If you haven’t picked up on the buzz already there is a new super venue in town, not one, but four food and beverage experiences launching at the same time. Bonica, La Mezcaleria, El Paso and La Barra. This is the story of how we pulled the project together.
To give a bit of context, we’ve been doing this since 2005, and over the years we’ve refined our process, introduced and removed steps. It’s an ongoing trial and error that evolves with the market. For now we’ve got it down to the following ten steps, and this process works whether you’re a tech crypto start up or luxury Bund champagne bar!
The first step is to deep dive into what’s happening locally and internationally for similar concepts.
Trends and possibilities change so fast, even after years of branding restaurants there is something new to learn every month. Our research covers stakeholders, competitors and inspiration. Something that is uniquely Thread however is how we look at brands, we try and think about how concepts come together.
It’s our opinion that the coolest brands these days are a mixture of two things. A great example of this is when you take a concept like Dishoom in UK, a story of old cafes in Bombay mixed with the story of the building of which they’re in, (for example a train station, or an old movie theatre). The result is a mix of two concepts, and it’s our belief that every strong food and beverage concept in the market today is a combination of two or more concepts combined with this fusion of ideas that make memorable experience. We look at hundreds of these, present to the client most interesting ones from there we turn it into a game!
This is a simple proprietary game we call the pairs game based on all the background research and stakeholder interviews that we’ve done we come up with a set of maybe 50 or 60 Ideas that could be used as a basis of a concept. Then playing the game with the client we reduced these ideas down to just two (harder than you think) and we did this for each of the brands. So for Bonica this could have been a whole host of romance, founders marriage, Shipping, travel, vintage, modern, Spanish, Mediterranean, ports, barrels, historical, ocean or mountain themes! There’s so many options that we could have thought, however together we reduced it down to charcoal cooking and 17th century Spanish trading ships and this is what the brand concept is based on.
From that starting point we can build a story, the identity and the interior design brief. Even the brief for food presentation all comes from a combination of these two concepts.
We did the same with La Mezcaleria, where this is a combination of spiritual plant medicine and gritty Oaxaca street art and those two things together give a very unique twist on a Mexican bar which could have so easily been day-of-the-dead skulls, cactuses and cliché sombreros. It’s through this process that enable us create a concept that stands out and is clear for designers and marketeers to roll with.
The next step in the process is to create moodboards. We love them! As the years have gone on creating new boards has become an art form, taking google images, historical blogs and stock images to create rich boards.
Finding examples of real places real people textures objects furniture and food can take weeks of research and searching and placing images next to each other until we’ve got it right. It takes a jump of imagination from the client side to imagine how these 50 found images in a Google Slides* deck that will become their brand, but if we can talk enough and sound excited enough about these boards they establish a solid foundation for the branding work to be built on top.
*Side note on Google Slides. We do everything on this platform. Everything!
One of the biggest challenges as a branding agency is creating a concept when the interior design has already been decided. Our work with the client is to help brief and inspire the interior team. We don’t touch the interior design, nor do we claim to be able to, crossing design disciplines is harder than you might think!
For these projects, together with the client we collaborated with the awesome Ortiz Leon. We say collaborate, though the process was simple, they just took our boards, direction from the client and ran with it! We sat back and watched it all unfold. Then used their creativity to inspire our designs further.
The identity phase of the project is a comparatively small, yet critically important step in the process. With a well defined brand strategy the amount of design exploration at this stage should be narrow. We know what we want to say and the style that will say it. A logo should be clever, not creative.
At Thread, we pitch designers up against each other to compete for designing the identity. Each designer creates a concept based on the strategy, moodboards and a creative brief. From there we develop two or three concepts, post presentation a winner is chosen by the client and we refine this until we have the concept that you see today.
Industry mumbo jumbo? Probably, but this is what we call all the graphics that are not the logo; could be quotes, patterns, illustrations.
As we design it’s important to test these identities as to how that work on actual applications rather than an incremental process, logo, then signage, then menus, etc. In essence we jump to the end of the project, design everything, then come back in the earlier stages and design it again! By placing them on restaurants applications, menus, signage, wayfinding, uniform, check holders and other design elements used by the interior design or marketing team at this stage everyone is clear on the tone of voice and how it will work across the entire experience.
What’s this? Not so much of a step but a working process.
For a big menu project like CHILI’S – MENU CONSULTING AND EXECUTION we would quote for the whole project, strategy, planning, psychology, wireframe, photography, layout, final artwork etc, however for this project the client needed 18 different menus, of various sizes, not only that, the content would be created as we’re designing. Additionally while the menu design is ongoing, we’re supporting production for all the other elements. This is where a different billing model comes in, rather than a scope, we hire out a senior art director for a month at a time, managed by the client directly, this gives full focus, maximum hours and minimum cost with no surprises.
As mentioned above menus are huge projects on their own, let alone when you have 18 of them to design. Menu psychology is a polarising topic, and with a new brand with no POS data there is a lot of intuition involved. We try and bring in as much insight as possible to encourage upsell, however there is always a trade off between selling and experience.
Not only design but copywriting. Dishes and cocktail names should match the brand story, in English and Chinese.
For this project each brand got it’s own set of menus, we focused on concepts week by week, then as we got closer to opening time we used the Threadstar model to create templates and train the client team to be able to update themselves.
Happening hand in hand with menu design this is where the brand names come to life.
Arguably the most tricky part of the project, as not only does this require design skills, but also an in-depth knowledge of materials and production methodologies. Sometimes the most stressful part of the project, as mistakes cost money, and the eagerness to experiment is high (a terrible combination). Fortunately experience helps, as does having a solid partner MADE. If you’re curious, our process by now has gotten fairly smooth. Design > photoshop mockups > production samples > supplier meetings >final spec and approval > production and installation with design team QA. It’s dirty work, but it looks sexy in the end.
There comes a time to hand the baby over, and rather than dump 500 design files on a marketing team, we create sets of guidelines and templates to make that transition as easy as possible. From the expected logo useage rules, typography and image choice, to marketing templates, file naming and folder layout maps, to all the documents a team might need to keep the brand developing for years.
Few examples of what the Armada team have been producing.
As a team of foodies, our favourite reason to get involved in restaurant projects is being able to experience the fruits of our labours, something that can not be said for investment bank annual reports or logos for hospitals. When all said and done there is nothing better than being inside the experience that you were a bit part in the creation of.
We really are only a small piece of the puzzle, a project like this can not come together without dedications from a huge number of teams, many of which we haven’t mentioned.
Key takeaways in a nutshell?
Bonica, La Mezcaleria and La Barra opened July 2021
You can find them via Smart Shanghai or just come to Jing’an District, Shanghai
1/F, Bldg. 5, AUNN,
No. 60, Lane 273 Jiaozhou Lu,
near Yanping Lu
If you’d be keen to learn more about this process, or how a process similar to this would work for a different industry, then get in touch, lets get a coffee at Bonica!