There has to be 50 restaurants to choose from in Boracay. Some are packed, other languish. But why? It can’t be only taste, for tourists must choose without knowing. Location makes a difference, but neighboring establishments frequently have very different results.
It’s a design problem.
Ask the average person why they chose or passed over any given place and they might respond, “It looked inviting,” or some other non-specific remark. But what exactly makes a place inviting? I decided to investigate. As I surveyed the various places, certain themes kept reoccuring, themes that made me think that people are responding to prehistoric instincts.
For example: The Philippine BBQ and Bite Club are on opposites sides of the same building, they share a kitchen, and serve similar choices at similar prices. Bite Club is on the more visible side, with more foot traffic, has more seats, more tastefully decorated, and… has zero customers. The BBQ place is small, cramped, loud and packed to capacity.
Why? Prehistoric Factors…
1. Open space is bad
Again and again the empty restaurants had large undivided rectangular rooms. In conjunction with food, open space sets off a primitive alarm, for ancient humans who dined on the open plains of Africa, became lion food, and then extinct. While those who sought protected spaces before dining, became us. Walls, corners, booths, dividers, plants, posts, sculptures, and other people are all cozy creators.
2. Fire is good
The ancient appeal, camaraderie, and safety of the campfire, even in small doses such a token candles. Even lights or signage that ‘flickers’ seems to trigger the same response. All empty places had flat lighting.
3. Low entry
This one surprised me, it seems counter-intuitive, but low doorways, even one that requires ducking, consistently outperform overtly tall ones. A safety response perhaps. Like entering a tent or cave.
4. Large Outdoor Signage
Bold and simple. Limited warm colors. At eye level or slightly higher. Signs behind glass are no good.
5. Naming Authenticity
Peoples names and descriptions work better than places, titles, or pun’s. Good names: Nigi Nigi Noo Noos, Crazy Crepes, Zed’s Beach Bar. Bad names: VIP Bistro, Boracay Cafe, Bite Club.
Silence is bad. Silence is what happens in the forest when a predator is spotted. Silence tells prospective customers to run.
People are herd animals. There is safety in numbers and danger in isolation.
8. Host posture
Standing squarely in the entrance forms a confrontation. Sideways or behind a podium is better.
Red is the best. But why? Perhaps it simulates the color of fresh meat? Warm natural tones and materials also perform well. Bright colors selectively. Blue, green and turquoise are generally bad, though can work if used in moderation. Limited palettes perform better than rainbows (except for ice cream).
A transition between outside and inside, ideally a patio with seating. But anything that creates some sort of in between zone, from an open door to a sculpture outside, even just a sign that sticks out can make a difference. A flat wall with a closed door is doom. No one wants to go in there.
11. Value Perception
Price doesn’t seem to play as much of a role as price ‘perception.’ For example, VIP Bistro and Nigi Nigi Noo Noos are both beachfront, both serve burgers and bar food. VIP has white leather sofas, tile floors, and a techno beat, while Nigi Nigi Noo Noo has beat up wicker chairs, dirt floors, and an 80s pop hits soundtrack.
VIP is empty. Nigi is packed, and… Nigi charges higher prices! It looks cheaper, it sounds cheaper, but its not. Perception trumps price.
Nigi Nigi Noo Noo appears to be doing everything right by my criteria, and it may be the most popular place in town. Perhaps by accident, or perhaps by design. I don’t know, but as I got up to leave I took note of a sign hanging from a bamboo post, “Please don’t feed the Lions.”