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Renovating Revamps Business

From Restaurants USA magazine

quote1.gif Food may no longer be as important to diners as the setting in which it is served. Restaurants are renovating more often to keep up with consumers’ changing tastes and desire for excitement. quote2.gif

tbar4b.jpgAfter 12 years in business, Guiseppe Bruno and his brother Gerardo decided it was time to give their Manhattan restaurant Sistina a new look. “We felt like we needed a change,” says Bruno. “We felt like we were falling asleep, and we wanted to get excited again. We also wanted to update with the times and make sure our clientele was still happy.”

Plans were in place by February, and the redesign was scheduled to begin in July. Bruno began excitedly telling his customers about the changes in store for the coming fall, but he was surprised to learn that many of his regulars didn’t share his enthusiasm.

“We started testing the ground and telling our customers in February. But they really didn’t want us to do the redesign,” says Bruno. “A lot of people were disappointed; they didn’t want us to change. Sistina was a very simple restaurant, and they liked it the way it was.”

So Bruno stopped telling his customers. “We wanted to do it,” he says. “We wanted to do it for us and for our customers. So we stopped talking about it and just decided to send out letters before we closed down.”

Now, six months after reopening, Bruno says everyone loves the change. His only wish, he says, is that he had done it earlier. “The customers were worried that we were going to change the place they loved,” says Bruno. “But sometimes you have to change and be innovative. You have to do what you know is right.”

What Bruno knew was that the industry is changing rapidly. Twenty years ago an article about design would have had no place in a restaurant magazine. The design of a restaurant had little to do with consumers choice of an eating place, and operators were more concerned about food than about facility design.

“It used to be that the most important thing was food, the second-most-important thing was service, and the third-most-important thing was the design or concept,” says Spiros Zakas, CEO and director of design for Zakaspace, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

But those days are gone. “Today, the most important thing is the design and concept,” says Zakas. “Consumers want to go to a place that’s fun and nice, [and] they still want decent service. Unfortunately, the least important thing is the food. Its all been turned upside down.”

Overhauls in overdrive

gallaghers-steak-house-53b.jpgDriven by changing consumer demands and increased consumer expectations formed by high-capitalization chains, the frequency of redesigning is picking up. Most operators, consultants and designers agree that the pace of redesign has increased in the past decade, but there are a number of competing theories as to why. Although the majority of experts agree that increased competition has forced restaurants to redesign more often, the agreement ends there.

Zakas, whose design credits include Michael Jordans Restaurant in Chicago, the Atlanta Fish Market, and about 300 other foodservice projects located predominantly in the South and the Midwest, has followed the industry closely for more than two decades and believes that large restaurant companies have redefined industry standards.

“There are now a ton of big companies in the restaurant business,” says Zakas. “They are the ones that are pushing the pace. These big boys have come into the picture, and they are merchandising like crazy. TheyÕve got these wonderful ads on TV, and people are flocking into these places because they like the environment and the service is good. The big boys change their interiors about every four to five years, and everybody else has to keep up with them. The poor little guy has really got to go out there and hire professional people to help him remain competitive.”

Dan Bendall, vice president of the Maryland and New York design division of Cini-Little International, Inc., agrees that “the proliferation of chains has affected the pace of redesign.” But Bendall believes other factors have had a significant impact. “I think the pace of redesign is a function of less new construction,” he says. “Good locations are more difficult to come across, so instead of moving, an operator redesigns.” Perhaps most important, “the trends in the industry are changing so rapidly that operations have to redesign every five to seven years to keep up.”

Marve Cooper, president of Chicago-based Marve Cooper Design, also thinks the increasing pace of redesign is market-driven. But Cooper sees the increased pace as a result not of trends but of “quickly changing customer demand.”

“The customers are speaking for themselves,” says Cooper. “In the Õ80s, nobody listened to what the customer wanted. But today, more people are eating out more often, so they are less infatuated with the idea of restaurants. Today, they look at eating out as another support service in their life. So people want to see a reflection of their own values in a restaurant, and they won’t pay for what they don’t want. They want to be comfortable, they want a good, wholesome meal, and they want restaurants to reflect these core values” in the food, the prices and the design.

The new marketplace

370_better_after_kitchenb.jpgThe concept of the restaurant as theater and stage began to emerge in the Õ80s. Patrons wanted to see themselves as characters in a carefully scripted fantasy. Although consumers are less willing to pay for those fantasies now, many elements of the theater have been integrated into today’s restaurant design.

