Forward Thinkers

The managing director of F&B design firm Keane offers insights into the hottest trends in the restaurant/bar sector in 2018.

The past year or so has been nonstop for Keane. The design and branding firm—which currently has offices in London and Birmingham in the U.K., as well as in Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur—has wrapped up on a lengthy roster of projects in the past 18 months and plans to expand to the U.S. later this year with a new studio in Miami.

Jeremy Scarf, Keane
Jeremy Scarf, Keane

The multidisciplinary F&B powerhouse is also moving forward while mourning the untimely loss of its founder, Aidan Keane, who passed away unexpectedly last fall at the age of 49. 

Boutique Design’s January + February forecast edition offers the inside scoop on the process behind five of the firm’s most recent dining and drinking destinations, including insights from Keane’s managing director, Jeremy Scarf. 

Read on for web-exclusive responses from Scarf on what he expects to see in F&B spaces in 2018, as well as some additional wow-inducing images that we couldn’t fit into the upcoming print feature’s seven-page count.  

BD: What will F&B design look like in 2018 and beyond? 

Scarf: In the U.K. we’re seeing a return to traditional values of comfort, richness, color and heritage that often accompanies a less confident market environment. Whereas in the Middle East, the appetite continues for innovation and the unique. 



BD: Do you think communal experiences will continue to sell well?

Scarf: Yes, in our digitally isolated lives the opportunities to socialize in the real world remain strong. Although we’re seeing some interesting crossover with work for a new dating bar and app. 

BD: When it comes to chef collaborations, is this a see-and-be seen era? Do today’s diners want to feel like they’re casually eating in someone’s home, or would they rather dress up and go out? 

Scarf: We've seen a strong de-normalization of fine dining over the past five years to almost comical levels with food being served on boards, bricks or even a shoe. So while I don't expect a return to high-end, French waist-coated formality, I think specialness is a unique weapon in our armory and we should be thinking of ways to play that out. 


BD: Restaurant concepts are evolving and there are more options from owners than ever. What are you hearing from clients about which approaches are most relevant, which concepts will have the most staying power and what that means for both the end design and the guest experience? 

Scarf: There’s a focus in the U.K. of celebrating heritage and restoring pride and grandeur, and this will continue in 2018, with traditional finishes making a comeback. I also predict that plants, living walls and greenery will continue to be a feature in hospitality design. This directly correlates with the ever increasing consumer demand for wellbeing and freshness. 

Overall the key trends of health and sustainability will be even more significant in 2018, with restaurants having to demonstrate their credentials in this area.


BD: This past year Keane has worked on both freestanding concepts and hotel restaurants. What’s the difference between those two types of clients and their design briefs? 

Scarf: Challenges with hotel restaurants are often around the tension between the guests and destination visitors and balancing the needs for multifunctional use of space. There is a cultural difference between the entrepreneurial restaurant owner and the international hotel chain, although less so than in the past. I think you just instinctively get a feel for how a client would prefer to work with you and you adapt accordingly. 


BD: Are you working on any new types of venues (e.g., pop-up, co-working or event spaces) and if so, what are the takeaways for permanent restaurants? 

Scarf: We’re doing some crossover development that aims to reflect the excitement that a customer feels on taking up a novel experience. For example, we’re working with a cafe and dance studio that’s driven by wellbeing and health and the feel-good factor a client feels on being sociable while keeping fit.

Through our recent partnership with [U.K.-based interior designer] Shaun Clarkson, we’re now working on global drink brands to create memorable customer experiences. These may pop up at airports or in retail spaces and bars, and will include the creation of visitor experience centers around the brand’s attributes. 


BD: What was Aidan Keane’s vision, and how is that legacy translated into the designs shown here? What’s it been like working without him, what are some of the challenges the firm has faced during this trying transition, and what does the future have in store? 

Scarf: Aidan was such a big part of everybody’s lives at Keane. He was always interested in our people and endlessly energetic about our projects, and that’s something we all miss. 

On a personal note, we had a very balancing partnership for 20 years that became as instinctive and often unsaid as any long term relationship, so I miss him hugely.  

However, we have a great senior team who has really stepped up to the challenge of providing support for me and Lou, Aidan’s wife who is the financial director at Keane.

The future is about delivering Aidan’s vision, which was very concentrated on becoming a partner to some of the worlds’ leading lifestyle brands, helping them define and refresh their offer. This is a legacy we’re very focused on delivering.