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As designers, what can we bring to the table?

Jeff Copolov, the esteemed interior designer and longstanding director for Bates Smart, confronts the big questions re. hospitality design post Covid-19.

As designers, what can we bring to the table?

For architects of hospitality spaces, the big question is how will our restaurants and hotels change after Covid 19? What would these changes look like? What will designers bring to the table?



We have witnessed change through all periods in history. 2020 is, unquestionably, no exception. The human spirit is inherently creative, allowing us to address change, to evolve and adapt to new challenges. Designers are at the forefront of this creative thinking, innovation and problem solving.



Hospitality, at its heart, is about forging connections between human beings. We thrive on shared experiences and the stimulation of the new. Our enforced isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the vital, life-affirming role that social connection and immersive experience plays in our lives. While the online world is our lifeline and companion, it simply doesn’t provide the pulse or joy of genuine human connection. Restaurants and hotels are the theatrical stages on which these interactions take place; contexts in which unique experiences unfurl and go beyond the pragmatic necessities of food and rest.


What Clients Are Telling Us

Our role as designers is, foremost, to listen to our clients. From Bates Smart’s experience and diverse folio of hospitality projects, we know that all clients’ briefs are different.

Over these past several months we have sought the considerable knowledge of clients who, as industry leaders, are charged with operations ranging from 6-star resorts to boutique hotels and restaurants. We asked them about the future of hospitality, how their food and beverage and accommodation offers have changed in 2020, and which of these changes are here to stay.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs are using this time to develop new business models, test new curated experiences to engage with their patrons, and attract new audiences. They are reframing their operations with the vision, resilience and adaptability needed to ensure their future success. Overwhelmingly, excellence of service is at the forefront; cleanliness and hygiene are paramount. Patrons are eager to return to hotel and restaurants and brand trust is now more important than ever.

Many years of creative thinking have enhanced guest experiences with service models evolving front and centre. Hotel room service has been reimagined to create restaurant-quality in-room dining experiences. The hotel buffet has become more refined, with artfully presented single serves replacing the communal bowl — as aesthetic as it is hygienic. Chef stations position the theatre and activation of show cooking in the heart of the dining room and provide affirmation that cleanliness is at the forefront.

Restaurant operators increasingly looking to expand commercial opportunities through retail offerings with beautifully packaged, artisan produce transporting the brand experience to our home pantries. Fine-dining restaurant take-out windows, a survival lifeline during legislated lockdowns, will continue their rise and allow us to experience quality culinary creations in our homes. The explosion in demand for online delivery services such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats, combined with enticing new menu offers, will require kitchen and pick-up facilities to be modified.

Interestingly, an acceleration of these trends under development for some time has been well-received by the market and are here to stay.


Why Does Design Matter?

Designers craft interiors to address pragmatic issues, focusing on their client’s brief and a user‘s experience. Our designs have always satisfied the technical parameters of codes and regulations while creating uplifting, enduring spaces. Our role is to preserve the spirit that is central to hospitality while providing a safe and effective working environment and a commercially sound and brand-specific product.

While not new to our modus operandi, these design principles will be more sharply honed as we create the new hospitality landscape. We will integrate touchless technologies and collaborate with specialist consultants to provide superior air quality and acoustics. We will give considerable attention to the specification of sustainable materials with fit-for-purpose properties essential to maintenance, sanitation and longevity. Some of the performance lessons gained through our design for hospitals and the aged care sector will inform our approach to hospitality design.

Playing an essential role in the creation of comfortable, hospitable spaces, acoustics will also come into greater focus. The possible continuation of social distancing laws may require patrons to be spaced further apart; the ability to communicate may render live echoing spaces a thing of the past.


Budgets, Operating Costs and Design Strategies

At this time of great financial impact to the hospitality operator, now more than ever a cautious and considered spend of constrained budgets is imperative. Effective and pragmatic refinements and reinventions with minimal cost will be called on to maximise positive outcomes.

Bates Smart will continue to employ a timeless approach to the selection of materials which form part of the fit out shell. Floor stone and wall linings are investments which are expensive to replace and must provide longevity. Soft furnishings such as carpets and fabrics provide fashionable accents and tone which inherently have a short life cycle and require replacement in time. This strategy achieves a balanced approach to aesthetics, performance, longevity and cost. The designer’s responsibility is to be a practical problem-solver providing holistic, considered advice to clients. Our designs are a product of these informed decisions, wrapped in a compelling aesthetic.

Operating costs and efficiencies have always been key drivers of design. Typically, a hotel room must be serviced and turned in an average of 20 minutes. The guest perception of the cleanliness of a room is vital, with attention to detail now more important than ever. Hotel room decor is likely to see change with soft furnishings such as throws and cushions being questioned and superfluous decorative objects minimised.



The thrilling, all-embracing stimulus of new experiences, new cultures and new environments has been lost to us during this time. Diversity of experience is vital to enjoyment of life. We have perhaps developed a renewed appreciation for what our cities and communities, both at home and abroad, give to us. That experience may be a memorable culinary adventure, an exciting live performance, a thought-provoking sensory experience of the visual arts or simply the extravagant feeling of being well taken care of at a wonderful hotel or resort.

I am certain that there will be change; there has been so much already. While it is too early to judge the full implications, this disruptor will provoke innovation. As innovators, designers will be ready to take up the challenges that lie ahead.


The Designer’s Checklist:

Some hot issues for designers’ consideration:

  • Planning – flexible planning responsive to social distancing
  • Traffic flow – new focus on circulation and vertical transportation
  • Safe workplaces – impact on back-of-house footprints
  • Contactless technology – integration of hardware
  • Air handling – integration of new mechanical systems
  • Material selections and specifications – careful consideration of performance
  • Conferences and events – the impact of remote working and virtual meetings
  • Evolving customer profile – re-evaluation of patron profiles and target markets
  • New business models – design response to commercial & operational changes
  • Hospitality operations – design response to modified operations e.g. mini bar, buffet offer, room service, private dining, cleaning

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