Display kitchens have become an integral component of the modern restaurant. The display kitchen has evolved into much more than just center stage. It has become a highly tuned merchandising system that plays to the core values of clientele.

“Today, people want to see the kitchen,” says Zakas, who counsels most of his redesign clients to tear down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room whenever possible. “People want to see what they are ordering. From hot-dog stands to white-tablecloth restaurants, from McDonald’s to Morton’s, you can see the product right in front of you. Because of the consumer, the old concept of the kitchen being behind the wall has gone away.”

According to Bendall, “the majority of restaurants now have some sort of a display or merchandising element to them. From the customer’s point of view, there is a trend toward healthy, fresh foods. [Diners] want to see a fresh steak or a fresh piece of fish placed on a broiler. On the part of operators, an open kitchen is great merchandising -what you see with your eyes sells.”

Beyond the open kitchen

Open kitchens represent a major step toward a design-driven, marketing-conscious industry, but Bendall doesn’t think the concept has reached its logical conclusion. The design of restaurants for the 21st century is still evolving. “I think you’ll see the display-kitchen theme carried way past what we’ve seen,” says Bendall. “Diners and kitchens are becoming more intermingled, and we’ll start to see a lot more of the marketplace concept.”


Layout and Your Bottom Line


Several elements contribute to the success of every food service operation, but one of the most important is the basic physical layout of the business itself. Properly designed and constructed, your restaurant’s layout gives you a decided advantage from the day you open your doors. Poorly conceived layouts can create the opposite result – an insurmountable hurdle that impacts your customers, your staff and your business itself.

When designing your layout – or considering a renovation to help improve it – remember that you want your customers to spend the bulk of their time in the part of your business that generates the greatest revenues. That might be the bar in a nightclub or the table area of a restaurant.

Your layout can also impact your staff’s ability to serve guests satisfactorily. Your staff needs ample space to serve meals and drinks, clear the table with minimum intrusion and in general avoid any disturbance to the flow of business.

In short, your goal is to move your clientele through your restaurant’s space without creating bottlenecks. To do so, you must analyze your available square footage against anticipated customer capacity before making adjustments to your layout.

Restaurant Assets and Design addresses this subject with a proven technique involving “bubble” or adjacency plans that help determine the location of key elements and then analyzing customer activities to determine if the relationship is appropriate. Contact us to learn how this technique can be applied to your business and help increase customer service, productivity and profitability.



New Benefits From POS

708721_cards_2.jpgPoint-Of-Sale (POS) systems, familiar tools for processing restaurant orders, are being increasingly used by creative restaurateurs to bring more customers through the door. Traditionally used for processing customer orders and tracking sales, POS data is now seen as a tool to track guest data, such as demographics and purchasing habits to produce marketing campaigns that generate results at little or no additional cost.

Operators can use the data to determine which menu items are the most popular and build food-based promotions around them. They can also offer guests “bounce back” incentives tied to the best-selling appetizers and desserts, enticing them to return to the restaurant sooner rather than later.

If a POS report shows lagging sales on a given night, the operator can use the information to develop a promotion that targets that specific night to increase patronage.

The most valuable POS benefit may well be its ability to provide data on the restaurant’s most loyal guest. Following the old adage of “fish where the fish are biting,” operators can identify guests who are frequent patrons, creating programs that keep them returning for more.

Most POS systems are capable of printing promotional messages directly on receipts, another avenue to market directly to patrons and to track their responses.

Most in industry experts agree that incentives can boost sales and generate loyal patronage, but strongly discourage discounting menu items because the practice suggests to guest that the food or drinks aren’t worth paying full price. Instead, they suggest, offer no-strings-attached promotions such as a free drink or dessert.

POS systems have also made the old punch card promotion obsolete. A POS system can instead monitor cards swiped through it, collecting data on guests eating habits. They can also be used in a Reward Card concept, which can lead to attractive “up selling” opportunities. Some systems are also capable of identifying infrequent visitors and issuing an incentive for them to return sooner.

POS-related information is even more valuable when paired with a customer’s email address. Restaurants are increasingly utilizing email to communicate quickly and cost-effectively with guests through marketing materials, newsletters and special promotions.

