Face to Face with Ciara Petty, founder of Ciara Petty Design Studio, a hospitality and retail design studio based in Ennis, Co. Clare.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in March of 2023.
Tell us about your business.
Ciara Petty Design Studio is a full-service food-and-beverage, retail and hospitality interior design consultancy, specialising in strategic, brand-focused design. We create and deliver high-end projects in the hospitality, retail and foodservice sectors. We pride ourselves on our strategic, commercially focused design approach.
Tell us about your career so far.
I graduated in 2010, with a BA in interior architecture, and moved to London in 2011. During my ten years in London, I worked my way up the ladder across different design agencies, specialising in retail and hospitality design. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with major brands including Lavazza, Jaeger, Calvin Klein, and international foodservice operators like Ströck Bakery, in Austria, Burger Lab, in South Korea, and Yogurtland in the US, as well as several global duty-free operators. It was a fantastic experience and gave me a really good understanding of how to maximise retail strategy by focusing on commercially led design principles.
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My husband and I moved back to Ireland in 2020, with our young son, and I made the decision to set up my own design studio. I’ve worked on a number of exciting projects since, including the design for OffBeat Donuts’ new flagship store in Cork City, the redesign of Quigley’s Bakery and Cafe across multiple outlets, and the development of the Pizza SQ head office and kitchens in Dublin.
We continue to work with international brands, but now I am really relishing the chance to bring my international experience to hospitality operators in Ireland. Our clients work with us to improve footfall, create new customer journeys, revitalise the customer experience, and optimise operations for staff. For each client, the end result is a space with real impact that will transform the customer’s experience and improve turnover for the business.
Your best professional decision?
Setting up my own business in 2020.
Your most challenging moment?
Setting up my own business in 2020.
Your most embarrassing moment?
Too many to mention!
Three attributes that you wish you had?
I really admire people who are not afraid of failure and are willing to take a chance on an idea – I think this is an attribute you can develop, though, over the course of your career, and the more experience I have, the more I trust my gut and take considered risks.
Your favourite pub?
Peter’s Pub in Dublin.
Your favourite drink?
Your favourite holiday destination?
Cuba. I spent a glorious two weeks there and loved the mix of culture, design and colour that was visible everywhere. There are so many fantastic hotels in Ireland now, but I do have a soft spot for the Ice House [Hotel] in Ballina. My husband and I stayed there for a few days after we got married and fell in love with the location, faultless service and delicious food!
Your worst job?
After graduating, I temped at a cheese factory for a week. I spent my time counting little squares of paper in the office.
What was so bad about it?
I didn’t know what I was doing, but, about a week later, the recruiter called me to go back for a longer contract – apparently, I was the best paper counter they ever had. Needless to say, my paper counting days were over.
If you could do any other job – apart from the job that you are doing now – what would it be, and why?
Psychology. I am interested in people and finding out why they do what they do.
Any pet hates?
Bad customer service really bothers me. Service with a smile makes up for a lot of other shortcomings.
Your business motto?
Arthur Ashe said it best, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
The best advice that you ever received?
Trust your gut.
Name one thing that you always have in your refrigerator. Oat milk. Your recipe for a successful hotel restaurant?
The experience in the restaurant should be separate to the rest of the hotel. The most successful hotel restaurants make you feel as if you aren’t in a hotel at all. Ambience, comfort and intimate lighting are key when designing a hotel restaurant.
What does Irish hospitality do best?
A friendly welcome, skilled customer service, and excellent seasonal, locally sourced food.
What is your fundamental design principle?
Form follows function. Successful design is basically problem-solving. If it doesn’t function as it should, then the problem has not been solved.
Are Irish people good customers?
Yes. Irish people are well travelled and have high standards when it comes to hospitality. They are not afraid to try new things, but remain loyal to brands they have had positive experiences with.
Your death-row meal?
When I was younger, I studied in Italy for a year and always loved the food, so it would have to be pasta, or maybe a seafood risotto.
The most enjoyable part of your career?
I have been lucky to travel quite a bit throughout my career and always enjoyed exploring new cities, trying new food, and discovering new design. In terms of day to day, I spend considerable time at the outset of every project really getting to know the realities of the business, understanding the brief, and gaining an understanding of what the drivers are and who the target customer is. Once I understand the parameters of the brief, I love hand sketching, material development, and problem-solving through design. I get enormous job satisfaction from what I do.
Your biggest disappointment to date?
I like to focus on the here and now, but I truly believe every failure is a learning opportunity and makes you better at what you do.
Complete this sentence: Nothing is more important than …?
Spending time with friends and family.
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