How much is this worth to your business?

Not much success will come from special offers, display ads or other trite mass-appeal techniques from the past. These old-school advertising methods come from the days when big companies made average products for average people and pushed them by interrupting huge television audiences, who had far fewer channels to watch, with mass advertising. People are resistant to these old, crude and insincere sales methods. They do not sit well in modern social communications because they are accurately viewed with skepticism.

Such techniques have simply become obnoxious old-fashioned mass advertising clutter in your modern customer’s feeds and inboxes, just like all the obnoxious clutter in yours that you ignore too.

Be social

Social media is about being social so I recommend you don’t do or say anything on line that you wouldn’t during any other sort of social gathering. Jamming up other people’s minds with selfish demands for attention is always a turn off and what you post on line stays there, forever as far as we can predict.

Instead go ahead make people feel important by asking questions and listening to their answers. Give away tip and recipes and engage with them personally using any other sincere and generous methods you can think of. You can do this in your restaurant and cafe too, without the internet, in person, face to face.

Imagine how powerful it would be for the CEO of McDonald's to start communicating, naturally and generously with his customers. Maybe that can never happen, but managers can be empowered and it can most certainly happen in your business, today.

Showing your customers some TLC might not make you unique but it will make you loved.

And if you want my help to find some TLC with a novel twist I’d love to hear from you.

Your New Restaurant Isn't About You

I’ve noticed a pattern.

Start up restaurants and coffee bars created by novices nearly always fail.

Start ups restaurants and coffee bars opened by experts nearly always make a lot of money.

Doh! That's old news.

Authentic Engagement

You'd expect me to claim that this is because novices never have enough money for good designs but I’m not going to make that claim.  I think the reason is bigger and to do with creating authentic engagement with customers.  You may think this is obvious but I find it isn’t at all obvious to most people who I consult with.  It’s only obvious to expert restaurateurs, many of who learned hard by failing first when they were novices.  Newbie business owners nearly always get this the wrong way around; they think their restaurant is about them and that they’re important. They may want name it after themselves or their children or a place they've been to and build their format up around their personal experiences and world view.

It's Not About You

If you're thinking of starting a new restaurant please consider that success in food is rarely about what you like, it’s about what engages others, who most likely don’t have the same tastes and experiences as you (or me).  Telling customers what you like by using design or any other means of communication is the hard slog route to qualified success at best. Customers don’t care about your personal passion and they don’t care how this makes you feel. It’s not comfortable but it’s true. (I'm just the messenger here.)

Customers want you to be passionate about what they want.

Groundhog Day

Novice restaurant owners I’ve known who think it’s about them normally find it takes their business a while to take off or that they fail altogether.  Those who make it through to break even and profits then hold up their inward looking method as being successful, which it is for them, so long as they overlook working all those long hours making losses whilst they wait for their customers to understand them.  Just like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Instant Profits

But we see that successful restaurateurs, and all the chain brands, get instant recognition and profits after every new opening by giving customers what they like, which is not always the very best food but a combination of experiences encapsulating reliable food, well-trained service and a pleasant and stimulating environment, all with well-directed novelty.

If you get this right you can get an instantly profitable, happy restaurant right from the get go. I’ve seen this happen many times.  These days word spreads fast via social media so there's no reason you can't do the same.

I'd love to help.

The Best Designers Have The Best Spreadsheets

I was just talking to a new client explaining that as soon as I’ve done some initial layout drawings I’ll be able to start entering data in a spreadsheet I’ve developed (with a banking expert and accountant) so that we can begin to produce financial models, which I’ll use to advise how best to maximise the returns he can get from his recently purchased space.

He seemed surprised that a designer could do maths or would use spreadsheets.

Strange that because, other than guesswork, I don’t know how else it can be done.


Taking it To Starbucks

Here’s the thing, Starbucks coffee doesn’t taste proper. It’s a sugared-up confection designed by experts to addict you, served in recyclable cups that never get recycled.

Same for all the other big chains.

That’s why I keep hearing from small people who reckon they’re going to beat up Starbucks by opening up an independent shop that sells proper coffee. Or tea. In no time they’ll have a worldwide chain. They don’t have any money this time round, they’ll pay me next time instead, when they’ll be billionaires, obviously.

I get this most weeks. I think it’s naive. If customers wanted proper coffee, then Starbucks would make it that way. It’s not hard and they can afford it. If you prove them wrong and open a successful shop, they’ll open up next door and beat you up instead.

