Mind Over Budget: Tricks and Tips for Keeping Costs Under Control

When it comes to keeping costs under control, there are several measures restaurant operators can take to ensure projects stay on task and on budget. In terms of construction, architecture and interior design, the way forward isn’t to cut corners. Rather, it’s to have a clear plan and then making decisions based on the costs.

The original content of this post was written by Valerie Killifer for RD+D. Read full RD+D article here.

Traditional Arabic dishes shared around a table in Israeli woman's home

more than a meal

A firsthand account from Steve on reaffirming starrdesign’s mission internationally and the magic that makes food more than just a physical necessity.

A recent, amazing trip to Israel reaffirmed what I believe to not only be the heartbeat behind starrdesign, but also a critical element of our society.  We were on a short tour of the old port city of Jaffa, immediately adjacent to the new, technology-driven city of Tel Aviv.  The young woman leading the tour showed clear dedication to cross-culturalism.  It was fascinating to see this city uphold one ancient tradition in particular - Muslims, Jews, Christians and many other faiths all living and working together.

The tour ended with lunch in an Israeli Arab woman’s apartment; a one-hour highlight that will last a lifetime.  Shirene and her two daughters welcomed us into their home for wonderful food they’d prepared and were exceptional hosts the entire time.  While eating a classic Arabic meal that could easily have fed an army, we talked about Shirene’s life and experiences as an Israeli Arab woman.

The pivotal, affirming point came when one of our small group members asked Shirene why she opens her house to strangers and cooks for them.  She explained that there aren’t a lot of options for Arab women to work in the Middle East, even in Israel, and she and her husband want to provide every opportunity for their two daughters to have the best in life.  She also explained that she believes in the almost magical characteristic of sharing food with others to bring them together on a human level, regardless of their religious, social, economic, political or other cultural differences.


Sitting across the globe, Shirene had reaffirmed why I believe starrdesign’s mission is so important in today’s society.  Food and restaurants are unique in that they are, and always have been, focal points that encourage people to gather, socialize and connect at a personal level.  We believe that by designing restaurants to reinforce social connection, we can begin to make a difference in our world.  Shirene may be on track to bringing peace to the Middle East, and we might be able to help alleviate the ever-increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation in today’s society- all by connecting people over a great meal.

Photo by Henry & Co. from Pexels

1 problem, 3 solutions: what are the best materials to use in kitchen flooring?

When it comes to kitchen flooring, there is no one perfect solution. There are three main types of floors that each have pros and cons. When stepping through the swinging doors that bring you behind the scenes of a restaurant, you’ll find the floor gets hit with a bit of everything that’s in the kitchen: hot grease, moisture, food byproduct residue, harsh cleaning chemicals and more. These are all environmental factors that restaurant designers, owners and manufacturers must consider when specifying a kitchen floor, along with the initial costs and required maintenance associated with each type of flooring. Here are the 3 best options:

How to properly install quarry tile
How to properly install quarry tile

Quarry Tile. Quarry tiling is arguably the most well-known and certainly the oldest flooring option within the restaurant industry. The tile has been around for ages and is extremely durable, making it seemingly cost-effective. However, the devil is in the details. While all grout will inevitably break down, the type of grout you choose can slow that process. We always specify an industrial epoxy grout when using quarry tile – it is the least porous grout option, so moisture, chemicals and kitchen products are less likely to penetrate it or break it down (or do so at a much slower rate). Despite being the most durable grout option, it is very brittle and can crack if installed improperly. Epoxy grout can also be more challenging to install because of its quick dry time. The other key to quality quarry tile assembly is a waterproof, antifracture membrane to ensure that the assembly is completely waterproof and does not move with the concrete subflooring. Although installing the membrane adds an extra step and fee, it is critical in extending the life of your floor.

