In the creative business, we’re always thinking about what we can do next. What will surpass the latest, and most likely short-lived, dining trend? What’s going to win over the consumer and yet be cost effective for the developer? What can we offer that diners can’t get anywhere else?
These are important questions. Cuisine, interior design and the approach to customer service all factor into a restaurant’s success.
Still, many operators fail to discuss certain operational philosophies during the initial planning and design process. Though they may not seem crucial at the time, the opportunities for smart back-of-house and infrastructure design can have a positive effect on the bottom line.
Here are four restaurant design elements that shouldn’t be overlooked.
1. Employee facilities
Employees are the backbone of the restaurant business. They are the front line of interaction with paying, and hopefully returning, patrons. One way to help keep quality employees happy and avoid the industry’s high turnover rate is to design a back of house that thoughtfully considers what employees need to feel a sense of place. A few ways to address this include providing lockers to protect their personal belongings, a private restroom/changing room and adequate seating and table space for break time. Make sure your architects and engineers collaborate to ensure the air conditioning and heating properly serve the back with the same comfort level as the front of house.
2. Flex space
For restaurants that anticipate group sales and events, we’ll often design the space so it can “flex” as necessary (that usually means more moveable tables and chairs than built-in booths). When you design flex space, you also need to approach it from an operational standpoint and think of all possible variables. For example, you might need a place to store the extra tables and chairs when you need an open floor plan for an event. In some locations where rent is high, it won’t make sense to leave room for an empty storage room that’s only used on event nights. Is off-site storage available nearby? Will you have a vehicle to transport the tables and chairs? This line of thinking can help dictate other questions such as: Will you receive deliveries daily, or will you need more internal space to store several days of food, liquor and trash? Will you store backups on site? These are the kinds of conversations that owners and operators need to have with designers up front. Determine together the best use of space, taking into account the cost of every square foot of the restaurant. These logistical business decisions can affect the bottom line dramatically.
3. Al fresco space
For the most part, today’s patrons – especially Millennials – love to dine outside, even in extremely hot weather. It’s not uncommon to see a line of people waiting for outside seating, while the indoor dining room is half empty. To help avoid this disparity, yet still offer that prized al fresco environment, the design team should address ways of blurring the line between indoor and outdoor space. Using Nanawall, or an equivalent type of system, is a great way to do this – it allows operators to remove the “wall” separating the desired seating from the secondary seating option.
Make sure your designer understands the importance of protecting against theft at the hands of less scrupulous employees and patrons. Key security design details can help deter theft of the business’ liquor and cash. A dedicated liquor lockup, a cash room with pass-through and visible security cameras, even cameras in the trash and receiving areas are a good start. Don’t underestimate this element. If something is easy to steal, it will happen, and you’ll notice your bottom line heading to the red.
To avoid overlooking what may cost you in efficiency or productivity later, it’s important for owners to give the design team a real sense of the desired day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Or better yet, seek a design team that includes people who have been restaurant owners in the past – that way you can benefit from their very practical understanding of what makes a restaurant run efficiently and profitably.
Eric McBride is the COO and president of The McBride Company, a creative concept and design firm that specializes in creating hospitality and leisure destinations.