The industry is also finding new technological applications, such as a service called, which enables guests to send text messages to preorder their meals. The service is fully integrated into the restaurant’s POS system and allows the order to be charged to a credit card number already on file. Restaurants are also employing cell telephones to notify guests of rewards and promotions they are eligible for, simply by submitting their cell phone number.

The benefits of technology are increasing almost daily, and Restaurant Assets and Design stays on top of developments to share with clients. Contact us and we’ll be happy to share the latest innovations with you.




Branding your Business

totnowords.jpgEvery business has a brand, and successful restaurateurs are adept at exploiting it for maximum impact and profitability.

A brand represents much more than the name on the side of a building or a logo on the cover of a menu. Today’s brand represents what the customer expects from the product or service and in reality is a promise to customers, employees, the community, media and industry itself.

Restaurant Assets and Design has years of experience in creating effective branding programs that increase our clients’ business by getting people talking about them. We accomplish this by analyzing your operation and developing a recommended brand concept. Then we build your band by ensuring that its promise is reflected at every possible point to experience and remember.

Contact Restaurant Assets and Design to get the process started. We guarantee you we’ll make improvements, and not just changes for the sake of change. If an element works, we leave it alone. But when we see where improvement can be made to your program, we’ll not only explain it but help you implement it. Contact us at 916 649-7250 or by clicking the “contact us” button on the right of this page.


Special Events

banquet.jpgScheduling special events for your restaurant can generate additional revenues at little additional expense.

For example, if your goal is to increase your plate count on Tuesday nights, you can designate every Tuesday as “something special” for your customers. It might be a special menu item or a “theme” dinner, or perhaps a discount on appetizers or desserts – items that usually have the greatest profit margin.

Getting the word out about these nights is simple. Just prepare tent cards for your table, or an email to customers on your list. It never hurts to ask your customers what they would like to see included on these nights, making them feel more involved in the process.






Selling Up

making_recommendation.jpgMany restaurateurs overlook an obvious opportunity to increase their profitability by not adopting a consistent policy of having servers suggest appetizers and/or desserts to every guest.

And the manner in which they are suggested is critically important. For example, a server should never ask a patron a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no,” such as ”Would you like to start with an appetizer?” Instead, the server will find greater success by recommending an item as either “new to the menu” or “one of our most popular” or “my particular favorite.”

When it comes to desserts, a proven method of increasing sales is to show patrons a tray of the house’s specialties, giving a brief description of each. Many servers make a “show” of this opportunity, getting the attention of the guest in question and those at nearby tables, another avenue to increased sales.

In both cases, servers who are adept at “up selling” appetizers, desserts or perhaps a special bottle of wine normally find their gratuities increased, motivation in itself for them to support the restaurant’s policy.





welcomewaiter.jpgAsk anyone in the food service business to list their top five headaches, and chances are each will include finding and maintaining adequate staffing. From executive chefs to servers to busers, personnel issues often cause the most sleepless nights for restaurant owners and managers.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution, other than to prepare for the worst by maintaining a list of potential replacements for every position. In short, never stop recruiting because you never know when a replacement will be necessary. It also doesn’t hurt to know where the best chefs and servers are working in your geographic area, and to reach out to them when necessary.




Equipment Installation


OK, you’ve ordered a new piece of kitchen equipment and it’s ready for delivery to your site.

As the equipment buyer, you’ve done all your homework to make sure the installation will go as smoothly as possible, and that the equipment will work properly from the get-go. You have, haven’t you?

To make sure, look at the following “must-do” tasks and avoid any installation surprises:

Early Delivery: If the equipment must be delivered to the restaurant for third-party installation, make sure someone will be on hand and prepared to receive it. You’ll also have to be sure there is a secure and safe staging area, and always check for any obvious signs of damage.

mixer_h_b.gifInstallation Timing: Determine how much time to allow for installation and select the day of the week and time that will work best for you. Poorly timed and organized deliveries can create a nightmare you don’t need to have, such as having your food vendor and the equipment delivery crew competing for parking or dock space, to say nothing of interior access. Do as much advance preparation as you can to help avoid installation issues.

Building Access: Is there easy access to the location where the equipment is to be installed? Measure all doorways to make sure they can accommodate the equipment. Are there stairways to be negotiated, and do you have a sufficient crew on hand to provide any additional “muscle” when the equipment arrives?

