Design Challenges: When Restaurants Meet Retail

The two dominant trends in retail development — lifestyle centers and mixed-use buildings —present unique challenges for restaurant designers.

Lifestyle centers attempt to recreate the village green or Main Street format. Mixed-use buildings tend to have restaurants and retail located at the street level and residential or office space located in the stories above. Having a prime urban location often means a higher volume of guests and increased sales, but these two interpretations of New Urbanism also challenge the core tenets of good restaurant design and present numerous challenges to designers and operators.

There are several elements to consider up-front when designing restaurants to fit in these developments.

Intentionally design the customer journey. While true urbanism developed naturally, lifestyle centers replicate the experience in a contrived manner. In true urban environments, guests park in the back of stores and walk through streets or alleys to get to the front door. This was part of the charm. Now, lifestyle centers often utilize large internal parking areas, while storefronts still face the street. This leaves designers with a conundrum. Where do you place the entrance: facing the street or the parking area?

One solution is to create two front doors. This allows people to see the storefront from the road or center plaza while being able to enter from the parking lot. It’s not without its drawbacks, however. With two ways for guests to arrive in the space, you now have to create a common circulation path and control multiple customer journeys. By connecting the rear entrance to the front entrance, circulation can take up a significant amount of space. Further complicating matters, in many cases, guests rarely use the door facing the street. In some instances, it may even make sense to have a third door for the back of the house to create a designated area to bring in deliveries and take out trash.

Additionally, it’s important to look at the customer’s path from the parking lot to the entrance. Depending on the location and accessibility of parking, it may be necessary to build a passageway through a multistory space so guests don’t have to walk around the building. If this isn’t possible, another option is to negotiate valet parking with the landlord.

There are a number of solutions you can use to address these concerns. No matter what you decide, it’s important to make sure you’re thinking about the customer journey and intentionally addressing it from the start.

Signage. In many instances, a shell building’s architects don’t plan for extensive signage. The front is often entirely composed of glass and a canopy. If the restaurant branding doesn’t lend itself to a canopy, you may need to actually create a surface to place a mounted sign.

In lifestyle centers, if you decide to only build one front door that faces the parking area, you may consider using vinyl window graphics on the storefront that faces the street. This will help to mask the back of house, but films with graphics will typically count toward your limited signage requirements. Finally, it is important to note that window films will void the warranty on newly installed windows. Weigh the pros and cons of each before making a decision.

Additional construction costs. There are often many unexpected costs for restaurant owners going into mixed-use buildings. Since these developments have multiple stories and use varies by floor, each time the floors change from one use to another, construction and fire safety regulations become more stringent. Therefore, to protect the residents living above, a high-fire-rated assembly is needed between levels that change use. This impacts two factors in restaurant design: floor drains and exhaust.

The shell architect is responsible for designing the different levels. However, in cases where parking areas are below the space, the restaurant’s owner is generally responsible for installing kitchen drains in those floors. It will take extra time, money and expertise to build all the drains in these high-fire-rated floors. In some cases, it may be necessary to X-ray the material to determine where you can’t drill, and this makes the entire process costly. Additionally, adequate clearance in parking levels below restaurant spaces will be required to run plumbing lines at proper slopes for drainage while still maintaining minimum vehicle clearances.

Kitchen exhaust is another factor that the shell architect often doesn’t consider. Smoke filled with grease can be an enormous fire hazard if not properly handled. Part of the puzzle is getting the necessary equipment and exhaust through the residential areas in rated shafts and out to the roof. Often, there isn’t enough room to take the exhaust through the multiple stories above, and this can become an additional cost for the restaurant owner during construction. Retrofitting existing shafts with grease ducts can also become an expensive issue during construction.

Retail developers understand that restaurants are ideal additions to their commercial spaces. However, many don’t understand the design implications and requirements of restaurant spaces. Restaurateurs need to be aware of the differences and account for higher costs when looking at these sites.


Will you let tech build or block customer connection?

Veteran restaurant designer and consultant, Steve Starr, brought a lot of heavyweight design experience to his talk recently at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago, including his Charlotte, North Carolina agency's experience plotting out restaurant environments for the likes of Panera, Swenson's Drive In and Mellow Mushroom Pizza. So his was a relatively attentive audience when he told the restaurateurs listening to remember that ultimately they really do still have the control of exactly how much technology they bring into their restaurant locations today and how that, in turn, affects the design of their stores and the customer experience overall.