What customers want is a nice place to sit and meet friends socially. Or surf the social web. The coffee’s a sideshow. None of the novices who contact me have the money to create better spaces than Starbucks.

So I reckon that if you want to take on Starbucks (Or Costa, McCafe, Nero, whatever) you need a better idea to start with.

My suggestion is that you consider something with better ethics as well as being a nice place to sit. I reckon the big chains are vulnerable to opinion swinging against them as we become more educated about good nutrition and sustainability. They’re in danger of dinosaur behavior, unable to adapt fast due to their size.

It’s a long game though and not one for Mom and Pop operators. Better for someone with deep pockets and sincerity.

I’m on board if you want. Please send feedback. Thanks

Ugly Doesn't Sell

Everyone knows that ugly things don't sell. I'd love to hear from you if you know of an ugly food outlet that failed because the owners didn't spend enough on design.

If you can send me photos that will be brilliant! It's my life's mission to help people launch successful businesses by using great design and to stop people who don't take design seriously enough from risking their life savings.

Please let me know of any more examples


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


Do's And Dont's of Facebook for Small Restaurants

It’s possible to build a strong business with committed customers using nothing but Facebook for marketing. I know because I’ve done it and it’s easy.

In my view new food outlets should try this as their first priority because Facebook allows you to focus on exactly the right customers effectively and speak to them socially whilst they are relaxed and open to your approach.

Facebook is especially suited to small traders who can be genuinely sincere.  This is harder for the PR departments of bigger chains to get right since it's all about creating authentic engagement and not about polished corporate messages.


Do and Dont's


Do Gather lots of great photos showing your restaurant and people having a great time. (Learn how to use your camera properly, you can improve your skills fast if you read a book on simple technique.)

Do learn how to use and target paid for Facebook boosts (this is easy)

Do post at least once a day with generous, sincere content.

Do always be on the lookout for interesting things to post

Do use concise, friendly language without business jargon

Don’t reveal any problems you have in your business

Don’t use Facebook to advertise for staff or whinge ever. It shows weakness

Don’t reply to negative comments unless you’re ready to be contrite. If they’re genuinely malicious (perhaps left by jealous competitors) other users will know and they will not hold them against you or you can delete them silently

Don’t use Facebook to post special offers and promotions. People don’t want to be sold when they’re being social. It’s a big turn off

Do use Facebook to post free recipes or other generous, sincere ideas for others to share with their friends, this will grow your audience fast

Don’t be puerile or childish

Don't use expletives

Do be scrupulously polite, especially in the face or criticism

Do be fun and interesting (hint — people aren’t interested in you, they’re interested in themselves so give them something they'll appreciate)

Don’t only post in order to get something back. Give generously and you will receive

Don’t take credit for things that go well or for positive comments. Just say thank you for the privilege of serving such nice customers

Do tell everyone you’re having fun

Don’t post when you’re in a bad mood

Do post when you’re in a good mood

Do remember that the most valuable part of Facebook is the attention you get and the permission it gives you to speak with your customers so that they tell their friends.  This permission is a true gift and you’ll find it can be remarkably powerful

You can start to do all this long before you open the doors of your new restaurant so what are you waiting for?

Growing Prize Potatoes

I was just checking this year’s first crop of potatoes, which are growing strongly in pots in my greenhouse.  

I only ever grow one potato in each pot since I’ve found from previous years that if I plant more I don’t get a better crop. I just get lots of small potatoes that are hard to clean.

Trying to grow potatoes and tomatoes in the same pot leads to complete disaster.

This reminded me of a conversation I often have with restaurant and coffee shop owners who aren’t doing so well. Their usual solution is to ask me to design ways to add more services, perhaps so they can open at breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. Sometimes they want want to add ever more dishes to the menu.  I’ve never known any of these things transform a struggling business. This is because customers won’t believe that they can be good at lots of different things all at the same time.

Famous For One Thing

I think this is worth repeating another way.  It’s not possible to be famous for doing lots of things averagely, it’s only possible to be famous for being the best at something.

So mainly, what I find when I'm asked to help failing restaurants is that they got left behind and would be better fixing the problems with what they already do instead of making more work.  Mostly, they’re best advised to reduce their menus and improve their focus.

I once knew a posh chocolate shop owner who, in a failed attempt to improve his business, which was doing just fine anyhow, started selling sandwiches at lunch.  The sandwiches sold well but his customers no longer understood his story and they stopped buying chocolate, which was his most profitable line.  He went bust.

