Catering Design Group (CDG) has completed a £280K refurbishment of Millets Farm Centre in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, resulting in a 22% increase in restaurant covers to date.
The family-run business is a well-known destination in Oxfordshire, with its roots going back to 1952. Millets Farm Centre attracts up to one million visitors each year. As well as the newly extended restaurant, there is a thriving farm shop, a garden centre, beauty salon and other attractions such as an animal walkway, a play area, woodland, a falconry centre and a maze. The centre employs 200 people overall, including an in-house catering brigade of 25.
The brief included a new dining room extension and the complete transformation of the existing servery area to ensure better functionality and to create the service style Millets had envisioned to support future growth.
The scope of works included everything from initial design consultancy through to full design, supply and fit-out, including bespoke servery counters, furniture, lighting design, interior finishes and joinery.
The independent hospitality design firm was initially engaged on a design consultancy basis in 2018, having undertaken some interior design work five years previously. CDG was subsequently awarded a full contract to transform the servery and dining room at Millets Farm Centre, covering an area of circa 715 square metres.
Ben Carter, director of Millets Farm Centre, said: “We met other design firms but came back to CDG because of their professionalism, efficiency and their creative ideas. We were also aware of the work CDG had done in other farm centres and knew that their portfolio was impressive and in line with our expectations for Millets.”
Works started on site in November 2019 but COVID-19 delayed Millets’ planned April 2020 reopening. Despite the additional challenge this brought, CDG worked within the brief and budget throughout lockdown to hand the project over successfully at the end of June in time for the phased re-opening of the restaurant.
Ben Carter said: “The biggest challenge was coordinating the trades once we opened the build back up during lockdown. It was tricky getting sub-contractors on site in a way that they could work in a coordinated way but not together. CDG’s project manager, Geoff Kibblewhite, proved invaluable. He was extremely thorough, and we felt in safe hands as he managed all health & safety and Covid compliance issues seamlessly. We ended up appointing CDG as the main contractors on site and this made all the difference to the safe and efficient management of the project.”
Steve Hutchings, director of CDG, said: “Our client had a clear vision of what was needed to support their strategic growth plans. Our challenge was to open up the space, improve the flow and create different areas including a family area and the ‘Quiet Room’ – a cosy, flexible space for adults which could also be used for small meetings and gatherings. The new servery includes grab ‘n’ go areas (including a dedicated area for children), a feature deli area to display produce from the farm shop, a chef’s pass and a central island counter for patisserie and beverages.
“Millets wanted a contemporary farmhouse feel so this is reflected in the design and in the selection of materials throughout. For example, the statement corrugated fascia to the feature central island is a nod to traditional farm buildings.”
A ‘farm to fork’ fresh food ethos stands at the heart of Millets’ offer so CDG specified a mix of materials and finishes to complement the provenance of the food. The design incorporates different textures and patterns within the finishes for the counters, flooring and furniture all working well together to create an attractive and welcoming space.
CDG designed bespoke retail displays and shelving to zone the space and provide opportunities to highlight the farm shop’s heritage and produce, including speciality breads which are baked on-site each day.
It was critical that the design would work operationally with the existing kitchen and back-of-house areas and this involved detailed discussion and planning with the client and the catering team to make sure this was right, as Steve explained: “ The level of detail we went into was considerable – right down to measuring the heights of teapots, cups and jugs to design a bespoke shelf and trolley system which meant that clean crockery could be easily transported directly from the kitchen and slotted into place in the servery area with minimal handling.”
Getting the ambience right was crucial to the success of the design. CDG specified warm LED lighting and introduced a fireplace for a homely feel in the Quiet Room. In the delibar, where good lighting is key to displaying the food offer, the design team introduced feature pendants cantilevered off the back wall because of low ceiling height.
Steve explained: “Due to low ceiling height and lack of natural lighting in this space, we used a paint that has a high light reflectance value, which naturally brightens up this space, making it more inviting.”
CDG worked closely with their client to involve them in every step of the journey to ensure client satisfaction.
“Millets is a family-run business, and the family is passionate about the centre, its heritage and its future development,” Steve said. “We considered their vision and ideas throughout the design process, listening and interpreting their ideas to realise their collective vision.”
One example of this was retaining the rustic feel of the original outdoor seating space within the restaurant extension by incorporating a large artificial olive tree in the new area with bespoke seating around it and feature lighting to make it a stunning centrepiece of the new dining space.
The impact on growth has already been seen, despite the challenges of COVID-19, with daily covers rising from 156 to 191, and potentially increasing to 260 in the future.
Ben Carter said: “CDG’s strengths are, without doubt, their efficiency and ability to communicate. The design process took about a year to finalise and during that time they were always happy to pop in and sit with us to discuss any changes or ideas. The fact that we could always get hold of them was very reassuring. They had great ideas, but they listened too.
“There are so many good elements but one thing that stands out for me is the central coffee counter which customers can walk around. We used to have one long queue but now people can choose three queues. This works very well from a social distancing point of view. Customer flow is so much better now, and we have introduced a second coffee machine so that takes the pressure off front of house staff.
“We also now have a pass so our chefs feel less under pressure as they aren’t customer-facing, which is also better for health and safety. The overall design is stunning, and we are delighted with it.
“Commercially, we have seen an 22% increase in covers in the restaurant. Feedback from visitors has been positive and our catering and front of house teams are happy so that’s hugely important. “