Focus: Q&A

Benugo has 25 restaurants and cafes in cultural and leisure venues, and a few more ‘in the works’. Fiona Byrne, Benugo’s head of branding and development, explains why the company is in this sector and how it handles design issues.

Edited by Clare Dowdy

FX: Why have you gone into this sector in such a big way?

Fiona Byrne: Looking back just 10 or 15 years, there was such a lack of great food in cultural sites. Caterers were really playing off the captive market and not striving to offer anything special in terms of experience or quality. Changes in how museums, arts and cultural venues are being funded has driven them to demand more out of every corner of their buildings and they’ve become much more commercial. Improving their food and beverage offering and looking at it in a new way has given them a new income stream and a way to encourage visitors to dwell longer. Alongside this shift, visitors’ expectations have changed too – when you’re visiting a high-profile museum or institution you now expect a great holistic experience: a well-curated exhibition, an interesting gift shop and great food. It’s part of the day out.

FX: The Benugo identity is kept low-profile. What is the thinking behind this approach?

FB: The reality is, people don’t visit a museum for the cafe – we’re part of their day but not the point of it. We’re never going to be a bigger brand than our client’s and we don’t need to try and compete with their brand to be successful. In fact it’s often beneficial to us to be seen as part of their team. Customers view the restaurants and cafes in museums as an extension of the museum itself and we don’t see any reason to try and change it. If people notice it’s a coffee served in a Benugo cup then great, but what matters more to us is that they think it’s a great coffee.

Benugo provides cafe services in the Great Court at the British MuseumBenugo provides cafe services in the Great Court at the British Museum

FX: In design terms, what are the key differences in creating a successful environment for a cultural institution or visitor attraction, compared with creating a successful environment for the high street?

FB: It’s always to work in harmony with the environment. We’re known for exposed brickwork and chalk boards on the high street – that look is just so juxtaposed with the interiors of so many of the historic, listed buildings we’re privileged to work in. We always try and create an environment that is sympathetic to its setting, that enhances it and creates a warm and convivial atmosphere.

When looking at a public space versus a high street there is often seasonality to consider in the design. When you think of schools’ half-term trips to a museum or the launch of a high-profile exhibition, demands on cafe spaces can triple or quadruple – you just don’t see that level of customer influx on the high street. So we have to design with customer numbers in mind for peak and off-peak season – where the queue will be on a busy day, and what the place will look like when it’s quiet. Customer flow, seating requirements and till locations are essential considerations when looking at new spaces.

FX: How do you manage the design?

FB: We outsource design, working with a carefully selected shortlist of experts, some of whom we’ve worked with for years. Softroom is one of our main partners. Path Design is almost an extension of our team, as we’ve been working with it almost since the start. On occasion, we’ve brought in others, such as Freehaus design consultancy and Grainne Weber Architects.

Another offer from Benugo, among its 25 current cafes and restaurants in cultural and leisure venues, is this restaurant for the English National Opera, at The London ColliseumAnother offer from Benugo, among its 25 current cafes and restaurants in cultural and leisure venues, is this restaurant for the English National Opera, at The London Colliseum

FX: What are Benugo’s ambitions for the cultural/ leisure sector?

FB: We love working with cultural venues. We get to have fun creating specialist pop-ups for major exhibitions and work with them on great marketing initiatives. We’d love to grow this side of our business with the right partnerships.

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