The original content of this post was written by Shelly Whitehead for QSR Web. Read full QSR Web article here


1 Problem, 3 Solutions: How Do I Get the Most from a Restaurant Designer While Containing Costs

I often hear about design fees and expectations from friends in the restaurant industry. They find a great designer yet have to scale back when costs get too high. Ultimately, the project and brand experience suffer when this happens.

Consumers today want innovative, fresh and unique concepts to visit and talk about with their friends. While great food sparks conversation among your diners and potential guests, so does unusual and appealing interior decor. When restaurant operators skimp on design in favor of cutting costs, they leave a lot of opportunity on the table.

So, how can operators control their design fees without sacrificing the individuality of their concept? Here are three ways:

Clearly define what you’re looking for and shop for the right thing. The best analogy I can give is shopping for a car. There are all different levels of quality in the automobile market (i.e. Scion, Toyota, Lexus) but, more importantly, there are very different types of vehicles (i.e. sedan, sports car, SUV, pick-up truck, etc.). Clearly define whether you want or need an SUV or a sedan. Regardless of the quality and price, different kinds of vehicles do very different things. No matter how much you pay for a Porsche 911 Targa (my personal favorite performance sports car), it’s not going to perform properly if it’s driven like an SUV. Design firms are exactly the same. There are those that really know how to perform concept development services and create unique, dynamic spaces. Conversely, there are those that are systems-oriented and can roll out a concept once the majority of the look and feel issues are clearly defined and documented. There also are a few firms that really know how to do both and these are the performance sport SUVs of the design world. As an operator, understand that restaurants are a unique project type. There are firms that specialize in specific restaurant-design work and other firms that simply dabble in it. Therefore, determine how much specialization you need and make sure the firms you are talking to are setup to deliver exactly what you need. You are likely to overspend either on fees or in construction/development cost if you are not shopping for the right thing.

Clearly state what you need and how your organization works, and then learn how the design firm works. Alignment in the process is a critical cost factor. When clients allow us to go through our well-defined methods in a linear fashion, the design costs are very well controlled and additional services/change orders are kept to a minimum. Conversely when you, as the client, don’t understand how the design firm works or even worse, the design firm doesn’t really have a defined methodology, the design process is typically more chaotic and circular. That chaos and lack of straight forward progress gets costly for everyone. We’ve also found that it doesn’t necessarily produce a better product. In fact, it often produces a less coordinated final set of drawings and more opportunities for things to become less cohesive.

Look to create a win-win scenario. It’s not going to produce the best result if you negotiate a project down so low that you start to work with a group already primed for resentment. If you pick the right firm and create a well-defined scope of service that fits their process and delivers what you need, you create a partnering relationship where you both work closely to manage each other’s expectations. Look to pay a fair fee and most good designers will work to move heaven and earth for you. If small, miscellaneous out-of-scope items come up, they’ll usually give you a “professional courtesy credit” because you showed them the courtesy of treating them like the professionals they are. Whereas, if you negotiate so hard up front to get the absolute lowest fee possible (or impossible in some cases), you’re likely to be charged for every minor thing not specifically listed in the scope of service. Also remember the old adage by the famous modern architect Mies van der Rohe, “God is in the details.” In order to properly manage everyone’s expectations, you have to get into the details. No design firm is simply going to design your restaurant with no definition and limitations to the scope of design services for a fixed amount. Pay close attention to the details of the scope up front and spend the time to speak with your designer to make sure your understanding clearly matches theirs.


Pronto by Giada Offers the Feel of its Namesake

Giada De Laurentiis is among a number of celebrity chefs and Food Network personalities to move into the fast-casual restaurant sector. Pronto by Giada opened at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas last year. Interior design on the project was handled by starrdesign out of Charlotte, N.C.

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 Differentiate My Restaurant from the Competition?

With the rise of experience-based dining destinations — those that combine food, beverage, entertainment and new experiences — traditional restaurant venues must now design to compete with a variety of choices.

It takes three things to differentiate from your competition: clarity of audience, clarity of brand and clarity of experience. So, let’s start at the beginning.

