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Mon 13 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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How to become famous

I was back in the UAE last month. It was a whirlwind of meetings, all of them interesting and stimulating.

I was back in the UAE last month. It was a whirlwind of meetings, all of them interesting and stimulating.

One thing I have noticed as an outsider is that, while there is an understanding that up-to-date restaurant design is important, there is a great deal of naivety about why.

This is not a comment intended to offend restaurant owners. The truth is that many designers do not understand the impact their design selections can have on the profitability of the businesses they are working for.

You won’t ever get famous by doing lots of things averagely. You can only get famous by doing one thing excellently.

You see, it is not enough to make a restaurant look good. To become famous it has to look good in the right way, and it's easy to spend large sums of money on the wrong things.

Making market sense

These days, I don't read much about design, but I do read a lot about marketing - it helps me to understand design in context and to advise my clients about how to create branded outlet designs that appeal to their target markets.

These days, I find that I don't have many conversations about finishes and colour.

I have conversations about market sectors, branding and colour psychology. I try to guide clients away from buying ubiquitous designs when they have unique businesses.

It's easy for a skilled design salesman to find out what you like and then draw something appealing - that's their job. And no doubt they may seduce you.

It is much harder for a designer to make a living by telling you your instincts won't work, but if they do, hire them!

They are clearly not afraid of losing your business by risking offence, and that means they're doing their job right.

Don't be afraid of doing something new, even if at first your friends and colleagues don't like it. The important thing is to get noticed.

Another common marketing mistake I come across almost every day, quite often at high levels within client organisations: most restaurateurs think they should have as broad an offering as possible - more choice is good, right?

No, not always - generally people respond more positively to less choice.

Nowadays, our lives are full of clutter. More companies offer more services than ever before and competition for our attention is getting greater as we are bombarded with marketing messages and sophisticated branding every day.

Trying to do everything at once will just dilute your message. In small, provincial markets it might work, but in busy, cosmopolitan markets like Dubai, it won't.

I have seen many small business clients fail by becoming generalists for fear of missing a sale when they could have been successful specialists.

You won't get famous by doing lots of things averagely. You can only get famous by doing one thing excellently. And remember, you don't need everyone to be your customer once; you need customers who like what you do enough to come back regularly, and to tell others. This will help you add value and raise profits.

Whatever you do, do it excellently. Become famous.

Nigel Witham is a chartered designer who has run his own design practice for 20 years. He designed his first restaurant in 1990 and has worked for hundreds of independent retailers and restaurateurs from his offices in London, India, New Zealand and Australia. For more information e-mail Nigel@nigelw.com.

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