How to Hire a Designer


When it comes to redesigning your bar or club, or designing a new location, you’ll likely need help from a designer. It’s easier if you know how to navigate these waters.

It’s time for a change for your bar or nightclub and you want the change to make an impact. It’s time to redesign your location, or maybe even open a new venue.

Along with working on the menu and fine-tuning the customer service, you’ll need to hire a designer who will help bring your brand together and make your operation have a wow factor.

Nightclub & Bar spoke to some hospitality designers, who offered this advice when hiring them:

Provide all the following information when you reach out to a designer, says Howland Blackiston, owner, King-Casey, Westport, Conn., because it will result in a proposal that better addresses your needs:

A brief description of your business.

  • The business reasons that are driving the new design including why you are making changes, what needs fixing and why.
  • Your vision for your brand as a result of the new design.
  • The project start and completion dates.
  • Your budget.
  • The criteria you’ll use to select a design firm.

Interview several designers to find out which is the best fit, both in terms of your project and your personalities, says Blackiston. “Decide in advance the criteria you’ll use to score and evaluate the design firms and apply the same criteria to all firms being evaluated, so you’re always comparing apples to apples.”

Ask why a designer is more expensive than his or her rivals when there’s a big discrepancy in price, says Mae Brunken, owner Mae Brunken Design, Los Angeles. “It is important to understand what you are getting for the amount of money being charged. Oftentimes it is not only the talent of the designer, but years of experience and expertise that end up saving money by not having costly mistakes that someone less qualified may make. A qualified designer also has a team to help execute a project.”

Have a really good idea of what you are going to serve—both food and drinks—before you call in a designer, she says, because it will help him or her understand the vibe you are trying to create.

Try and find your designer before you select the location for your bar or nightclub. “The project location has a primal influence on the final design outcome. It’s great if the design team has a hand in selecting the space,” says Tom Mahaffey, design architect and senior project manager, Larson & Darby, Rockford Ill. “Matching the client’s vision to the space establishes a strong foundation for creating desirable atmospherics. The potential for a successful project would be greatly enhanced, if this were always possible.”

Know your budget before you meet with designers because finances are often a sticking point, Blackiston says. “Failing to share upfront information about the project budget can be a waste of everyone’s time. Give the design firm an inkling of the design budget before time is spent writing and reviewing proposals.”

Have some ideas of your own before you meet the potential designer. “No designer designs a project by himself. It’s a team effort and if you can get an effective team together, designer and client, you have a good project,” says Mahaffey.

Interview several designers. “It is critically important that the team works well together, so personalities matter,” says Mahaffey. “A successful design process is always collaborative. The client has to be comfortable that the designer ‘gets it’ in reference to both working as a team and the driving vision. I find the design process is a lot like participating in a jam session in music. You start with a theme and then create something wonderful through common purpose.”

Don’t ignore the designers you haven’t chosen after you’ve made a decision, says Blackiston. Explain why to the companies that weren’t selected. Otherwise, he says, “we feel more like a vendor than a partner. It’s helpful to know why we weren’t selected “then we can take steps to make corrections.”