Polyvinyl Sheet. When done correctly, polyvinyl sheet can be the optimal choice for restaurant kitchen floors. It is typically a ¼ inch thick, hard, rubber, mat-like material that is rolled out directly onto the substrate, set with an adhesive and welded by heat or chemicals. These welds at the seams and the integral cove base essentially create a monolithic surface when installed correctly. The sheet material is nonporous, which makes it practically impenetrable and essentially chemical and byproduct resistant. The material is also usually made with recycled content and has antifatigue cushioning, making it ergonomic. This is particularly important in environments where you have employees working on their feet for long hours, such as a restaurant. Its elasticity allows it to move with the natural dynamics of the subfloor beneath it and makes it much less likely to crack than a less elastic option. However, it does have a very low heat tolerance and will melt if you place extremely hot kitchen equipment on it.

Although polyvinyl can be installed relatively quickly, the chemical welding must be done correctly to prevent breakdown and sheet separation. You also must ensure that the sheets are being applied to a concrete subfloor that has had adequate time to cure. If there is too much moisture in the concrete, it will continue trying to release that moisture and create a hydrostatic pressure that can cause the seams to split, the floor to bubble, and worse yet, mold to grow under the sheet vinyl.

Poured Resinous Urethane Flooring. There are many types of poured or troweled resinous floors on the market. While some are even touted as appropriate kitchen flooring (like methyl methacrylate and epoxy), urethane is by far the most appropriate resinous floor option for a commercial kitchen. Urethane flooring is a 100% monolithic, seamless flooring system that is extremely elastic. The material is poured directly onto the substrate and bonds to it without any adhesive (almost like a skin to the substrate). Its durability and elasticity make it less likely to crack from typical settlement or building movements, and it is chemical, moisture, heat and slip resistant. While you don’t have to worry about moisture emitting beneath the surface or grout-related issues, urethane flooring doesn’t have the cushion that polyvinyl has and can’t be spot-patched as easily as quarry tiling because you have to cut out a larger section.

No matter which of these three flooring options you choose, there are two additional factors to keep in mind: quality installation and proper maintenance. We discussed the many challenges with installation for each floor option, but each one also has a unique set of cleaning and maintenance requirements. The easiest way to get the most out of a commercial kitchen floor and ensure that it lasts as long as possible is to use the manufacturers’ recommended cleaning products and processes. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a kitchen floor being improperly mopped and cleaned in my almost 30-year career. The cheapest or most caustic cleaner is rarely the best. Each of these flooring options requires a cleaner with a specific pH to ensure that grease is being removed without the flooring being chemically damaged. A clean water rinse and squeegee technique is also highly recommended after any industrial floor cleaner is used to ensure that you get all the grease and dirt off the floor and down the drains. These simple steps will help prolong the life of all three of these flooring options.

Featured on Restaurant Development + Design.

How to avoid unnecessarily costly construction

Why investing in your architect during the construction process could save you thousands

You’ve spent countless hours coordinating with your architect and designer to achieve carefully articulated drawings, and you’ve finally gotten the permit to begin construction. Ideally, you’ve had a discussion with your architect about who is going to make sure these plans come to life accurately, seamlessly and on-time before the project began. However, if you haven’t, it’s not too late. Here’s why you should have the conversation that puts construction administration in the architect’s hands and the architect’s eyes on your new development from the ground up.

They pay attention and can adapt the project

A design drawing is the intended building layout, but life happens. There are many factors or impediments that cause changes during construction, such as unexpected existing conditions and conflicts. This means that the fundamental makeup of your completed building may differ from the original design documents. However, the finished building’s skeleton can still be accurately reflected in an as-built drawing. These are drawings that the architect creates during construction to document and track any changes during the process. The design is updated “as the building is built” to reflect the most accurate depiction of the building’s construction versus its intended construction. These drawing updates also allow the project to be thoroughly re-coordinated as changes occur, rather than just addressing the singular change outside of its overall context.

When you’re ready to renovate seven to ten years down the road, having as-built documents will make that process easier and cheaper. You won’t have to pay an architect to come survey the entire space again. Even if you do, many of the changes tracked in as-builts are beneath the surface, making them very costly surprises once construction commences. Re-designing to accommodate for these surprises can take a considerable amount of time, and time is money during construction. The architects may have to redraw the changes (or simply note them), the revision may have to go through permitting again, and the sub-contractors could find other jobs if demobilized.

"time is money during construction."

