1 Problem, 3 Solutions: What Should be Considered When Purchasing Kitchen Equipment?

Equipment is such a critical component of any restaurant, and operators need to weigh all sides before making a decision.

If you have an equipment vendor, my number one recommendation is to make them show you every specific piece they have and communicate the differences between the good, better and best options.

  1. When to consider buying new vs. used. We can’t talk about equipment without discussing previously-owned items. While some used pieces are appropriate for purchase, there are a few best practices operators should follow. Overall, incorporating secondhand appliances can be useful but consider the following guidelines:
  • Never purchase used refrigeration or complex electronics. It is incredibly risky and can often be a big waste of money because of wear and tear. It’s better to purchase these items new with a strong warranty.
  • When looking at factory refurbished or recalibrated basic gas-fired equipment, used items may be an option. However, make sure you undergo a due diligence process when testing and/or reviewing each piece of equipment.
  • Used stainless steel prep tables or wire racks will have significant longevity if they were well maintained. These items hold up better than most and can withstand the test of time. This makes them a good option for purchase if buying from a former owner or restaurant.
  1. Understand your menu heroes. Know what you need for what you offer and then invest in high-quality, dependable pieces that are used to produce your core menu items. For example, if you’re a burger joint, you may not need the best oven, but you will need a great griddle or charbroiler. An advanced bun toaster may also be a worthy investment.   If you’re serving fries, spend your money on high-quality filtering fryers and the best fry holding cabinet available. Those are your menu heroes and the quality of your equipment should reflect that. You’ve got to look at your good, better and best appliance options and determine what’s most appropriate for each item. It doesn’t make sense to invest in the best across the board. Additionally, advanced cooking technology may be more expensive, but it will have a direct relationship to food product quality and consistency without relying on specialty labor.
  1. Refrigeration systems. Owners should invest more in any refrigeration system that is under or near the hood. Keep in mind that your grill, charbroilers, ranges and ovens put off so much heat that a high-quality refrigeration system is required to combat it. You can shop for value with standard reach-in refrigerators but not on the cook line. For refrigerated equipment stands, work tops or prep units that are immediately adjacent to cooking equipment, we recommend using the best possible product because that is your workhorse. Whether you spend the money on the better or best depends on how much heat your cooking equipment is giving off. Go from there to determine the right system for your restaurant.

Featured in Restaurant Development + Design.

Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Editor in Chief Rebecca Kilbreath talks about the national recognition that rd+d earned by partnering with starrdesign and the value that comes from reader-driven content.

Read full restaurant development + design article here.


Make Your Restaurant's Design Pop with Custom Features

Sarah Pike, Art Director

Custom features within any restaurant space can become a brand trademark used to spark interest, entice guests and create brand recognition. Restaurant operators rely on their designers, and the partnerships they bring to the table, to create a successful finished product. Therefore, it’s important for operators to be mindful of who they choose for an architect and designer and the type of third-party relationships they bring to the table.

So, what are these custom features? A curated glass centerpiece in a dining room, a custom-designed vintage sign, or an eye-catching wall installation are all elements designed by a team of architects and brand engineers—working with fabricators and other craftsmen to make each element come alive. The relationships between the architects, brand engineers, fabricators, fine artists, woodworkers, and other craftsmen, become imperative to the project.

If the space includes commissioned artwork that is brand related, it takes a keen eye from the designer to find artists that produce work in line with the interior design and brand attributes. Once an artist is selected and contracted, the designer provides guidance throughout the process to ensure the art stays aligned with the branded environment.

Custom fixtures for restaurant or retail spaces allow the final product to feel cohesive. Partnering with talented fixture engineers and shepherding them through the intent takes dedication from all parties. It’s important to work closely with the fabrication team to make sure the customer experience feels right for the brand and the fixture displays merchandise in the best light.

In order to do this successfully, designers and brand engineers must communicate design intent to the fabricators. This is where unique challenges often arise. It’s important for designers to use the right tools and technologies to make sure their ideas come to life in the way they are intended. Drawings have to be on-point so fabricators and other craftsmen have something easy to follow and create.

