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Setting the Scene

Setting the Scene

ACCENT, BUT DON’T OVERPOWER. Used well, decor items can accent food and servery themes, but should not take the customer’s attention away from the food.

Is it any surprise that fake flowers and plastic fruit won’t work in an all-organic retail concept?

“You’ve got to walk your talk,” says Arlene Spiegel, president of Arlene Spiegel & Associates. “Props and décor have to say something about your branded, core values. They should further communicate your message to your customer. If they don’t align with your message, they will only confuse the customer.”

When choosing props for a display, think of obvious relationships between the food, concept and customer. Make a variety of compositional notes or sketches of the intended display and choose one. Then edit the concept by eliminating superfluous items.

You want to select only those props that look as if they belong without detracting from your subject. More importantly, some props are difficult to find and install. Don’t waste time trying to make the impossible, possible.

At Bon Appétit Management Company props and décor, such as large baskets of fresh vegetables or close up framed photos of fruit are used to complement the theme and reel the customer’s focus back to the food.

“As a customer walks into one of our operations, he or she will first see the raw product on display, next the chef preparing the product, and then the final presentation,” says David Rothwell, director of image and décor for BAMCO.

For the raw product, Rothwell and his counterpart Carrie Buckley choose ingredients that are highly visible and easy to display. For instance, if a chef is preparing Caramelized Organic Red Apples and Shallots on a Bed of Organic Baby Spinach with Crispy Pancetta, the display will likely be rounded out with the organic red apples in brushed metal bowl.

“We want to stimulate the senses,” says Rothwell. “The props and décor can’t overwhelm the other parts of that experience. Instead they should point the customer to the food. Our philosophy is: ‘Clean. Simple. Elegant.’”

Avoiding “Devolution”

Depending on your café’s configuration, you may have areas of empty counter at the end of a station, or on a corner. It’s tempting to just fill those spaces with colorful flowers, napkins, statues of pigs dressed as chefs and other odds and ends. Filling the space with clutter makes for a missed opportunity. Instead, use it to display and sell something to the customer or to further communicate your guiding principles.

Oftentimes, props and decor are overused or arranged in a manner best described as ‘attractive clutter.’ This is most commonly a problem some time after an initial opening and set-up if the use or organization of decor degrades over time. How do you avoid this “devolution?”

“When we merchandise a new account we take photos for the operators to use as a cheat sheet,” Rothwell says. “This helps set up a display even if front line staff doesn’t have an eye for décor.”

“Many operators think that white space at the end of a counter should be filled with knick-knacks,” adds Allyson Murphy, senior manager of market development for Sodexho. “That’s a mistake. Customers don’t want to see a bunch of junk collecting dust. They want to see clean space with synergistic products. The best advice we give our clients is to keep it simple.”

3 Easy Props and Décor Fixes:

  1. Group baskets or containers filled with fresh ingredients closely together. Use just one type and color of ingredient in each container—known as color blocking—to focus the eye and make a high impact statement.
  2. Keep display ingredients fresh throughout service periods and rotate them into your menu to help manage food costs.
  3. Keep it simple.
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