This delay may sometimes take you from potentially beating your lease’s start date and earning revenue before you start paying rent to not starting on time and losing money once you start paying rent. Such losses, however, are avoidable by knowing what you’re going in to and planning accordingly based on your as-builts. Having an as-built can also financially benefit you by increasing the value of the facility if you go to sell it in the future. These documents can help take some of the guesswork out of the buyer’s due diligence process and thus increase the property’s potential value.

They keep you in check.

The architect may ask, “will you need a Certified Substantial Completion document signed?” Many landlords and lenders require tenants to have a signed Certified Substantial Completion and may not distribute their tenant improvement allowance without it. It’s important for an Owner or restauranteur to check their lease and/or loan documents to see if this requirement applies before construction begins, because it must be written and signed by the architect. The architect is verifying that the general contractor has does its job, which the architect can not claim unless they regularly visited the site. If the architect is responsible for the construction administration, they will already be visiting the site and can confirm that the job was done properly for no additional fee, as well as make sure that you know to check for this requirement.

Having an architect involved in construction administration can also save you from surprising, expensive change orders. Restauranteurs often visit emerging concept job sites to “check up on things.” This gives Contractors easy access to the Owner to ask in-the-moment questions. While it may sound convenient, it can often lead to costly change orders that the Owner didn’t realize were piling up. Then once construction is complete, the Contractors can come back and say “remember when you were on-site and agreed to this? Well, that change costs $100,000.” However, if the architect manages the change order and payment process, any change request is not valid unless it goes through the architect and gets signed off by the Owner.

They keep construction in check.

Another facet that often falls through the cracks when the architect is not kept involved is scheduling special inspections. Significant construction projects often require that a third-party vendor has a structural engineer sign off on proper installations. General contractors may say they can handle calling the inspectors in to scrutinize their work. This may not be your first rodeo with construction, and you may be confident in your ability to manage the process. Regardless, you both have other jobs to do and scheduling special inspections is often forgotten. This means you end up having to tear down completed construction to have certain parts inspected, which can cost several thousand dollars.

They keep your best interest in mind.

As a middleman between your vision and the execution of that vision, the architect is responsible for protecting your investment. Since they are the only ones that know the intricacies of how you want your space defined and the practical technicalities that are necessary to make it happen, they are equipped to ensure that what you think the space is going to look like is what is being built. Additionally, if the contractor says doing something differently will save money, but doesn’t know it will interfere with another design aspect that you expressed is important to you, the architect can step in and inform you of the decision you’ll need to consider. Being an intermediary also includes making sure you see the benefit from any savings promised.

At a bare minimum, you should be paying your architect to pay attention: creating as-builts, reminding you to check your lease, keeping an eye on the site, scheduling special inspections and making sure you know exactly what is being built.

You entrusted the architect with the details of your design. Entrust them with paying attention to the execution of those details as well.

Featured on Fast Casual.

1 problem, 3 solutions: QSR design challenges

With consumer trends changing and the fast-casual industry booming, it can be tough for quick service restaurants (QSR’s) to stay competitive. They’re expected to uphold their characteristic, high-speed production while now accommodating for the growth of mobile ordering and delivery. Then there’s the uphill battle against product quality perception when compared to their fast-casual counterparts, no matter how much they invest in high quality ingredients. The trick for QSR’s to overcome these obstacles and differentiate themselves in the market lies in strategically capitalizing on and taking advantage of design solutions that are already at their fingertips.

Kitchen drawing showing the movement of drive-thru orders vs. walk-in/delivery orders in a kitchen with duel make-up/assembly lines.

Line up – take the leap.