You may argue that there are exceptions.  You’ll say. “what about McDonalds?” The world’s biggest restaurateurs or Weatherspoon’s, who own pubs everywhere and open all day.  My answer is that McDonalds are famous for being fast and Weatherspoon’s are famous for being cheap.  These are believable, focused stories managed in microscopic detail by experts.

So, if you’re ever tempted to add more products or services to your business make sure to remember that you can only get one good crop from your pot.

Is Your Logo Worth The Price of a Car?

I always have difficulty convincing clients to spend money on logos but good ones do take skill and time to produce and then have to be developed into a consistent visual style across a huge range of items and merchandise.

Many years ago on hearing me whinge about this a client of mine said that he had to sell snails in garlic and I should count myself lucky.  I'm not so sure.  More than two decades on his restaurant is still using the logo I designed so I reckon it was good value.

One of my current favourite design books is Meta Skills by Mart Neumeier.

Here's a link

Here's what Marty says about what a logo is worth

"A logo is not a brand. But is it valuable? Probably more than most companies realize. A logo (let's call it a combination of a name and graphic treat­ment) has the ability to compress the purpose, personality, and uniqueness of a brand into an elegant, meaningful symbol. This symbol, if con­ceived well, can be unpacked by customers in ways that are hugely valuable to the company over many years.

How much should the company pay for a logo? About as much as a car, as it turns out. Think about the logo as a company car for brand mean­ing. You can buy a car for $500. It may be an eye­sore, but it'll get you from A to B if you're lucky.

At the other end of the spectrum, you could pay up to $500,000 for a uniquely designed beauty with impeccable engineering. It'll strike awe into the hearts of onlookers, and perform well for a good 25 years or more. Realistically, however, the right symbol for most companies will be in the S20,000 to $75,000 range, depending on their prospects. Is your brand symbol worth the price of a car? What kind?"


How Much Will Your Restaurant or Cafe Cost?


It's Never Cheap

Refurbishing a cafe, bar or restaurant is never cheap. Restaurants and night clubs in particular can require very large investments. This is partly because of the need to keep up with your competition and partly to comply with all the rules and regulations that are getting more stringent every year. Also most good building and shop fitting firms are very busy and their prices reflect this. If you can find a builder who can act quickly and seems cheap then it is likely that they are not very good.Most good contractors are booked well ahead.

It is impossible to say exactly how much your project will cost without preparing a design and having it properly priced. The only way to obtain an approximation is to find out what other similar, recent projects have cost, perhaps by asking a Quantity Surveyor. You may have been given a rough price or estimate. I advise you to be cautious of this unless it is based on project-specific drawings and has been prepared by an independent expert Quantity Surveyor.

I am often contacted by people who have engaged builders on flimsy agreements only to find that the price agreed did not cover even half of the work eventually needed. Many of these unfortunate people ran out of money before they got open and lost everything.

OK, but what are some rough costs?

Bearing in mind what I have written above, here are some very rough example costs for complete refurbishments based on UK prices.

  • A small cafe or wine bar of 20-50 covers started from scratch with new equipment will often cost about £150,000 to £300,000.


  • A small restaurant of 50-70 covers, requiring an internal refurbishment but with an existing kitchen will often cost between £200,000 and £600,000.


  • A medium-sized restaurant of 100-150 covers and a new rear building extension for kitchens or toilets usually costs at least £300,000 but can easily cost more than £1M.


  • A large bar with a restaurant and function area for 300 users will often cost between £500,000 and £2.5M.


  • Work in big city centers such as London, New York, Mumbai, Tokyo or Dubai often costs more than work in the provinces because of higher labour costs, difficult site access, parking and other restrictions.

Refurbishing Offers Better Value - sometimes

The best value option is to find a partly finished project where someone else ran out of money but had a good idea. Alternatively, refurbishing a restaurant of cafe premises that someone else got up and running but either got bored with or did not have sufficient working capital to make it through start up can be a good option. If the building services and infrastructure are sound then you won't have to pay the considerable costs of installing them.

A few years ago I helped to turn a huge restaurant that had failed after 18 months into a big success.  Normally it would have cost £1.2M to fit out but the previous owners had skimped on the finishes to get it in their budget of £1M and it showed.  My client bought it from the receivers and only had to spend the difference to transform it.  A bargain that is still making good returns for them.

Taking on an outlet from an old business that was run down is not such a good idea. Chances are that it had no money and everything is run down and in need of replacement. Beware the property that no-one else wants - if the big operators have walked away you need to know why before you commit.

