You are in the business of designing beautiful spaces. What does your design process look like?

We work very closely with our hospitality clients; our process is a very collaborative and open book - from the initial discussions, proposals, floor planning, and interior design, all the way through to the fit-out process. We start by gathering information from our clients through our concept development form that captures the business values, inspiration, target market, competition, and more. We also ask for visual references of venues and designs our clients love and draw inspiration from. Once we have a strong understanding of their concept, we analyze the proposed site to understand any challenges, opportunities, and best ways to leverage the site's strengths and surroundings.

Client collaboration is the key to success during our preliminary and developed design stages. From floor planning, and initial concept development, to designing the 3D model, we keep our clients involved and informed with decision-making the entire time to keep the process as efficient as possible. While we’re perfecting the interior design, we are simultaneously doing the technical work required for a building consent application and the architectural drawing set for pricing and construction to get things submitted and sent out as soon as possible to reduce delays down the track. 

Once the design and all technical aspects are complete, we can have the project priced. We offer project management, styling, and procurement services to our clients to make sure the final touches are considered and give advice as needed to deliver an exceptional experience to their customers.

What is the most common mistake you see people making in their space?

There are a lot of potential hiccups! Fundamentally, a bad lease can be a disaster. If you have unsustainable rents, a lease term that doesn't allow you to recoup/sell your investment, or worse – a demo clause, you are spending huge amounts of money on a venue that will have no value and a limited chance for success. A good lease is the foundation, and without it, you're building a house of cards. Another thing to remember is that success in hospitality is not solely dependent on your design, food, coffee, service, or price points. Engaging a team of professionals who have experience in the industry to work with you to consider branding, street presence, operational flow, wayfinding, signage, menu mix, competitive difference, seating options, and so much more really can make all the difference. 

If the budget is tight, what is one area you would recommend focusing on when designing a cafe or restaurant?

Brand strategy and development. Understanding who you are, who you're doing it for, communicating this, and attracting your target market are incredibly important. To put it simply: once you nail your visual identity and offering, and can communicate that clearly to your customers, the rest of the design is simply additional layering that increases your chances of success. 

In your opinion, what are the non-negotiables to focus on when designing a hospitality or retail space?

Having enough seats, operational capacity/efficiency, a sufficient offering, and a big enough target market of customers to make enough sales helps ensure your venue's success. The quickest way to start an uphill battle is to solely focus on having the coolest-looking venue without focusing on sales volumes. I've owned successful and profitable venues, as well as cool yet unprofitable venues that have low sales, and I can tell you very confidently that you need to take these things into consideration while in the planning stages. 


What has been one of your favorite design projects, and why?

Honestly, I can't give you that answer. The vast majority of our projects are amazing. It is so fulfilling to be able to help hospitality operators bring their next venue to life. A good example of that is helping Alex from Peach's Hot Chicken go from a food truck to a 40-seat venue, to a 120+ seat well-oiled machine that sells over a ton of chicken every week. We are 100% focused on helping our hospitality clients succeed. It's a hard industry and they deserve to succeed for all the effort they put in. 

You've used a few George and Willy products in your projects. Why did you choose to use George and Willy?

Our graphic designer and brand specialist, Carly, often recommends George and Willy products for projects as they're well made and look great. It's important that all elements in an interior are considered, from the first point of contact, such as a sidewalk advertising your cafe, down to the cabinet food signs. 

Do you have a favorite George and Willy product?

Can't go past a tidy blade sign. Clean, modern, and easily customizable. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and why? 

You need every aspect to be considered and compound on top of each other to hit it out of the park. A great location, a big enough target market, the right price points, a brand people love, a layout that makes sense operationally, a space that’s interesting and enjoyable for your customer to be in, effective street presence, signage, and wayfinding — I could go on and on and on. If you choose to work with people who have years and years of experience working in both the hospitality and design industries, they can help you consider and understand every aspect of your business, concept, and customer experience.

How important is signage, and what is your approach to signage when it comes to hospitality?

So important! Communicating your offering and availability is a massive factor. This is one of the layers that increases your success chances by a few percentage points. If people clearly know what you offer, opening times, where to order, pay, and wait, while passing by, they are more likely to come in. If they know how to use your space, they will feel more comfortable and are more likely to choose to spend more money with you. Our approach is to design to create an incredible brand and then use signage and wayfinding effectively to communicate the offering and how to use the space. 

What would you tell someone wanting to open their own hospitality business?

Make sure you've managed venues in the past, truly understand costs (COGS, labor, OPEX, etc.), and make sure you love the daily work of it. Experience working for someone successful, ask lots of questions, and manage their business so you know how to manage your future business. Be open-minded, humble, and listen to others. I struggled to get it right in hospitality for years until I convinced someone who had opened hundreds of stores to be my mentor and eventually my business partner. They showed me what to do, I listened and did what they said, and it worked. We offer a very similar service here at Millé. Everyone on the team has worked in hospitality for years, and we've opened hundreds of venues over the years. We offer sound, practical advice based on our past mistakes, learnings, and proven experience. 

Millé Interiors

Words: Gerrick Numan

George Wilkins