Major renovations come with both a big construction price tag and a significant loss of revenue from shutting down. But a lackluster interior could be an even bigger drag on returns.
Experienced design professionals can help restaurateurs effect a much-needed transformation with fast, low-cost renovation strategies that accelerate ROI. Think of it as "the 10-day restaurant makeover." And yes, it really can be done in less than two weeks for small and even medium-sized restaurants.
Here are five suggestions for making it work:
1. Plan ahead.
Before you engage contractors or design professionals, be sure you know what you want to accomplish and how long you can afford to stay closed. Communicating your objectives clearly will keep the project on schedule and eliminate unexpected hiccups in the renovation process. Being specific is the key to keeping the project within a 10-day window, by giving the design team you hire every opportunity to control the process and prepare for construction. By obtaining the necessary permits and projecting within a 10-day window, you can give the design team you hire every opportunity to control the process and prepare for construction. Municipal approvals and project reviews need to be secured and completed prior to the first hammer swing. Also, it doesn't hurt to use this planning period to stockpile materials so you can avoid missing elements during construction.
2. Make the most of your assets.
Pro tip: use what you have first. Generating a thorough accounting of your store's assets can help find creative solutions that reuse and rework existing resources. The experienced design pro can identify opportunities for reinventing assets on hand, like reupholstering furniture. This reduces renovation costs, and helps retain aspects of your restaurant that are reassuringly familiar to returning customers.
3. Aim for high impact.
The best ideas are the ones that generate returns. Adding seats may feel like a top priority, but it only helps if you're frequently hitting maximum capacity. If not, maybe you should reduce the number of tables in favor of adding a bar or providing greater exposure to your dining room. Features like these add value to customer experience and increase awareness of your offerings. They can even create new revenue streams.
Also, when it comes to measuring impact, it's wise to consult with an industry or design expert. The best solutions are not always intuitive.
4. Furnish for flow.
Customers like booths and banquettes for privacy and comfort, but they can take up valuable space. New booths, tables and chairs with slimmer profiles can recover valuable square footage, adding seats while improving traffic flow and offering customers an experience that feels less cramped. (For booths, consider a banquette with two-tops for maximum flexibility and efficiency.) At the same time, trading darker finishes for lighter colors and whites makes the space feel roomier. If privacy is essential, consider solutions that transmit light, like frosted glass or louvered partitions.
5. Invest in art.
Not because it may be more valuable in the future (who can predict that?) but because art can generate foot traffic and local appeal. Partnering with a local artist can create a low-cost solution for sophisticated decor, while introducing your location to a previously untapped client base. Consult with experienced design professionals (and trusted peers) about the artwork under consideration, to be certain of acquiring pieces with wide appeal that won’t drive away your clientele.
As an example, we developed a 10-day renovation plan for La Mezzaluna, a small Italian eatery in Princeton, NJ. The firm's portfolio includes a wide range of food service venues, from storefronts to high-end restaurants in Vegas and overseas. This depth of experience is crucial for owners in need of high-impact results and accelerated ROI.
La Mezzaluna's interior, colorful but dark, was uninviting for working lunches and brooding for dinners. JZA+D replaced the postmodern palette with deep wood tones and frosted glass, and opened the front visually to the street and natural light. Sconces and new overhead lighting configurations make the most of natural daylight, creating a bright, airy lunch vibe while retaining an intimate fine-dining atmosphere for dinner patrons. The firm also worked with a local artist to create a wall-to-ceiling mural installation—a close-up of a flowering white rose—generating excitement for both new and returning customers.
Combined with reused tables and reupholstered booths and banquette, the difference is dramatic. And the renovation timetable is nothing short of remarkable: closed on August 19th, the bistro reopened before Labor Day weekend and was back to serving Gnocchi al Pesto and Pork Ossobuco. The owners are delighted with the new interior and the easy transition, and the ROI has them thinking about their next project.
Joshua Zinder, AIA, is founder and principal and Marlyn Zucosky is a partner and director of Interior design with JZA+D. The firm delivers multidisciplinary services for sustainable and contemporary buildings, interiors and product designs.