The increased popularity of delivery is no surprise or novelty. Now that third-party delivery services are in the picture, how do restaurants keep up? Considering QSR’s are better able to address delivery demand than any other restaurant category, many of them have already taken the leap to do so. A standard kitchen layout has a cook line that leads to a make-up/assembly line before it gets sent out to the floor or drive-thru. The most prudent concepts looking to satisfy walk-in, drive-thru and delivery demands are incorporating dual make-up/assemblylines and sometimes even dual cooklines. They designate one line for walk-in and delivery orders and the other line to accommodate drive-thru orders. Since QSR’s typically have a 60% drive-thru to 40% walk-in order ratio, the walk-in side has the bandwidth to help accommodate for delivery. The key to the second line, however, is making sure that you manage your labor to meet delivery needs. Many restaurants either don’t add the extra line or don’t manage their labor on the second line because of the additional capital and labor costs. Yes, adding a station increases both labor and capital costs. But the market and I are here to tell you now is the time to take the dual-line leap. You can quickly offset the costs if you manage up labor to meet the potential revenue you could be making with the added capacity. And if you don’t, someone else will. Worse yet, if you don’t and ticket times increase, service levels and customer satisfaction will fall and you’ll send your restaurant into a downward spiral of mediocre performance at best.

Focus on merchandising, efficiency and taking advantage of new cooking and holding technologies.

It’s inherent that potential customers perceive fast casual dining as higher quality than QSR’s. Even if a QSR invests in more expensive, higher-quality ingredients, this predisposed perception is often so strong that it can hamstring you against the fast-casual competition. The key here is changing the way you serve your product and how the consumer experiences it. Celebrate “hero items” through how you display/merchandise or better yet, cook/prepare them – from putting homestyle sides in homestyle serving vessels to sprucing up the condiment station for sweetening and creaming your coffee. Going above and beyond in displays to create “food theatre” that emphasizes and merchandizes certain items creates a positive impression around the products and overall brand quality. At the same time, you must positively impact the consumer experience with utmost efficiency. This means exceptional operations that lead to getting the quality product to the consumer in a timely, hospitable manner. It cannot be just “food theatre” or efficiency, it has to be both.

Cooking and holding advancements

QSR’s also need to stay up-to-date on the many advancements being made in cooking and holding technologies, and should be looking to take advantage of them every chance they get. A cook-chill-retherm process, for example, prevents food from stewing, overcooking and degrading as it sits in a steamtable. Instead, the food is cooked in water or steam just until done, chilled and quickly seared upon order so that it doesn’t sit and overcook or dry out. Similar advancements include holding technologies that allow you to pay very close attention to and precisely control heat and humidity to keep food warm for longer periods of time without changing the texture. From choosing between radiant and convection heat to controlling humidity, moisture or air flow, there are incredible technologies out there – QSR’s have to be open and willing to try them. There are also some amazing technologies associated with fast, automated cooking processes. High-efficiency charbroilers, for example, maintain consistency and quality without having to rely so heavily on the cooking staff.

Look for ways that technology can improve the customer experience though increasing person to person relations.

So, you’ve incorporated technology to improve your back-of-house operations and production, now it’s time to focus on your guest again. Don’t fall into the trap that replaces people with technology. Human interaction is a biological necessity and proves to enhance customer experience. Try to find ways for advancements in technology to facilitate this connection rather than replace it. For some QSR’s, this has looked like using tablets to “line bust” drive-thrus during peak times. They bring hospitable service directly to car windows, thus taking more orders and getting more cars through the line at an increased rate. Despite using a device that typically detracts from human interaction, the tablet facilitates the person-to-person interaction by bringing an additional face and service directly to the customer.

Featured on Restaurant Development + Design.

StarrDesign, Brain Storm Shelter Restaurants partner to Launch Entertainment Complexes

Design firm assists Brainstorm Shelter Restaurants in clarifying and enhancing the Twisted Root and Truck Yard brands to increase value and make them more scalable.

Charlotte, NC (Restaurant News Release) starrdesign, the design and architecture firm behind Pronto by Giada, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Original ChopShop, and more, has begun redesigning and further developing the Twisted Root and Truck Yard brands with Dallas-based Brain Storm Shelter Restaurants.

The original content of this post was featured on Restaurant News Release. Read full Restaurant News Release article here.

Where Shall We Meet?

Restaurant Development + Design publisher Maureen Slocum addresses the heart and soul behind designing for  restaurants, alluding to Steve's appearance at the Foodservice Equipment & Deisgn Global Thought Leadership Summit. 

Read the full RD+D article here.

