Storytelling in Restaurant Design...

Updated: Aug 3

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6HEAD Entrance | Storytelling in Restaurant Design | Design Partnership Australia

Let's begin with a story before explaining the importance why it is important.

It is just before daybreak on Sunday 13 May 1787. In the bay of Portsmouth England lies 11 ships comprising of 2 Royal Navy escorts, six convict transport ships and three supply ships.

They have been there since January waiting to set sail for Australia but many unforeseen delays in fitting them out, organizing supplies and the taking on board 775 prisoners from various jails across the England has delayed the departure by several months. Many of the convicts are there for petty crimes such as stealing items worth no more than 1 shilling, cutting down a tree in an orchard or stealing livestock. For this they get a one way ticket to help settle a British outpost in New Holland so named after the Dutch first chartered this new continent in the 1700s. The name would change to Australia in 1803, meaning Southern in Latin, so proposed by the English explorer Mathew Flinders.

Finally the last free passengers, military and government officials, along with their wives and children, sailors, cooks, masons, and other workers hoping to establish new lives in the new colony gets onboard and Captain Arthur Phillip ‘‘hoists his flag on board the Sirius’’ signaling the 11 ships to weigh anchor.

In a brilliant feet of navigation all 11 ships arrive safely in the port of Botany some 5 months later. A few days later on 26 January the ships are moved to a more suitable bay bay nearby now known as Sydney Harbour. This day would come to be known as Australia Day.

Alighting the ships are 762 convicts (12 perished along the way and 1 escaped), 5 additional free passengers as new born babies, and 6 head of black head cattle, 4 cows and 2 bulls picked up along the way at the Cape of Good Hope.

A convict named Edward Corbet is made herdsman and given strict instructions to not let the cattle out of his sight. All goes well until he returns from dinner one early evening only to find the “six head” had vanished. After numerous searches to no avail, all hope is lost of ever finding them. The fate of Edward Corbet is undocumented. Eight years later, rumours emerge that over 100 head of cattle had been spotted 80 miles inland from Sydney, thought to be direct descendants of the six Black Cape cattle that had fled. They not only survived but flourished without human intervention, giving great hope to the newly appointed Governor Hunter. So intrigued is the Governor that he forms a scouting party and ventures out into the bush to see for himself. On finding the large herd grazing in an area, he names it ‘‘The Pastures’’.

It is said that very evening the Governor and his party found a stray from the herd and decided it was a perfect day for steak. Beyond the colony, word soon spread that Australia had what it took to be the great cattle country.

This is the back story of the steakhouse, 6 Head 1788 a premium steakhouse situated proudly on the edge of the original Sydney Harbour with unfettered views of the Sydney Opera House. This story informs the entire design, from the impressive floating brass art installation by artist Dion Horstman and the 1 in 60 model of the Sirius book ending the entrance to the floor to ceiling rope installations that screen all internal walls with 1500 knots (one for each soul onboard the 1st fleet) and the story telling of the 1st fleets arrival carved out in the 150 year old bar counter face.

6HEAD Entrance | Storytelling in Restaurant Design | Design Partnership Australia
6HEAD | Storytelling in Restaurant Design | Design Partnership Australia

Here's why storytelling important...

Storytelling is probably not the 1st thing that comes to mind when you think about a restaurant design, but it should be. We all love to tell or listen to relatable stories. This is another hardwired DNA imprint where story telling through the ages formed a core part of how we transferred history. Stories, made it possible for cultures to pass knowledge, history, and significant events from father to son & from one generation to the next long before the invention of writing.

In the age of experience design, if a restaurant can tell a great story that is relatable & something that can be retold as part of our own life story, we ourselves become more interesting and relatable.

In 335BC, Aristotle observed that people when unhappy or at a loss for meaning, often turned to plays or poetry and was struck by a revolutionary idea. What if various story elements (plot, character and genre) could plug into our emotions and improve our mental function making us happier and healthier? For 2 millennia his treatise on the matter, called Poetics went almost unnoticed until the 20th century Chicago school revived the idea. Later in the early 2000’s, a student of the school, James Phelan co-founded Project Narrative as a leading think tank for the study of story telling. Now with the help of Psychologists and Neuroscientists it could finally be proven how various forms of storytelling can alleviate grief, boost creativity, provide therapy for trauma, spark joy, increase generosity and will dreams into reality.

With this in mind, great storytelling in a restaurant is of utmost importance. By this we don’t simply mean the over used and often misunderstood word, “narrative” as placeholder for concept. This is very important of course, but using a central theme, narrative or concept, is often not enough to make a story relatable or worth re-telling. The story can be real or fictional but the story is what binds the concept together. The story gives discipline and something to stay faithful to. It serves as the North star for all contributors of a great restaurant offering. It informs the chef for nature of the food, the graphic designer for the design of the signage and menu, the marketing company for the angle of the marketing campaign, the clothing designer for the style, fabric and pattern of the staff unforms and the Interior Designer for the 3 dimensional design of the space, finishes and fittings. In short it informs everything that the guest would experience and ensures that the concept is singular and cohesive.

Most restaurants after all fail because they are confused about their own identity and a confused identity leads to a confused guest, a problem which could be so easily resolved by scripting a compelling and (in)credible back story.

6HEAD | Storytelling in Restaurant Design | Design Partnership Australia
6HEAD | Storytelling in Restaurant Design | Design Partnership Australia

In the next article, we look at... Good Restaurant Design, The 8 Moments of Truth.


Article Acknowledgements:

1. Design Partnership Australia


Author: Callie Van Der Merwe Editor: Roberto Zambri

About the Author: Callie is an Architect turned Interior Designer turned

Human Behaviour Designer. He is also the founder of


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