Fitting Out Mall and Travel Location Units

Fitting out bare shells in malls and other new developments, such as airports,  often requires starting from scratch and working to high standards, especially in the Middle East. Costs often exceed £2000 (GBP) per square meter excluding professional fees (at least 15%) and costs of direct supply plant and equipment. I find that this is generally much more than most novice clients expect and it unusual for any but the most well prepared to proceed. Regional prices vary due to different labour and material rates, but many fixtures and fittings are proprietary and so cost much the same all over the world.

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


Small Children in Restaurants

There was an article in The Times this morning about small children in restaurants and how they are difficult to manage. I sympathise.

A few years ago Judi, Vicky, Christopher, Crispin and I did a lot of work on a cafe aimed at mothers with young children.  Unfortunately, the client we worked for was not able to implement our design so it's been stuck in my computer looking for a new client.

Seems a shame to let all the work we did go to waste so do send me a message if you'd like to take it up with me.

My Local Pub

Here's one of the four pubs in my village.  It's a beautiful sought after location. You'd think it would thrive but it's been closed for a year.  A year before that some folk from London spent a huge sum refurbishing.  The other three pubs in the village seem to do well.  We have one that's in an 800 year old listed building with great food and fabulous views, another that's just been refurbished with a modern but sympathetic style by experts (and also has great food and fabulous views) and another that is as shabby as you like but also serves great food and a good pint too.

I'm not sure why this fourth pub, right in the middle of the village has failed but it's had several owners in the 30 years I've known it and it has never worked.  It's the only pub with no parking.  Perhaps that's the problem?

How to Select and Brief a Designer

Choosing the right designer for your project and giving them clear instructions is crucial, yet you’d be amazed how few people get this right


One of the favourite topics of conversation among designers is just how useless our clients are at instructing or briefing us.

In my view this is our own fault. Design bodies have never made a good fist of explaining design to business. Interior designers in particular struggle to explain their art to clients who consequently rarely appreciate them and how they can make a powerful impact on return.

Many times, when a potential new client approaches me, they haven’t prepared a brief. However, this is essential in order to create a sharp definition of what they require and to foster a design team that understands their objectives and works together happily.

Everyone's different

The first thing to understand is that no two designers are the same. Some will be young sole traders with barely any qualifications or experience but loads of enthusiasm. Others will be large, process-driven partnerships or firms that invest in ongoing professional training and skills. Some are just artists who can create beauty, but it won’t be the right type of beauty to help you meet your business objectives. Still others know just how to press the right buttons to create compelling customer appeal. Some create reams of detailed drawings, which you’re likely to need, and others just a few sketches. All charge different amounts. So, how do you get the right designer and get the best from them?

It helps if you think that there are two types of suppliers to your business: vendors and people with magical talents like designers. It’s a mistake to confuse the two. A vendor is someone who exists to sell you something

It doesn’t always matter to the vendor what’s being sold, as long as its bought and paid for. Many people try to treat designers like that. When the first question I am asked by a new client is “how much do you charge?” i know instantly that their project is on the wrong track because the quality of the work you get from talent changes based on how you work with them, not on what you pay. That’s the key economic argument for the distinction: if you treat an artist like a vendor, you’ll often get mediocre results in return. On the other hand, if you treat a vendor like an artist, you’ll waste time and money. That said, there’s no sense in buying a design on price alone, unless you are rolling out an established format, in which case you’re not buying design anyhow, just some management. Most designers in my field won’t charge you more than a few per cent of your budget – even the best come in at around 15%, and for that they’ll make a huge effort over many months to get the work right.

Brilliant Briefing

Having chosen your designer, you next need to tell them what you want. this is another area where people get things wrong more often than they get them right.

I can always tell when a client has had a bad experience because they will be very prescriptive about their needs and brief me to design something that is exactly like something else they know. Setting aside concerns about copyright and intellectual property, this is bound to fail because to successfully enter a new market you need to exceed the standards of the incumbent competitors, not copy them.

The trouble with asking a designer to come up with something unique, however, is that you’re going to be buying something intangible. You can’t see it and you can’t write a specification for it.

Designers, being human, do their best work when they’re treated fairly and with enthusiasm. When the designer is also digging deep to put something on the table that you can’t possibly write a spec for, you’re going to have to respond in kind. They are not going to design on approval for free unless somewhere down the line and possibly when you don’t realise they are going to try and sell you a specific product, which might not be right for your business later on. As a designer, what I need is for my clients to create a relationship in which my art can be used to the full. If you plan to start a new business or open a new venue, your aim needs to be to create a business in which the creativity of others is fully appreciated. Then you can go and tell your designer that they can have full creative freedom. If you don’t trust them with that freedom, it’s simple: you hired the wrong designer.

