Michael Sinclair, design director with Catering Design Group (CDG) is celebrating his 25th year with the distributor, having come onboard in 1993.
There were just four people in the business at that time, and Sinclair joined founder, Phil Howard, and his small team from a background in industrial design.
His career started in 1986 with Redfearn National where he designed glass and packaging materials for the food and beverage market.
In 1987 he moved to contract caterers, Sutcliffe Catering, as a designer, before switching into commercial kitchen design with Prima Group International In 1991. He went on to join Tricon Foodservice Consultants as a design consultant, before heading to CDG in 1993.
Sinclair looked back on his career in a recent interview, below:
Was it difficult making the transition from packaging design to restaurant design?
The design process is surprisingly similar. It’s about realising a vision and seeing it through, from concept to completion. Project management skills, an eye for detail and having an understanding of the client’s commercial objectives apply regardless, whether it is a piece of packaging or a commercial kitchen or restaurant design.
What type of projects are you working on now with CDG?
Typically, I can be working on seven to eight projects at a time, each at different stages of completion. What’s great is the diversity of the projects I deal with, ranging from a highly specified commercial kitchen in central London to several school projects over the last few months. These involved tight timescales as it was crucial to get the works completed in time for the start of the new term.
You must have seen lots of changes over the past 25 years?
Food, and the interest in food, has changed massively; seasonality, provenance, the rise in popularity of theatre-style cooking, bowl food and other trends have all had a major impact on commercial restaurant design and layout. People’s eating habits have also changed so design has to be more fluid, with flexibility built in to mirror the shift towards eating on the go.
The restaurant space itself is evolving all the time and particularly now, with space at a premium. Again, flexibility is key to ensuring that the spaces are multifunctional, with the ability to change into meeting or work spaces.
How the food is cooked these days, such as by induction methods, solid fuel as well as more theatre, with chef and customer interaction, has changed how commercial kitchens and restaurants look and operate, creating spaces that are flexible and give caterers the ability to be more creative with the food offer.
Manufacturing techniques have also moved on hugely and there is now a far greater palette of materials to explore. The availability of more bespoke furniture and fittings and more sustainable design elements means that we can be all the more creative.
More sophisticated lighting options, particularly LED lighting, has also opened up exciting design opportunities that we could have only dreamt of back in the 1990s.
What changes have you seen in the foodservice sector?
25 years ago, staff canteens were utilitarian. Thankfully, things have moved on since then. Today’s staff restaurants are vibrant, multifunctional spaces serving quality food to meet people’s rising expectations. The food has to be as good as, if not better than the high street, and the design and ambience have to be equally appealing.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that the contract catering sector is still a very value conscious sector so the key is to choose design elements wisely to meet budgets.
How do you keep up with trends?
I am fortunate to work in small design consultancy with like-minded passionate individuals so we share insight and trends on a daily basis and we are constantly bouncing ideas. Researching new products and suppliers is essential so I keep a finger on the pulse of the industry by reading journals and websites. One of the joys of my work is that I get to mentor some of our junior staff who have recently graduated, and it is great to see what makes their hearts beat.
How do you wind down?
Just hand me a canoe and watch me paddle off into the distance! I love to be on the water and in the great outdoors. It’s about having the head space to enjoy nature and fresh air.
What advice would you give a young designer?
Don’t hold back on creativity – and trust your instincts.