Editor's Letter: Knowing Me, Knowing You

It was a unique event that brought readers of this publication together with readers from our sister publication, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies, for two days of TED Talks-style presentations, networking and conversation.

The original content of this post was written by Rebecca Kilbreath for Restaurant Development + Design. Read the full article here.

Designing for a Decreasing Footprint - WEBCAST

Steve joined other industry professionals to talk about maximizing space in minimalist settings for a Restaurant Development + Design webcast. Read more about the panel and watch the recorded webcast here.


Firebirds Energizes with a New Design

The old-school steakhouse has its place. Plenty of occasions call for a more formal experience, something that features the old-school sophistication of low lighting, rich woods and white tablecloths.

Elevated still has its place in an increasingly informal world, as do lively, energetic experiences.

Restaurateurs continue to roll out new prototype designs to provide guests with a more exciting environment. Among them is Charlotte, N.C.-based Firebirds Wood Fired Grill. In November 2017, this 45-plus-unit polished-casual chain rolled out the first location with a new design in Jacksonville, Fla.

The original content of this post was featured on Foodservice equipment & supplies and written by Toby Weber, Contributing Editor. Read the full article here.

How a Multi-Sensory Retail Experience Can Boost Brand Awareness and Sales

While there are many ways to create a multi-sensory experience, Steve Starr of the architecture and design firm Starr Design notes that sound, along with smell and touch, are particularly important for retail stores.

The original content of this post is found on Emagispace. Read the full article here.

1 problem, 3 solutions: Which Restaurant Technology is Worth the Investment?

Technology can be used in your restaurant to impact the customer experience, communicate the concept's brand messaging and increase an operation's efficiency. However, acquiring technology just for the sake of having it is a waste of money.

It’s important to find the right ways to use digital alternatives. Always ask yourself: Is this truly what my customer wants?

I have found that before you use technology in your restaurant, you need to ask yourself three key questions:

  1. Can I ensure that it will always work?
  2. Is it truly an effective representative of my brand?
  3. How will it affect the customer experience?

Digital assets should be used to meet or exceed customer expectations. Otherwise they can be anything from unnecessary to detrimental to your brand. The three biggest returns on investment when it comes to technology are digital menu boards, POS systems and data collection.

  1. Digital Menu Boards. Restaurants are incorporating digital signage and menu boards into their spaces. These can be useful if you change offerings frequently, either over multiple dayparts or with the seasons. However, the basics of good menu board design still apply when switching to high-tech alternatives. Just because it's new technology doesn't mean you can abandon the tried-and-true principles of legibility and perception. You need to ensure you can hold a person's attention long enough for them to easily scan the menu and cull it down to two or three options.
    Digital menu boards can be a great tool in your space if they enable you to convey information and make the transaction process more efficient. However, the diner may struggle to understand the offerings if slides are changing or images are scrolling past. Don't let the innovation of digital menu boards become a distraction. Technology should improve the customer experience and not slow down your operation
  2. POS Systems. Interactive POS screens should provide your employees with important information and improve order accuracy. Technology allows you to master ordering times and throughput. Tickets stay in the queue until they are completed, and the system can change the order status based on target delivery times. Many concepts have this feature, but they aren't using it to its full potential. For example, if an order enters the red zone, doing something about it will resonate with your guest. Set it up so that the POS system will send a notification sent to the manager who can then personally apologize for the wait and appropriately compensate the customer. This is using the technology to truly make a difference in the guest experience.
  3. Data Collection and Relevant Messaging. Finally, technology provides a huge opportunity for restaurateurs to track purchasing habits of guests in order to improve return visits and increase brand loyalty. You can use loyalty programs, online ordering or mobile app profiles to gather useful and pertinent information. This allows you to provide relevant messages to customers regarding products that are of actual interest to them. For example, if someone is consistently ordering a specific meal, let them know when you release a limited-time-only dish with a similar flavor profile. In this way, you can use technology to engage with existing customers on a whole new level.

Overall, you need to ensure your technology and brand messaging is relevant to customers. If used efficiently, it can improve brand value. Only then can you truly make it worth the investment.

Featured in Restaurant Development + Design.