Dining out is not just about the food, but also about the ambiance. And restaurateurs are paying greater attention to the décor of their spaces in order to get the vibe right. After all, most of us end up picking a place over another based on its vibe, look and feel, right?
But look at the crop of restaurants that popped up in the last couple of years; they convinced us that grungy, industrial-looking spaces are cool. Thankfully, these are a thing of the past. Move over mismatched chairs, bare bricked walls and lights masked as beer bottles, because vintage, chic and minimalistic spaces are all the rage this year.
When Bandra-based One Street Over opened last year, it sported a muted and mature décor — cosy booths done up in wood and leather, coupled with a well-stocked bar. At 145 in Kala Ghoda, elements found on the streets of Mumbai — stainless steel vessels, buckets and tea strainers — adorn the ceiling. At Bombay Vintage, which opened last month, the décor celebrates the essence of the city when it used to be called Bombay.
The restaurant captures the ’40s and ’50s feel of the city with old picture frames, typewriters, radios, vintage clocks and a Polaroid camera. And at the newly opened outlet of The Bar Stock Exchange (TBSE) in Colaba, the décor is in keeping with the heritage buildings in the neighbourhood. Here, the bar is all-marble as opposed to it the garage-like décor at its older outposts in the city.
“Grungy spaces did well because these are easier to create. There are a lot of suppliers out there making decor elements like wooden tabletops and AC pipes that can be easily fitted,” reasons Mihir Desai, owner, TBSE. And since most of the F&B industry functions out of rented spaces, owners have limited time to set up and get going.
“It is affordable even. A steel chair would cost you much lesser than a wooden or a plastic chair,” he adds. For instance, a chandelier at his Colaba outlet cost him Rs 50,000, whereas a simple garage light at the BKC outlet costs only Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 each.
Tired of cookie-cutter décor, even diners are seeking a change of environment. Junisha Dama, who eats out often as a food writer, says, “Grungy décor is so overdone now — the same kind of walls and seating everywhere. It is hard to distinguish one place from the other.”
But are restaurateurs ready to go beyond the unkempt, industrial look? Interior designer and architect Ayaz Basrai of The Busride Design Studio says that he has seen a huge shift in client requirements. “Most of our conversations with the clients aren’t about the aesthetic, the look, the décor or the colours. They’ve all been about attitude, the mood and the difference the restaurant is trying to make in the food scene of the city,” he adds.
Though he still finds clients looking to imbibe the grunge theme, the difference is that they are moving away from a look that can be categorised. “I strongly feel that places that replicate the same distressed, exposed brick, rough RCC (Reinforced Cement Concrete--a combination of steel and concrete used in construction) and textured plastered surfaces with re-purposed furniture have become boring already,” says Basrai.
In the age of Instagram, restaurateurs want to boast of décor elements that will eventually become talking points for them on social media. For instance, Fable in Juhu has telephones and lamp posts made of books. Even the bills that go out to the customers are sent out in storybook covers unlike regular bill folders.
“Everyone wants to take selfies and make memories when they dine out. So when they spot an interesting looking chair or a printed tabletop, they snap it and this adds to the conversation,” says owner, Ankit Anand.
Right from the moment a diner enters a space, to the end of his meal, it is all an experience for him. “From the memories that the customer generally takes with him, the food generally overshadows the ambiance. Thus, the menus, too, need to go hand-in-hand with the ambiance,” says Naveen Kotyankar, mixologist and F&B consultant for Bombay Vintage.
According to Basrai, the décor of a restaurant can be used to create or break preconceptions, introduce a sense of unrest or comfort, aid experimentation or rebellion, infuse nostalgia or future-readiness. This sets the stage for the meal to come. “If the décor is done right, your whole experience feels synergetic, like a part of a larger symphony,” he says.