If you give your designer freedom, you’ll be amazed how hard your design team will work for you, how enjoyable the project will be, and how amazing the results will be.

Ground Rules

You’re going to need some ground rules, of course, but now that you’ve got the creative freedom bit sorted out this is much easier. Here’s what i suggest: On a large sheet of paper, make a list of all the tangible requirements your project needs in order to be successful. these are the measurable things such as how many staff you want to employ; ; what your budget is, what operational equipment you require and so on. it will be a long list, which is why you’ll need a large piece of paper. Don’t write that you want it in red or blue, or that you want a particular piece of furniture or a certain look. You already trust your designer to make those choices – remember? – and you’ve got more important things to worry about.

Next, on a small sheet of paper, write down between 10 and 20 adjectives that you think best describe how you want your pub or bar to feel: happy, creative, elegant, colourful, minimalist. These are the intangible requirements. After you’ve done this, you can sit down with your designer for a long meeting and refine these intangible requirements until you’re left with just three or four. What you’re left with are your core design values, and a designer that knows what you're looking for.

About Trip Advisor and American Bomber Pilot Survival

In July 1980 the Center For Naval Analysis reprinted a paper called A Method of Estimating Plane Vulnerability Based on Damage of Survivors. This research paper was the work of Abraham Wald, an Austrian Jew who had narrowly escaped the holocaust. Wald wrote the paper in 1943, whilst he was employed by the American military in a top secret establishment called the Statistical Research Group - part of Columbia University operating from a non-descript apartment in New York.

During the second world war the survival rate of American bomber crews was a great concern. American bomber command preferred to fly missions in daylight, when crews could sight their targets better than the British planes, which flew at night. This made them more vulnerable to Nazi defences. At the height of the conflict there was only a 50% probability that American aircrews would survive a tour of duty.

Military chiefs knew that protecting the crews was vital but they could not armour whole planes since the extra weight would make it impossible for them to take off with a full load of bombs and fuel. They’d noticed that many of the planes that were shot but which made it back to base had most damage on their wings so understandably this is where they wanted to place armour. Wald and his team were asked to analyse the problem.

If you’re interested in complex mathematical equations, you can search on line and find the whole paper but in a nutshell what Wald found was that armour plating the wings would have had little effect. The military chiefs had analysed the wrong data, or more accurately they had not analysed all of the data. They’d neglected to consider what was happening to the planes that had not returned. It turned out that these planes had been hit in their fuselages and cockpits.

You’ll be starting to see how this affects your business and why any amount of market research may lead you in the wrong direction. Let me give an example.

A few years back I was working and writing in the Middle East. Dubai was on a roll and Abu Dhabi and other big cities in the Gulf were surging. It seemed like everyone wanted a chain of restaurants. I went to one meeting where I was told by an obnoxious man with a perfectly straight face that his company planned to open 500 outlets in 18 months. In the rush no-one wanted to invest time and money designing new concepts, instead they’d franchise from elsewhere and wanted everything at best price. No-one wanted to build a lasting restaurant chain by patiently coming to understand their customers whilst making endless incremental improvements for many years.

Today, if you visit the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, or many others in the region, you’ll find most of the outlets are just the same as everywhere else only bigger and flashier. The chances are that when you’ve finished your meal you’ll be given a customer satisfaction form with check boxes and a place where you can write your comments. This is intended to help the restaurant owner (who is most likely a huge property-developer) understand what their staff have done wrong. I’ll leave you to judge the wisdom of this approach.

I found it offensive to be asked to do work for the restaurant after every meal. A good restaurant manager would have been present and would know without being so unsubtle.

But now we see why this approach and others like it can’t work. The feedback received is never all of the data. It’s only part of the story. The data is only provided by those want to complete the form, who tell the truth and most importantly who ate in the restaurant in the first place. In other words, it’s a subset of a subset of a subset of all the data. What the restaurant owners really needed to know was why customers of other restaurants had not eaten in theirs.

Nowadays we have Trip Advisor and other on-line reviews. Again these only provide part of the data. Sure it’s important to take comments seriously and try to improve but the real questions you need to ask is: how do I get all of the data?

You’ll find the answer is not so easy. This doesn’t mean you can safely ignore it.