It is truly an iterative process in that sometimes the drawings are brought to them and communicated in a way that has a direct outcome on the final product. Sometimes, smaller samples are created that reflect the right texture, finish and scale. Designers have to spend a lot of time working through the details. If the third-party relationships aren’t strong, the product can turn out less than ideal.

Therefore, the best course of action is to over communicate. This pertains to every phase of the project—from the initial drawing to the deadlines, file types and type of software used to create the right element. For instance, multiple vendors may need to be connected on the creation of a lighting fixture to ensure the piece not only delivers for the brand, but also is executable. And so that relationship building becomes a process of connecting the right people at the right time with a project. Putting in the time is key.

The overall benefit to the entire project is that we, as designers, get to deliver a custom-branded piece that is unique to the concept. This is especially important in industries that are oversaturated. We are able to provide our clients with pieces that are on-brand and create a unique guest experience. Designing these custom pieces with the talented makers of the world allows brands to step outside of tired trends.

In addition to over communication, it is important that designers maintain expectations throughout the project, and this requires a strong collaboration between all parties. Designers don’t always know the best way to put something together and they have to rely on their craftsmen to bring the vision to life. Once you find people that you connect with and who can get those pieces made, they become valuable parts of the team. Don’t lose them. By building the right relationships, and in the right way, a bright idea can turn into a big reality. It takes time, effort and a commitment to the project; but the final outcome is always worth it.

Featured in FSR Magazine.


1 problem, 3 solutions: remodels and lease requirements

How do I coordinate remodels or refreshes with lease requirements?

We’re often asked about remodeling strategies and when is the “right” time to refresh a restaurant. Most leases have defined requirements around refreshes and renovations. So, the best time may often depend on your specific lease requirements and terms. Many industry insiders have seen and have noted the accelerated pace of change in recent years. The lifespan of a design concept has been shortened from 10 years down to only five to seven. This is due to the rapid shifts in customer behavior and expectations that are requiring operators to update sooner rather than later. Therefore, be deliberate with your scheduled repair and maintenance. Here are three recommendations for restaurant operators looking to go through a remodel or renovation.

Know your lease terms and understand your design lifecycle. Whether you need to make changes every five, seven or 10 years, you should be looking at your facilities as made up of two distinct parts: items that are infrastructure and items that create the look and feel (fixtures, furniture and finishes). This is important because if you have a 10-year lease with a five-year option (typical lease terms), and you’re required to refresh every 5 years, then you should design your infrastructure items to last 15 years. Meanwhile, plan to update your look and feel items every five years. This can be a very cost-effective means of keeping current with consumer trends without having to perform a major remodel too often.

Schedule and budget accordingly. In order to do this, operators need to have two different budget schedules: one for fixtures, furniture and finishes and another for infrastructural changes that may require longer periods of down time. Be deliberate with your repair and maintenance plan and go into it with the understanding that the fixtures, furniture and finishes may have a lifespan of five-to-seven years. These items need to look great but don’t need to last forever. The infrastructure items, on the other hand, should be designed with greater longevity in mind.

Re-evaluate your real estate. Don’t be afraid to move. If you’re in a space for 15 years, the context of why you chose that location could very well have changed. In a lot of cases, it’s cheaper in the long run to go to the next corner or to a more active site within your given trade area and close the old location. The beauty of this strategy is the limited down time, and you will often receive greater incentives to build as a new tenant. If you didn’t design your infrastructure items to last longer than 15 to 20 years, you may end up spending less capital to build a new restaurant than you would to renovate your existing space. Or, in some cases, you might be better off doing a scrape and rebuild on the same site. Therefore, re-evaluate your real estate. After 15 years, you have to determine if you’ve become a cultural icon in your neighborhood or if you’ve just become outdated. So: know when to walk away.

Featured on Restaurant Development + Design.

