The surge of feeling around issues of sustainability has risen hugely in the last few years, moving from a fringe concern (languishing on the “oh god, I really should do something about this” list) to that most compelling of pressures – social shame if you aren’t doing anything. It feels like a genuine tipping point. Anecdotally, having subscribed to Trendwatching for the last few years, it is revealing to see how many of the daily alerts are now sustainability related. Given that the average lifespan of a fitout is only 5 years (due to either concept failure or the need to refresh an experience), are we doing enough to make this sustainable?

For our part, we’ve been members of the Sustainable Restaurant Association for 3 years now and have given a talk to members on sustainable strategies for restaurant design and fitout (let us know if you want a copy of this).

But it is not enough.

We have some larger scale strategies for approaching a site design and a list of easy things to change to make a difference (low flush toilets etc etc).

But it is not enough.

We have undertaken SKA training so we understand the assessment system we think is most suited to restaurant fitout (we don’t think BREEAM works super well for these types of projects).

But it is not enough.

Making things good, not just less bad

Having recently read Cradle to Cradle (Remaking the way we make things) by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, we are struck by the core question; are we really making things good or simply less bad? When we use recycled materials, FSC timber and LED lighting are we really making a difference or just eeking out our planet’s demise?

So now we are embarking on a rather ambitious voyage of discovery to create the design framework for a “Restorative Restaurant” – a term we have stolen from Andrew Stephen at the SRA. The goal of this project is quite a big one, maybe even impossible, but in simple terms we want to create a restaurant that gives more than it takes.

Sustainable Restaurant Association

It is worth mentioning that the SRA offers an assessment framework with 3 core pillars that looks at the overall ecosystem of a restaurant; Sourcing, Society and Environment. This covers everything from food waste through to treating your staff fairly. Clearly everything is connected and the idea of a restaurant that gives more than it takes could not ignore these other areas, but our focus will be on the questions related to design and fitout…as this is our world of expertise. For more information of the SRA framework, see here:

We’ve already started having conversations with people in the industry interested in what this project might mean and would welcome your input too. Please get in touch if you have any knowledge you think can help guide us. Questions that are already floating around our heads include:

  • How do we encourage landlords to develop a shell spec that offers the best foundation for a sustainable fitout to follow on? What should this spec be?
  • How do you create a design that can be easily taken apart at the end of its useful life (or when a restaurant fails)? Or allows for the natural flex and change a restaurant concept may need over its lifetime?
  • Are there opportunities around the move to a subscription economy that might throw up interesting ways of avoiding things going in the skip?
  • Are there core layout principles to a Restorative Restaurant and would they need to flex for a grab and go concept versus a fine dining concept?
  • What best practise energy efficiency measures do we need to build in to the design?

The first step

Our first step before diving in to these though, is to define what we mean by a restaurant that ‘gives more than it takes’ and how we can create an answer of measurable substance. It would be easy to keep this a bit intangible and vague, but it needs definition so we can judge our progress along the way. Do we work with the SKA system or need to look to Lifecycle Carbon Analysis, or some kind of combination?

We have some ideas, but a bit more research to do on that. More on this over the coming months.

This post was written by David Chenery

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