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How to design for the 21st-century restaurant

The other day while I was traveling, I noticed several other solo travelers sitting at the hotel bar, eating and drinking alone. Many of these road warriors were women, and it occurred to me how common this sight is, and how frequently we forget the significance of women as travelers and businesspeople when it comes to dining out.

As someone who has spent a better part of the past 40 years traveling the globe among the business set, I find the increase in the number of female business travelers remarkable. (I’ve noticed an increase from virtually zero to a roughly 1-to-1 ratio of women to men.)

All of this leads to me to wonder if the hotel F&B space could do more in terms of design to cater to this influential — but relatively new-to-the-scene — subset of business traveler.

According to Beth Brooke, special to CNN, over the next decade women’s impact on the global economy is expected to be as significant as that of China or India. Ms. Brooke also makes the point that, “There really is no longer any excuse to not be investing in one of the largest untapped economic engines,” which leads me to wonder: Are women designing for women?

I asked my design staff (comprised heavily of women who travel regularly for business) what they focus on in restaurant design when designing for the female guest, and both the women and men came back to me with the same answer: “Nothing special.” Yes, placing purse hooks on bars and paying close attention to ladies’ lounges and bathrooms occurs, but otherwise, no additional energy is spent on the matter. I was shocked.

But then I started to think that this lack of fixation on the female traveler and her needs is, perhaps, a good sign. Equality is just as much about a shared opportunity as it is about shared values. Maybe men are starting to enjoy a more styled and curated space in which to eat, due in large part to women’s dining preferences and its influence on us men. (Dining out has become more equal, especially since the 1970s, as men’s earnings rose only 6% between 1970 and 2007 while women’s rose significantly — 44%.) It is quite possible that women have been quietly but steadfastly shaping restaurant design for some time now. However, the key to great restaurant design is in not focusing energy too heavily on one group, but rather, for designers and restaurant owners to recognize and understand both the female and male guest, and to design for both, equally.

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