The Partnership Behind Margaritaville’s Design Evolution

Nearly four decades after singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett first sang, “Wasted away again in Margaritaville,” the laid-back beach tune has transformed into a popular tourist destination. In order to capture the essence of the music that started it all, Margaritaville’s restaurant and hotel design needs to be flexible while maintaining distinct island vibes.

For more than 15 years, Pat McBride, CEO of The McBride Company, a design firm, has been the man to strike that balance. After first partnering with Margaritaville Holdings CEO John Cohlan on the 1999 Margaritaville Orlando project, the two companies have collaborated on a long string of properties, including more than 30 restaurants, four casinos, six hotels, and two resorts. Though their long-term partnership is marked by an easy comfort, their shared ideas on how to advance the brand have kept the wheels turning.

The inspiration always begins, of course, with Buffett’s music. Regardless of the location or type of property, there are staples McBride says he always maintains in a new design. “We have to deliver the lifestyle, so it’s definitely in part about showcasing the palm trees, the hammock, the music, and colors that look like they’ve been bleached and aged by the sun, so it reflects that tropical lifestyle,” McBride explains. “The seaplane is something very identifiable with Jimmy, too. And what does that represent? Of course, he really does fly one. But if you pilot one, you can land in the water, you can land on land—you have the freedom to go just about anywhere.”

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The escapism theme is what McBride and Cohlan agree the brand is all about. But as the brand has grown, so has the ambition of the design.

“Originally, we gave them a place where they could drink. Then, we gave them a place where they could eat and drink. Now, we give them a place where they can eat, drink, shop, and stay. So, the concept has become a little bit more sophisticated, just as anything does when it ages,” McBride says.

No element of a Margaritaville property is one-size-fits all. Cohlan describes the restaurants as more highly themed environments, covered in vibrant colors with loud music to match. Hotels, though, are entirely different: A tranquil place to relax, with splashes of fun mixed into places where they will be most enjoyed. He likens his guestroom designs to beach cottages, with soft hues and magnificent views. Elements of the brand’s trademark tropical festive atmosphere are always carefully kept in tact, as McBride is adamant that the loss of fun would mean the loss of the brand identity. Throughout a hotel’s pool, lobby, bar areas, a fun-filled paradise awaits.

“We create environments for so many different consumer experiences,” Cohlan explains. “Pat has a firm understanding of what guests expect from their Margaritaville experience in terms of a visual and design component. No doubt, one of the reasons we’ve had such dramatic growth is because we continue to evolve, but with a consistent design and vision because we’ve been working with the same team for so long.”

The fine line the brand walks between freshness and consistency is evidenced in current projects more than ever. After teaming up for the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort in Hollywood Beach, Fla., which began welcoming guests this month, their new endeavor is MargaritaVillage, a $200 million, first-of-its-kind project slated to debut in Kissimmee, Fla., in 2017. The property will combine a resort, 300 timeshare units, 300 apartments, and 500 resort homes.

“That’s the reason why I’m still interested in doing all these Margaritaville projects,” McBride says. “They’re great people and I love the relationship we have with the entire Margaritaville team. You get to know each other, and you start to think alike. But it keeps it very interesting because the challenges don’t go away. It’s always changing.”

Photo credit: Eileen Escarda