We speak to industry guru Marcos Cain of Stickman Design about his experiences designing for the food and beverage industry.

With over 20 years’ hands-on experience as owner and operator in the hospitality industry, Marcos has worked across Asia and the Middle East. A natural entrepreneur with strong passion and vision, it came as no surprise to those who knew him when he founded his own company, Stickman Design, in 2009 with his Scottish business partner Karen Hay. Marcos now heads the main office in Dubai while Karen runs the Hong Kong branch. Within the first 8 successful years of founding Stickman, the company has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious brands like Conrad, Shangri-La, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Kerry Hotels, Sun Resorts and Zaya to name a few and managed to complete full scope hotels in Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Beijing and the Maldives as well as a string of award winning restaurants and bars all around the globe

What best describes your style and approach to design?

I’d rather focus on the approach rather than the style, since my approach is not to have one set style. I treat every project as a blank canvas, I take the time to hear the client’s brief, study the space and then formulate my own vision of the project and more importantly defining its unique selling points.

The Brew, Winner Shanghai Excellence Award at Asia Pacific Interior Design Awards

What was the first food and beverage space you designed?

The Library’ is one of the very first projects I worked on back home in Perth, we converted an old church into a 3 story nightclub in a thriving F&B district called North Bridge. I certainly had to get creative with what I had which led to baking over 3000 LED lights in my house oven with my mates. Needless to say, I have come a long way since then, moved to Dubai and set up Stickman with my partner Karen. Stickman’s first projects were ‘The Cook, The Meet, The Brew’ at Kerry hotel in Shanghai and 4 restaurants & bars in Conrad Dubai, both major projects with key clients like Shangri-La and Conrad.

The Middle East is seeing a rise in the culture of beautifully designed restaurants serving great food, how do you think good design heightens the gastronomical experience?

As a designer, I’d be tempted to tell you it’s all about the design, but as a business owner and someone who operated his own bars and restaurants for 20 years, I know better than that. Smart design caters to function and operations before aesthetics, it just does it so subtly that you can’t tell the difference. The Middle East and especially Dubai is set apart with a very sophisticated culinary palette where the food culture is about the surrounding just as much as it is about the food offering. A good designer needs to hit the balance between great design, unique offering and optimum revenue.

What design challenges are exclusive to F&B and hospitality design?

Value engineering, logistics, time constraints, these are all standard issues every designer deals with on a daily basis, the real challenge is understanding the offering to create windows of opportunity while maintaining a synergy with overall design. Crafting an efficient operational theatre can transcend the guest into a memorable experience, the trick is to do so with minimal cost and maximum revenue.

Holistic design = ROI= Money 

Hotel Jen China World

Please tell us about one of your most challenging projects and why?

We are currently working on the final stages of design for Shangri-La’s latest new brand hotel in Beijing, scheduled to open October this year. By far, this would have to be the most challenging project in the most exciting way possible, a new generation hotel where Stickman was engaged to define the brand and everything that comes with it - a hotel for the millennial traveler. To do so, we had to cater for the future market and not be pushed back to the old and safe ways of doing things, a challenge we welcomed with open arms. All design stages had to be signed off by 3 parties including the Chinese government, which proved to be quite challenging where our sole focus was not to compromise the design or the vision set for the hotel. With a full-fledged craft brewery at the pub, a genuine farm to table concept at the all-day dining, a new age open plan business hub and a 3000 square meter fitness center, you can safely say we did not hold back!

What do you think is the future of restaurant and bar design? What trends do you see emerging?

There is higher demand for healthy gourmet food; restaurants which invest in creating a genuine story about their offering and where it comes from often find that it goes a long way. Guests are often drawn to what they can relate to, and they relate to the story behind the design and the food just as much as the food itself. This also explains why the market is currently very welcoming to new restaurants and bars set up by entrepreneurs rather than existing famous brands. Like the new generation, F&B venues are also becoming increasingly casual and laid back in nature; a buzzing bar with minimal boundaries is the place to be for anything ranging from a business meeting to watching a sports game with friends.

Suga, Shortlisted in the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2014

Which city in the world would you see as the best for emerging restaurant/hospitality design?

With Asia’s progressive F&B culture, it does not come as a surprise that Hong Kong is one of the strongest emerging markets in hospitality design. The place is young, hip and open to ideas making it one of the leaders in restaurant and bar design. Perth is another growing market in the design world for reasons completely different from Hong Kong; the remote nature of the city breeds a raw entrepreneurial skill in which new brands are created and actively evolved prior to them becoming trends.

What would be your dream project/commission?

Considering we cater for a global market, I wouldn’t limit our dream project to a location or client however I am particularly excited that Iran and Cuba have opened their borders offering a gamut of potential and unique opportunities. I was recently in Miami, a unique location with a charming retro vibe and a buzzing scene for restaurant and bar design that we are yet to tap into.

Cave, Shortlisted in International Hotel & Property Awards 2013


What advice would you give to budding restaurant/hospitality designers?

Learn from other people’s mistakes but don’t let that stop you from making your own. As progressive as the hospitality industry seems to be, it remains a rather conservative one where many clients and operators of signature brands would rather do what has been tried and tested rather than take a chance on what’s new; a reality that shouldn’t discourage any rising designer from pushing the limits and setting trends rather than following them.


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