  • Clarity of audience: One thing thriving brands have in common that they know exactly who their target guest is and why. Everything they do is focused around attracting and staying relevant to that target. Yet the most successful concepts haven’t just identified the profile of their current guest, they’ve also analyzed who their most productive or profitable guest should be and, of course, made their target these customers. When I talk about “a productive customer,” I’m referring to the type of guest that will either spend the most on a per ticket basis or frequent the restaurant significantly more than other customer profiles. It’s important to remember that it costs essentially the same to attract, serve and prepare food for all customer profiles, but concepts have a unique sweet spot where a specific type of guest simply spends more money than the others. When a concept is really focusing on their true sweet spot, they’re maximizing revenue while keeping cost consistent and thereby increasing profits. Of course, the real trick is to identify and clarify your most productive audience. We are in the age of big data, and the data is out there for almost any concept to clearly identify their most productive guest. The data just needs to be harvested and analyzed properly. We have had strong success working with marketing and real estate analytics firms to help home in on our clients’ most productive guest profile and design specifically for that profile. If you’re not clear about your audience and your concept is trying to be too many things to too many people, you’re going to get eaten alive. Stick to your audience and they will stick to your concept.
  • Clarity of Brand: When restaurants went through the recession in 2008, the saying, “only the strong survive” held true. What led to many chains’ longevity was the clarity of their brand. They knew what they stood for and understood that consumers would be looking to them to provide the same level of food and service even through uncertain times. Without this clarity, your customers won’t understand what you’re doing, and your competition will take advantage of the uncertainty. According to a Cornell University study, Why Restaurants Fail, the No. 2 cause of restaurant failure is customer confusion. Therefore, the only way to stand out is through designing an experience unique to your brand. Make sure that your target guest understands exactly where to go, what to do and what clearly defines your brand within the first 30 seconds of entering your restaurant. Know what your brand stands for and keep doing what has kept your concept thriving. When you have clarity of audience and clarity of brand, it won’t matter what your competition is doing because you will be doing it better.
  • Clarity of Experience: If you think about restaurants, for the most part, they’re all programmed very similarly. Of course, there are slightly different service models — quick service, fast casual and casual dining — but they all have a cook line, they all serve food, they all serve beverages and they all like to think they have a high level of service whether customers are ordering at the table or at the counter. That said, the most successful restaurant owners have well-defined concepts that not only provide a quality food product but they also have a defined operating philosophy. These philosophies encompass organizational values and operating procedures as well as employee and customer relationships. Food quality does not guarantee success because that only relies on one leg of your total brand experience. Create a clear and concise brand experience that is clearly relevant to your target audience. We’re now seeing more brands incorporating unique experiences into their concepts, whether it’s Top Golf, Dave & Busters or The Truck Yard. These concepts are giving their guests a lot more than just food and beverages, and it’s paying off. These concepts are becoming experiential destinations rather than just restaurants. Overall, good restaurant operators should be able to discuss their audience, their brand and the type of experience they are able to deliver. If you can only describe your food when asked about your concept, you’re missing key opportunities for restaurant success. Furthermore, as famous marketing expert and author Seth Godin describes, “it’s not only about finding your purple cow, it’s also about being able to deliver it to the customer in a way that resonates with them.” This is how you differentiate your brand from your competition, and how your concept — whether one unit, 50 or 500 — can continue to thrive.

Steve selected and serves as a 2019 RD&D Award Judge

The third annual rd+d awards celebrate our readers’ accomplishments. rd+d strives to be a reader-driven resource, shining the spotlight on best-in-class projects and case studies. The awards highlight and celebrate excellence in the restaurant development and design communities. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to submit.

The original content of this post was featured on RD+D. Read full RD+D article here.


1 Problem, 3 Solutions: The Rise of Off-Premises Dining

What can I do to prepare my restaurant for takeout and delivery orders?

There are several things operators can do to prepare their dining room and kitchens for takeout and delivery orders, and we are getting this question a lot more as these services build momentum. The key to all of these options is to understand your new traffic flow. At peak, how many walk-in/dine-in, drive-thru and/or order ahead (off-premise) guests will you expect to serve? The standard rule of thumb for walk-in vs. drive-thru is 1 to 3. So, you need to first understand if and how that will change and what the new ratios will be (i.e. 1 to 3 to 2 for example). What this means is that for each one walk-in customer you serve, you will be serving three drive-thru and two off-premise guests in the same time period. The best operations don’t require sacrificing the walk-in experience to handle the added volume from off-premise guests.

