Last Updated on April 28, 2020
The so-called Foodie movement is, in essence, a response to a huge burst of new, creative restaurants that has taken place over the last ten to fifteen years.
The US has seen the popularization of unique, upscale dining across just about every major city in the country. Trendy culinary spaces have boosted the appeal of culinary experiences and even encouraged Americans to dine out more frequently and to be more selective in their choice of restaurant.
But taking an initial idea for a restaurant and making it a reality is challenging, to say the least, and that’s where Creative Directors come in.
Eva Nineuil is a French-born restaurant and hospitality Creative Director whose talent in the industry spans from restaurant and hotel concept designer, photoshoot and content producer, hospitality marketing and public relations strategist, event producer, and artistic programmer.
Nineuil has consulted with famous chefs, hotel founders and designers, and brands, which rely on her creativity and expertise of the industry to support their launch as well as to create one of a kind hospitality experiences.
She has been recognized in both Europe and the United States of America for her achievements and contribution to the restaurant and hospitality industries. Her start-up, Lovely Meal, was awarded the Avenir Award by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the West of France.
As a Creative Director, Nineuil is currently in charge of Culture and Programming for Proper Hospitality, where she curates and executes creative and cultural initiatives at each of the brand’s properties.
We spoke with the talented creative mind about her extensive experience in the Restaurant industry.
Anyone looking to open their own restaurant will find a great deal of valuable information, and we highly encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to take note of these important lessons.
How a restaurant can stand out
At the very start of our conversation, Nineuil made an important point: contemporary social pressures have encouraged individuals to pursue their dreams and settle into careers that they truly enjoy.
The worry is no longer that people are enjoying something they shouldn’t, but that they are not enjoying their lives enough.
For the hospitality industry, this means that restaurants have quickly become a popular option for investors and entrepreneurs looking to get a business going.
Despite many restaurants representing a high-risk investment, there is also a growing demand for unique dining experiences here in the US, which we’ll be discussing in detail later in the article.
Nineuil recognizes that this boom in new restaurants has made it even more difficult to stand out from the competition. But she also knows what elements need to be in place for a restaurant to distinguish itself.
“There has to be an absolute consistency between all the elements that define a given restaurant, ranging from graphic identity, tone of voice, to culinary offerings, décor, service, and the staff’s behavior. The magic happens when they all work well together.”
Guests want to experience a cohesive vision, in the same way, viewers watching a TV show or film want to feel there are ideas behind the images on the screen.
If a restaurant doesn’t have a strong identity from the very first glance, guests will be far less likely to remember their experience.
The next time they’re ready for a night out on the town, that forgettable restaurant from several weeks ago probably won’t come to mind.
The cuisine itself is, of course, crucial, but the concepts behind that cuisine should reverberate through the restaurant and the way the space presents itself.
Many of those hoping to open their own restaurants tend to not have much industry experience, which can lead to a number of common mistakes that have the potential to jeopardize the whole endeavor.
Nineuil highlighted one of the most common mistakes she sees in restaurants that are still developing their approach, namely that they try to attract a large number of clients by keeping their appeal and focus very broad.
This approach can very often be seen in national chain restaurants. Rather than basing a menu around a specific type of dish or culinary tradition, they instead offer dozens of vastly different options.
When smaller restaurants try to mimic this method, they fail to achieve that sense of vision and consistency we discussed above.
Offering such a wide variety also necessitates stocking a large amount of perishable goods and extending business hours. Both result in greater overhead costs.
Upon request, Nineuil gave advice on how to avoid this mistake.
“My recommendation would be to start with a condensed menu, a clear culinary identity, and reasonable operating hours. Your concept will be all the more strong and distinct, and you won’t put your financials at risk. Many restaurateurs think that being creative means going in many different directions, but my role as Creative Director is to guide them in defining an identity that is both creative and sharp.”
This points to the importance of Creative Directors in the hospitality industry. Restaurateurs can’t handle every aspect of their new business venture, but Creative Directors can tailor the dining experience to reflect the core concept behind the restaurant.
This way, restaurants can secure their own niche audience rather than competing with every other type of restaurant currently in operation.
The work of a creative director
Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which Creative Directors shape the formation or rebranding of a restaurant.
In almost every case, Creative Directors are not expected to formulate 100% of a restaurant’s vision, but rather to expand on the ideas that the owner and/or head chef of a restaurant already have. Nineuil explained:
“As a Creative Director, my goal is to use my expertise and hindsight to help achieve a vision. Most chefs and restaurateurs usually have ideas for their restaurant, but they need help with three things in particular. First, getting clarity and fine-tuning their concept, second, turning the vision into a successful operating business, and third, increasing awareness and standing out.”
That initial concept needs to be translated into different aspects of the restaurant’s presence. The decorations need to match the theme and concept, and the staff needs to be aware of and communicate that concept as well.
Meanwhile, a restaurant’s brand identity also needs to be communicated to the public. Marketing and PR can be powerful tools that attract attention to a restaurant and, even more vital, introduce potential guests to the core concept and theme long before they ever set foot inside the restaurant.
This approach is no longer specific to successful restaurants. Prestigious brands in any sector now have similar goals.
Brands strive to create compelling experiences for clients and consumers, rather than offering a generic service or product and hoping for the best.
Crafting those experiences involves coordinating many disparate elements, and talented Creative Directors like Nineuil are capable of handling all these small details, to the benefit of unique restaurants and the people who visit them.
If even one of those elements is missing or mishandled, there’s a risk that the entire vision will fall apart.
An ear for harmony
Nineuil has gotten so good at shaping restaurant branding that she has developed an ability to interpret and critique the branding of just about any restaurant.
In a way, it’s not dissimilar from a highly experienced music teacher walking into a room full of students and being able to tell who’s in tune, who’s off-tempo, and who’s doing everything just right.
“I can decrypt restaurants very rapidly. I read where the restaurateur comes from and what has happened behind the scenes. More importantly, I am able to understand when a restaurant concept is authentic, or, on the contrary, when it lacks sincerity. I see it in the brand, in the marketing, in the storytelling, in the décor, on the menu, and on the plate.”
Perhaps a music teacher is the best comparison for the work of Creative Directors in the hospitality industry. The primary goal, at all times, is to help restaurants achieve their potential, to help them make use of all the different pieces already in place.
Nineuil feels that her personality is a great match for this kind of work:
“Not everyone has the personality suited to the role of Creative Director. You need to be creative, authentic, and have firm opinions. Above all, you need to share common values with the people in the hospitality sector. We all want to please guests through what we create.”
It’s much more difficult than it might seem to an outsider, but there’s no arguing that Creative Directors are essential for up-and-coming restaurants and any restaurants that are looking to change direction and rebrand.
This sector of the market is more competitive and lively than it has ever been, and unless a restaurant has a clear vision right out of the gate, creating a steady client base and finding success are going to be extremely unlikely.
For any restaurant owners and entrepreneurs out there, finding a skillful Creative Director is an essential step on the path to prestige and notoriety.