Dock/Truck Lift-Gate Requirements: Many pieces of restaurant equipment are heavy enough to require a dock or truck lift-gate to be unloaded from a delivery vehicle. Make sure this critical component is available and make alternative plans if they are not. Discuss the issue with your equipment supplier and delivery company, just to be safe.

Service Elevator Capacity (volume + weight): If the equipment must be placed on an elevator to reach its final destination, make sure the elevator has sufficient capacity by measuring its inside volume and the size of the door opening. Compare those measurements with those of the equipment, and make sure the elevator has sufficient weight capacity to carry the equipment safely. Never exceed an elevator’s posted weight limit.

ovens.jpgDoor and Hallway Dimensions: Another pre-delivery “must” is measuring all doors and hallways the equipment must pass through. Take a moment for a preliminary “walk through” of the equipment’s intended path to identify any potential turns or changes in floor levels that might impede delivery.

Old Equipment: Your new equipment cannot be installed unless the equipment it is replacing has been removed. But just to be safe, it’s smart to place the old equipment off to one side in case the new equipment arrives in damaged condition or with missing parts. That way, the old equipment can be reinstalled temporarily until the problem is resolved.

Utilities: Believe it or not, the wrong utility is the No. 1 cause of improperly operating restaurant equipment. When installing new equipment, be sure you’re aware of the following:

  • Electrical Equipment – Be sure the voltage and phase of the new equipment match that of the location, along with the AMP requirements of the equipment corresponding to the building’s service. Always check that the wiring and plug of the new equipment is long enough and compatible with the electrical outlet if a plug is being used.

  • Gas Equipment — Be certain the gas requirements of the equipment matches that available at the facility. Does the equipment require natural gas or propane, and is the gas pressure sufficient? These factors and others – including elevation above sea level – can have a significant bearing on the equipment’s functionality, and the entire subject should be addressed when the equipment is ordered.

Water Availability: Many pieces of equipment require water for their basic operation, including steamers, steam-jacketed kettles, combination ovens, coffee urns, dish washing machines and the like. Your advance planning should include making sure there is a water source near where the equipment will be installed.

Water Pressure, Quantity, Temperature and Quality: It’s important to be sure that there is sufficient water pressure and quality to meet the demands of certain types of equipment. For example, water pressure and temperature are critical factors for maximum efficiency of washing equipment, and a water softener may be required if the facility is served by “hard” water.

equipm1.jpgHood Depth: If your new equipment is to be installed under a hood, make sure there is adequate room to accommodate it. In most cases, there must be 12 inches from the front-edge of the cooking equipment to the front edge of the hood, but it’s best to check local codes to be sure.

CFM Requirements: When new or additional pieces of equipment are added to an existing hood system there must be sufficient air flow (CFMs) through the hood for the proper operation of all pieces of equipment. Failure to prove sufficient CFMs will often lead to significant operational problems.

Mounting Surface: Most equipment needs to be installed on a level surface to work properly. This is normally not an issue when equipment is installed on a table. However, if the equipment is to be installed on the floor, care must be taken to make sure it is level. Adjustable feet or legs are often the best solution to this potential issue.

Drain Requirements: Similar to the above issue, many pieces of equipment require a free-flowing drain to perform properly. A steamer or combi-oven, for example, must be installed with easy access to a floor drain, and pre-planning will help determine if any drainage pipes should be PVC or copper.

mjh50lb.jpgManufacturer’s Specificatio
n Sheet:
Check this document for any special installation requirements. In case the sheet is misplaced or unavailable upon delivery, copies are usually available through the manufacturer’s website.

Warranty Card: Fill out and return all warranty-related materials immediately. Your dealer can often help you, but a warranty is a major component of the asset you have just purchased and should always be treated as such.

Demonstration and Start-Up: Once installation is complete and you’re property trained on its use and care, arrange for a through demonstration for all staff members who will be using the equipment. Your manufacturer’s representative can be of great assistance in this important final step.

Packing Materials: As a final step, ensure that all packing materials and construction debris are properly disposed of, and that any construction damage is repaired.




The Best Designers Listen

gallaghers-steak-house-72b.jpgDesigning a restaurant from the walls out or renovating an existing facility is an exciting, exacting experience.

