WHEN Faith Houlding was first considering a revamp of her Elgin restaurant, Scribbles, her ambitions were modest – a general freshen up; some kind of ice cream counter or display area to make more of a feature of her frozen desserts.
Then one of her suppliers introduced her to Sandro Formisano, of Glasgow-based bar design and fitting company New Concept.
After a walk-round of her 90-cover restaurant, a discussion of her key profit areas and a ‘wish list’ of how she would like to grow her business, Formisano advised her that a new look had to begin with the bar.
He took away her existing floorplans and came up with something new. Very new.
Houlding recalled: “I went from thinking, ‘I can’t afford to do this, to thinking I can’t afford not to do this’.”
Formisano’s scheme gave the premises, on Elgin’s High Street, a focal point with what’s said to be the UK’s only wireless back-lit gantry. With its frozen glass shelving and LED alternating lights, it transforms the interior of the unit.
The old orange counter has been replaced with a black marble bar, with Scribbles branding. Plastic table cloths have made way for crafted wooden tables, while three-quarters of the floor is now wood-effect laminate.
The old sofas and tub seats have gone, replaced with chairs upholstered in green fabric in the coffee area. The same style of chair, but with wooden backs, reappears in the restaurant.
Formisano suggested breaking up tables of four into twos, to increase the number of covers and give the space a more intimate feel.
It is, says Houlding, the biggest change since she took over the lease in a management buy-out from Whitbread (it had been a Bella Pasta) in 2001.
The high, five-figure sum is also by far her biggest investment in the business.
“I realised that as soon as the new bar was in the rest would look shoddy,” she explained.
So the refit grew arms and legs, with the interior repainted and hung with new artwork, bannisters replaced with glass partitions and a new-look menu introduced. A former staff member, now a design student, refreshed the presentation and Houlding added some new dishes to up-scale the menu to match the new decor.
She also expanded the wine list and began dressing the tables with candles and wine glasses at 4pm, prompting a 30% uplift in wine sales.
The revamped menu has, she says, shifted customer perception that Scribbles is just for coffee and cakes during the day and casual dining at night.
The ice cream business has also benefitted from the new look – and it’s an area Houlding is keen to develop into a takeaway business.
She hopes that, by giving Scribbles an ice cream parlour feeling, she will attract passing ice cream customers when the sun shines.
It seems to be working so far – the week the new-look Scribbles opened was the best Houlding had seen in her 18 years at the site. Overall, she said business is 15-20% up on last year.
New Concept is impressed with the transformation. Sales director Richard Pearson said: “Scribbles were only looking to change the display cabinet before sitting down with Sandro.
“After the meeting they decided to change the whole place. We did all the furniture – tables, chairs, cake fridges, carpets – and it all went really smoothly.”