Labor Pains

With starting wages rising to between $9 and $12 per hour in many states, and as much as $15 per hour in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle, the cost to produce your menu keeps getting more expensive. Twenty-nine states have set higher minimum wages than the federal minimum of $7.85 per hour, and many this year started indexing those to the cost of living.

Meanwhile, as the economy continues to improve, other industries are hiring potential candidates out from under you, making it increasingly difficult to staff your kitchens with qualified employees.

The original content of this post was featured on Foodservice Equipment Reports and written by Michael Sherer. Read his full article and Steve's thoughts on lowering labor costs here.

Firebirds Imagines the Modern Steakhouse

While plenty of restaurant concepts are reworking their businesses to appeal to these younger guests, the Millennial mindset poses a particular challenge to the traditional steakhouse. With its low lighting, its reserved atmosphere and a dining experience bordering on ritual, this niche runs counter to how many Millennials live and what they look for.

Recognizing this, Charlotte, N.C.-based Firebirds Wood Fired Grill recently introduced a new prototype designed to appeal to this generation and younger.

The original content of this post was featured on restaurant development + design and written by Toby Weber, Contributing Editor. Read full restaurant development + design article here.

1 Problem, 3 Solutions: How Can I Tell One Cohesive Brand Story

There are a few key ways operators can pull together their product, service and environment.

The critical factor is to focus on alignment. If product, service and environment are not aligned you get a disjointed brand experience with an unclear value proposition. The environment sets the customer’s expectations and then the product and service must deliver on that clearly and consistently. There is nothing worse than going into a restaurant that looks really nice but then receiving mediocre food and a big bill. If you feel you’re paying too much or the space makes you uncomfortable the overall experience hasn’t met the expectation of the value proposition.

So how can you make sure you’re delivering on product, service and environment? Here are three solutions

  1. Get everyone to the table. The worst thing that you can do when designing a restaurant is to segment everything into individual. Start by getting people from every department together and on the same page at the very beginning of the project. Then, continue to meet with everyone throughout the project. It seems basic but so often this doesn’t happen because chains and even emerging brands start to compartmentalize and departmentalize and that creates turf wars. Keep in mind that this is all one concept! So, get every issue and objective out on the table as early as possible, prioritize objectives collectively, and get everyone’s involvement throughout the process. This is critical.
  2. Have a defined brand message. You can have success if you operate well, but you won’t reach your full potential unless you create a concept that ties product, service and environment together through a clear concept that is memorable and differentiated. There has to be an anchor that grounds your brand story that relates to the food, service and environment. And that anchor needs to be defined. In other words, there has to be a “there” there! I see so many restaurant operators who think it’s all about the food. In today’s market, is that truly different? A chef-driven concept is almost the price of entry at this point, so the desire should be to create something in addition to the food that is remarkable or memorable. Everything you do should always go back to that anchor and every decision has to be made against or in reference to that defined quality.
  3. Deliver the experience. When operators understand that the environment sets the customer expectation, they enable the food and service to deliver on that expectation. So that alignment needs to be consistent. Everybody has to play off the same sheet of music, which is the brand architecture. That includes the brand attributes, the core values and the strategic positioning. So, the food, the service and the environment will follow that. This ties into giving definition to the concept in its entirety and not just through the design. That’s what differentiates you from your competitors. It’s not just the same.

Featured in Restaurant Development + Design.

Modern Restaurant Management

TouchBistro Teams with WePay and Tuition-Free Hospitality Academy Launches

This edition of MRM's Daily Bite features TouchBistro, Ordermark, Kitchen United, Taco Mac, Verifone and Paysafe, starrdesign, Bridg, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and Last Word Hospitality.Find out more about the partnership on MRM.

ChopShop Gets It Right

When private equity firm Hargett Hunter Capital Partners, Raleigh, N.C., purchased in 2016 the Original ChopShop, an approachable, natural food restaurant with three units in the Phoenix area and a nearly cult following, it had big plans: to take the concept national. But first they needed a model restaurant.

The group opted for an unusual path: They would build and operate three slightly different prototype restaurants—then put the best elements of each into the fourth and final prototype.