Each experience contains many complex issues, and focusing on only one can result in serious problems in day-to-day operations. It’s important to view the project from as many perspectives as possible before incorporating them into the planning process.

That’s why Restaurant Assets and Design, as a professional restaurant designer, listens carefully to your concepts, goals and objectives before offering a single design suggestion. You know the personality or atmosphere you want your restaurant to reflect. Once we know that we can address the technical details and begin building an effective design.

This is where a commercial interior designer goes off track in restaurant-related projects. A restaurant design specialist addresses functional components and considers the needs of clientele and staff every step of the way.

If you see a design layout that forces the staff to disturb their guests’ experience every time they need to do their job, chances are the layout was not the work of a restaurant design specialist.

At Restaurant Assets and Design, we understand the various building components, and by working closely with our clients we produce functional, attractive, cost-effective and efficient restaurant design solutions.

Some of the components to be considered in pre-design planning include:

An Entrance Area That Creates a Great First Impression

Your customers will form an opinion of your restaurant long before they reach the front door. Knowing that, you should design an entrance area that conveys positive information about your business, with a warm and welcoming atmosphere most important. The size of the area is also important: Too small or too large an area make for the wrong impression. Plan for an area that allows for a comfortable flow into the bar or dining room and your patrons will feel like guests, not a herd of cattle.

gallaghers-steak-house-14b.jpgA Holding Bar Area To Remember

If your guests feel comfortable in your holding bar area they’ll be in no rush in going to their table, which helps your staff maintain a smooth flow. A comfortable, relaxing atmosphere in the holding bar area prepares your guests puts your guests in the mood for a delightful dining experience, so don’t squeeze in too many seats and ruin their mood. A good rule of thumb in to make the holding bar area a bit more impressive than the entry, building the guests’ anticipation for an enjoyable dining room experience.

Designing A Washroom To Impress

When people describe a restaurant experience they frequently mention the food first. The service could come second or third – depending upon the impressiveness of the washrooms. When guests are impressed by your washrooms they’ll tell everyone to visit your restaurant, just to see them.

And when it comes to washrooms, size matters. Too small an area translates to being uncomfortable. Finding the size that is right for your business is not easy, but given the cost of later renovations, it’s worth serious consideration. And it’s no longer enough for washrooms to be merely clean. Lighting, sound and music control, temperature and air controls are obvious concerns. The tactile value of floors, walls and counters can also make or break a design’s effect, and carpet or vinyl flooring should be avoided at all costs. Ceramic tile, marble or synthetic flooring can be good alternatives, and mirrors can provide the illusion of more space. In any event, the washroom and its fixtures should be as elegant as your budget allows, and economy plumbing and lighting fixtures should be avoided.

The Chef’s Kingdom

parma-6.jpgToo many restaurant kitchens were designed to fit into the leftover space after the dining room and washrooms were designed. This was often necessary to a degree, but an efficient and productive kitchen has a positive impact on customers and staff, and the input of your chef should always be a planning priority.

Your menu range, for example, impacts both equipment and staffing requirements. You can’t have servers tripping over each other while trying to do their jobs, and properly planning hot side and cold side preparation and pick-up areas can reduce stress and costs for all involved. Dish-pit staff also needs to do its job without moving through the prep or cooking areas, and your chef is the best source of information to make this happen.

That’s why Restaurant Assets and Design “grills” your kitchen staff for operational information, and we often rely on an experienced executive help when your chef isn’t available. As a result, we recommend designs that control preparation costs, creating kitchen efficiencies that cannot be overlooked.

Another important thing about your chef: Making him or her visible to your guests can be a great marketing concept, and the dining public likes to see who is preparing their meal. Many successful restaurants have adopted this approach and finds it adds to their customer’s overall dining experience, the goal of every forward-thinking restaurateur.


The Building Layout Can Alter Your Design Plans

Our goal at Restaurant Assets and Design is to help our restaurant clients understand what happens inside their walls. That includes helping them grasp how quickly their chosen design plan can become totally cost-prohibitive by ignoring potential problems within their existing structure.

Knowing how electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems inter-relate with load-bearing structures can product huge renovation cost savings. Since Restaurant Assets and Design designs each system component of your renovation to make your restaurant both functional and cost-effective, we can save you from a renovation nightmare. The easiest problems to solve are the ones you don’t create, and local zoning and by-law restrictions are often just the tip of the ice berg.


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