2014 London Design Awards

spaces, objects, visual, graphic, digital & experience design, design champion, best studio & best start-up, plus over 40 specialist categories

accelerate transformation, celebrate courage, growing demand for design

National Railway Museum Restaurants [DRAFT]

Image Credit : Alistair Lever



Project Overview

A complete redesign of the National Railway Museum’s hospitality offer - following a commission by long-term client Levy Restaurants UK, who provides catering services at the Museum - in order to create high-quality spaces, contribute to the Museum’s financial sustainability and enhance visitors’ experience.
The radical revamp involved the rebadging and redesign of the popular attraction’s two main restaurants, as well as creating a third new offer in an external, courtyard space.
Sales have since improved by 26%, contributing towards the Museum’s upkeep. Additionally, the ability to serve large numbers of customers efficiently while maintaining optimum service standards has reduced queuing times and led to vastly improved penetration. The restaurant offer has developed into a destination experience and become an integral part of the Museum visit: a key success criterion for the development of the project in a world-renowned heritage site.
Completion coincided with the launch of the Museum’s Great Gathering exhibition, which attracted approximately 10,000 visitors per day and generated national and international press and TV coverage. These visitor numbers were unprecedented, so the new catering formats were tested to the limit. Customer flow could not have been smoother; a fact reflected in exit polls and customer feedback.

Project Commissioner

Levy Restaurants UK

Project Creator



Neil Hogan
Brendan Heath
Priya Patel
Georgia Stevenson
Rose Mcshane

Project Brief

The project presented many operational challenges due to the sheer diversity and numbers of target audiences to satisfy. Whilst ensuring the new offer would be as innovative as possible, there were many practical factors to consider while working within the Museum and protecting its exhibits.
The restaurants to be redesigned were The Dining Car, a 450 sq m restaurant situated in the Grade II-listed Station Hall and The Mallard Café, a 310 sq m space located in the more modern section of the museum, the Great Hall. The new external area is The Container Café, made up of four industrial transportation containers with loose courtyard seating and three further adapted, open-sided containers offering semi-covered seating.
Each outlet was to be designed with an individual style, complementing the surroundings and aiming for them to blend into the collections, becoming an integral part of the customer experience. This had to be balanced with the practicality of providing full catering services, preparing fresh local foods in front of the customer. The layout had to be flexible enough to handle extreme swings in demand; hence each unit was constructed with twin service points, mirroring each other, supported by multiple pay stations.

Project Innovation/Need

All three dining spaces feature exciting, playful and highly original designs, inspired by the glorious heritage of the railways. The counters in The Dining Car restaurant, for example, are modelled on the feel of an old timber-clad ticket office, with a bespoke seating area inspired by vintage railway carriages (complete with luggage racks and carriage lights), as well as a series of framed ‘golden age’ room sets on casters, evoking the spacious feel of the lounges on trains like the Orient Express. The Mallard Café, meanwhile, has an industrial feel, with steel tubing, stainless steel shelves and metal studs, referencing the great engineering design behind Mallard and its sister A4 class locomotives, whilst the seven external containers refer to the railway’s great role in industrial transportation.

Design Challenge

The National Railway Museum, which forms part of the Science Museum Group, is a very well-established and hugely popular museum, attracting over 700,000 visitors a year. Whilst SHH was looking to be as creative as possible, there were many practical issues of robustness, customer queuing and access to work with, as well as safety issues, ensuring that loose furniture was kept away from the trains, for example, as the exhibits are real trains on rails, with adapted viewing platforms alongside. When it came to the spaces themselves, each was quite different: Station Hall (home to The Dining Car) is a single-storey former goods station, built in the 1870s and Grade II-listed, whilst the Great Hall (housing the Mallard Café) is a more modern structure: a huge-scale, former locomotive depot, housing meeting rooms, a research facility and a function room, as well as exhibit space.


SHH recycled items from the National Railway Museum archive wherever possibly, including vintage luggage to sit in the racks, for example, above the bespoke, carriage-style seating in The Dining Car. The second seating area in this restaurant features loose furniture (re-using existing bentwood chairs), enlivened with additional ‘exhibit’ features, such as old ticket machines, a model train set inside a glass case in the centre of the space and old station signs and plaques on the enclosing red timber fence walls (which prevent loose furniture coming into contact with the trains).
The final Dining Car seating area is made up of three framed room sets (all on casters so that they can be moved around to create a wall formation when the restaurant needs to be closed off for functions), inspired by goods crates from the early 20th century era. The ‘domestic’ period vintage furniture they use was all sourced locally in York, whilst the external walls of the room sets are decorated with railway industry graphics from the same era.
The third and final dining area, the new Container Café, is made up of four individual re-used shipping containers, fitted out off-site and then craned into position.

This award celebrates innovative and creative building interiors, with consideration given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes, aesthetic presentation and functionality. Consideration also given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.  

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