Eat Drink Design Awards celebrate the best fit-outs

Savvy Australian diners, living on a diet of celebrity chefs, reality TV cook-offs and renovation shows, have high standards for the venues they like to frequent.

From our morning coffee to our lunchtime craft beer, a post-work feed or a cheeky nightcap, operators need a classy fit-out in order to attract our hard-earned dollars.

Now in its fourth year, the annual Eat Drink Design Awards - endorsed by the Australian Institute of Architects and the Design Institute of Australia - recognises the smartest new kids on the block in Australia and New Zealand.

Grand designs

This year's jury includes Melbourne-based designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb, who recently worked on the fit-out for Stokehouse City and spent almost 15 years running restaurants herself; and Sydneysider Stuart Krelle, co-director of interior design firm Luchetti Krelle, primary focused on the hospitality sector.

Alongside their co-jurors, they'll be judging hopefuls across categories including Best Cafe, Best Retail, Best Restaurant and Best Bar Design.

Krelle says this year's crop shows a real maturity in the market. "We've had some theatre, but that's calmed down a little, though retail still has that fun, over the restrained look of the bars and restaurants."

He's heartened by the various cities' distinct looks, rather than trying to be a carbon copy of each other, and says he is increasingly inspired by fellow Australian designers, rather than looking globally.

Opening ceremony

In Sydney, Krelle's noticing the design wave spreading out of the city centre and into the suburbs. "People don't just want those experiences just within the city, they want that closer to home. It's amazing how many places keep opening. When I was younger and something new opened, everyone knew about it, but now it's hard to stay on top or even get to all of them."

Krelle has also witnessed an explosion in competitors, as well as hospitality owners getting in on the interiors act. "Some of the operators are actually quite savvy in their designs, coming up with some good stuff themselves without the engagement of a designer, which is threatening," he laughs.

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And what was he looking out for in each design? "When someone walks into a room, 98 per cent of the people aren't going to see the stuff that you laboured over, but it's that little bit of considered design, that people can't quite put their finger on, that creates a balanced environment."

Social spaces

Gomes-McNabb acknowledges the up-against it survival rate for new hospitality venues and the need to marry vision with smart market research, but she's heartened by the upswing in Australian's eating out.

"Before it was a very special occasion, whereas now it's a very casual and frequent event," she says. "It's fantastic that we're embracing this idea as our homes shrink in size and more and more of us are living on our own. We want to go out socially and interact with other people. A lot of places are trying to create a community."

She says Melbourne and Sydney have to watch their heels as other cities rise to the design challenge. "Brisbane really is quite amazing, with some incredible places opening up there."

With a foot in both the design and the hospitality worlds, she's honoured to be a selected as a juror. "Together you can really create some magic, and I think that's what the Eat Drink Design Awards are trying to show; what an amazing outcome you can have when it all collides."

The Eat Drink Design Awards are announced on November 17.