The original content of this post was featured on Foodservice Equipment Reports and written by Janice Cha, Fe3. Read the full article here.

1 Problem, 3 Solutions: Site Selection

What is the current state of restaurant real estate, and what should restaurateurs consider when looking for locations this year?

We are experiencing enormous tectonic shifts in real estate right now with a number of contributing factors. During the recession, and for a few years after, retail/restaurant tenant space development effectively stopped until the existing supply was leased up. Now, we’re seeing development come back aggressively, but demand is outpacing the limited supply as competition for first-generation traditional restaurant spaces has become very high. This aggressive development cycle means that supply is just now catching up with demand and it will have positive impacts on the industry.

Another factor causing this shift is the enormous change in U.S. demographics and buying power. In 2020, Millennials will hold more than 50 percent of U.S. consumer buying power. In 2025, they will hold more than 75 percent. Their living preferences are very different from older generations, as they are much more urban- and semi-urban focused. They are also currently more focused on renting than owning single-family homes. Because of this, the fastest-growing cities right now are second-tier in size. Those cities are appealing to Millennials because they focused on growing their urban and semi-urban core areas, and offer more affordable living alternatives. (Click here for the 11 top cities Millennials are moving to.)

Given all of these changes, my top three considerations for restaurateurs are:

  1. Know your target guest. Operators should do whatever they can to get to know their target customer and what motivates them. Where do they live? Where do they shop and how do they travel? And I don’t mean how consumers travel outside their home area: it’s how they move within their trade area that counts. Anchor stores are no longer good indicators of where consumers purchase their retail goods due to fierce competition and the proliferation of online shopping. Be willing to explore other non-traditional real estate options.  Invest in creating an accurate, data-driven real estate model. This is more complex than what your broker might typically provide. We work with a company that uses mobility data to track customer behavior. This means that any time someone leaves their house or office, and stops for more than 5 minutes, they are tracked and tied into customer segmentation analysis. Using mobility data and geographic information systems consultants can develop your ideal real estate model and evaluate potential sites against that ideal. This helps to mitigate the substantial and costly risks of “striking out” with a new location.
  2. Understand the costs. Not every site is going to cost the same to develop, so you really have to do a detailed site investigation and determine your actual costs for a given site. Operators can no longer use the same generalities they used to because construction costs are increasing dramatically, and standard delivery conditions are changing. Additionally, regulations governing restaurant development can vary greatly based on individual municipalities. There are now different requirements for grease traps by city, and water quality and storm water management will continue to be a front-burner issue. For example, the EPA got involved with a county in the Atlanta Metro area because of poor water quality going back into the sewage system. For a 2,500-square-foot fast-casual restaurant concept they require a 3,000-gallon grease interceptor, when a 1,500-gallon interceptor used to be standard. On ground-up deals we’re now having to address water quality issues even on small sites that add significant costs relative to the real estate deal. (I’ll go into water quality issues in more detail next month.) Again, these are new issues that up until a couple of years ago, restaurant operators never had to deal with. And no one sees it. It’s a lot of money that has no effect on the guest experience. It’s also incredibly complex because there is no national standard. So, make sure you do a comprehensive investigation on any potential site.
  3. Know your deal. There is no such thing as a standard lease or purchase agreement anymore. Since the recession, everyone has come up with different ways of packaging different “delivery conditions” and the lease work letters no longer contain standard definitions. The changing of two words can impact something that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and move it from the landlords to the tenant’s responsibility. Additionally, know the value of each of these work letter items and what they truly mean for you.

In general, there is more competition for customers, customer dollars and real estate. So, do your homework and invest in your homework and build it into your pro forma. Not every deal is going to work out, but knowing your deal and the costs associated with it will save a lot of time and money in the long run.

Featured in Restaurant Development + Design.

An Open Invitation...

Exposed Kitchens are redefining today's restaurant design. Steve joined industry professionals to address all things open kitchen with author Mindy Kolaf for Reinhart Foodservice. Read the full article here.