Ryan & Lamb – Delicious by Design

Tap + Brew - Dublin Airport - Terminal 1 - Ryan & Lamb
March 18, 2024

What makes a dining experience?

The ingredients, techniques, and flair that chefs bring to every dish on a menu begin with training and planning that starts long before a waiter passes a ticket to the kitchen. But before diners have even walked through the front doors, decisions have been made in the layout and design of the establishment that help define the dining experience in ways most won’t even realise.

Irish Foodie sat down with Michael Lamb, Partner at Ryan & Lamb Architects, to discuss how restaurant design shapes the dining experience.

“I love talking to chefs” Michael says. His personal passion for food – he recently took a cooking course in Italian cuisine, and a relation of his, a veteran of Noma, is set to open a fine dining establishment in Abbeyleix this year – informs his design work in the dining spaces he has overseen. “Understanding where they’re coming from, and about the product, and really getting into the detail and the ingredients and everything. I love having those conversations”.

Ryan & Lamb - Whiskey Bread - Dublin Airport - Terminal 2

In his work on multiple restaurants at Dublin Airport, including The Mezz and Whiskey Bread, Michael has allowed his love for food to help drive the design process. In turn, those design decisions help inculcate an immersive and ambient dining experience for customers.

“In Dublin Airport, you can see all the way to the Dublin Mountains” he says. “You can see the rain coming in from miles away. You can really get a sense of what’s going on outside. And going back to when I was younger, going to the airport was about seeing planes. Having that connection is really important”.

“And that goes for anywhere” he adds. Take Howth; the North Dublin peninsula famous for its award-winning lineup of seafood restaurants. “If you’re in Howth, can you see the boats, can you see the ocean, can you hear the clanking of the cables off the pier. It’s a sensory thing that goes beyond the tase of the food you’re eating. All of it feeds into the ambience and the atmosphere. All the different components, in terms of materials, the colours and so on, they all feed into that”.

Ryan & Lamb - Starbucks - Dublin Airport - Terminal 1

There are practicalities to consider, too. Even something as simple as the decision around what chairs to use can influence diner behaviour in ways that can make or break an establishment, as Michael explains.

“[It’s the] most simple, basic thing, we’re sitting in a chair now. The comfort level of that chair has the ability to make people feel like, ‘Do you know, this is great, but, I kind of want to get up and go’.”

Knowing how to create an environment that draws diners in, and encourages them to stay, can be crucial when crafting a restaurant’s ambience.

“The other thing is light levels. You could get into all these technicalities about light, and the colour of light. You can have warm lights, which make places feel much more comfortable, it can feel more cosy, and that combined with a comfortable chair, you know, a nice environment, warm tone colours, along with, whether it’s pictures or plants or whatever, can make you feel like, well, I’m happy here, I don’t feel like I have to move on”.

Another thing that can subtly make or break the dining experience, Michael argues, is acoustics. Whether diners are able to comfortably be heard over the din of a restaurant can shape the dining experience for better or for worse.

Tap + Brew - Dublin Airport - Terminal 1 - Ryan & Lamb

“There was a restaurant, that I won’t mention the name of, that I went to years ago” he relates. “We went in, myself and my wife. The food was really good, we had a lovely time. But we were sitting as far away as we are now, and, we could hardly hear each other”.

Incorporating sound buffers into a restaurant’s design, to absorb sound and keep decibel levels low within the dining area, can facilitate conversation between diners.

Plants, wooden shelves, books, carpets, even the material used on the walls and on chairs, can all help to make sure diners can hear each other. Because, as Michael points out, as well as the delicious food, eating out is above all a social thing. We want to be able to talk to the people we’re dining with.

But just as much thought goes into design decisions that diners will ordinarily never see, as the ones that help to build the ambience and atmosphere that brings restaurant goers back time and time again.

“The menu is going to drive what goes into the kitchen” Michael explains. “And commercial kitchens have so much equipment in them…the menu drives every piece of equipment that goes into it”.

The Fallow - Dublin Airport - Terminal 2 - Ryan & Lamb

The Fallow, also in Dublin airport, possesses a piece of equipment that allows its chefs to fire 20 burgers a minute to exacting specifications. “When you have, like, something like 300 covers, and people are looking up for their flight times and information screens and wondering, oh, will I have enough time to eat a burger…that’s one element that’s really, really important”.

As an Irish foodie himself, Michael Lamb recognises that every dish served truly begins at the conceptualisation stage of any restaurant.

“It comes down”, he says, “to the craft people who make it, and the creativity of the
people who design and install it”

“It starts with the kitchen, and the shape that’s going to take. And you work your way
out from there”

Author Information

Matt Ellison

Matt Ellison is a latecomer to the kitchen, only roasting a chicken for the first time as a necessity upon moving away from home. That simple seminal act of culinary exploration instilled an immediate passion for cooking that has swept him out of the office and into the breakneck hustle and bustle of the professional kitchen, where he hopes his love for food and cooking will allow him to build his career anew finely dicing chives and shouting “Yes, Chef!”

Before that, his work in the marketing industry on behalf of the healthcare sector gained shortlist attention at the 2023 Recruitment Marketing Awards in the UK, as well as coverage in the Irish Independent.

When not cooking – or eating things other people have cooked – he dedicates his free time to volunteer work at a number of charities, most notably Fighting Words Dublin, which has allowed him to leverage his other great love, writing, to the benefit of others.

In the meantime, he continues to expand his repertoire of dishes and yearns for the day Dublin gets a proper German bakery.

Matt Ellison

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