So, how do you accommodate the added and/or shifting volume demands, keeping in mind that each type of guest has a different set of expectations around quality, speed and convenience? Here’s our take on the best three solutions:

  1. Retrofit your current locations. If you currently have locations unable to handle the incoming flow of takeout, catering or delivery orders, the best thing you can do is redesign the front of house to make more room for your takeout customers, delivery drivers picking up orders, or customers picking up a catering order. While it’s more cost-effective to use the space that already exists, the downside is that you will lose some space designated for your dine-in guests. A retrofit will make sense only if your sales from off-premises dining is surpassing expectations (such as 35 percent or more from takeout, delivery and catering). If you’re considering retrofitting your space, work with an architect who can suggest enhancements to the in-store dining space with minimal impact to the dining room. You want to make sure you’re limiting interruptions to the dine-in guest experience. A redesign may be as simple as extending your bar area or hostess stand to make room for off-premise orders. It also could mean adding a separate entrance for those specific customers. You can incorporate a cubby system that can service your off-premise diners without hassle to your in-store operation. This will eliminate confusion among your guests and can complement the branding elements of your in-store dining experience. It’s also important to design the space to accommodate packaging, staging and the storage of the food itself, such as hot and cold menu items. Also, don’t forget that off-premise guests may need to wait a few minutes for their order to be assembled. So, provide a comfortable and designated waiting area that won’t hurt the dine-in experience.
  2. Review your kitchen flow. If orders are getting confused in the kitchen but your dining room has enough space to handle in-store, takeout and delivery, consider adjusting the kitchen. This could include the creation of a second make-line specifically for takeout, delivery and catering orders. This separate area may require additional staff, but that staff should be on a predictable schedule. For example, typical catering orders come-in at least 24 to 48 hours in advance. These advance orders, as well as carefully tracked typical volumes based on set parameters – such as daypart, week day, weather, etc. – should provide good predictive analytics.
  3. Design new locations. When opening new restaurant locations, design each one to handle the in-flow of off-premises traffic. This may mean that you think about grouping locations by geography and drive-time, and designate at least one location in each group to handle the vast majority of an area’s off-premises business. Of course, this will require two different store design versions: one smaller and one larger. This is especially true if retrofitting front-of- house and kitchen spaces in your existing locations requires too much cost, time or space. Creating a new single location to carry the majority of the burden may be a more cost-effective long-term solution and it allows you to design in all the efficiencies necessary to effectively handle a large volume of off-premises business without negatively affecting the dine-in experience. The existing locations will still get some off-premises business, but that should be limited to smaller, order-ahead business, rather than all the delivery and catering. This “mother-daughter” solution allows you the freedom to design and build the most efficient storage, cooking, staging and customer/staff flow possible.

1 problem, 3 solutions: How Can I Design my Restaurant to Prevent Health Safety Issues?

We see it all too often in the restaurant industry: well-known, high-quality establishments go down because of health safety outbreaks. In a recent study done by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers found that a single foodborne illness outbreak in a fast-casual restaurant had a financial impact of $6,330 to $2.1 million. In my experience, these are often due to poor design planning on the front end and problems that build up over time. Typically, they’re not quite so out-of-the-blue. So how do you prevent that from happening in your restaurant? Here are three things to think about when planning and operating your establishment.

1. Labor model and layout. Cross-contamination is a huge potential for health issues. When setting up your kitchen, it’s important to intentionally plan your layout to match your labor model. From a layout standpoint, you need to think about workflow and who will be responsible for what tasks. For example, at peak times, if the grill master is the one handling the raw beef, they shouldn’t also be the person prepping the buns for the burgers. This is opening yourself up to cross-contamination issues. Think about your labor model both at peak and off-peak times, and subsequently plan your kitchen layout to best serve your staff. This will help with efficiencies and prevent health safety outbreaks.

2. Equipment and materials. It’s important to ensure you have the right equipment in the right place. For example, if you have a refrigeration unit under a heat source, make sure it’s a high-quality unit that can withstand the intense heat and hold temperature. This is not an area you want to skimp. Spending money on refrigeration that was designed to perform well in this setting will minimize the frequency of door, drawer or pan failures that could lead to bacterial growth. Additionally, there are numerous options for antimicrobial surfaces and assemblies that can be used in kitchens. These may be more expensive on the front end, but they can significantly help prevent mold. Finally, having a defined repair and maintenance cleaning regiment can help prevent several serious issues. Take the time to properly train staff on how to clean and care for the surfaces in your kitchen.

3. Sink types and locations for handwashing. While gloves are a common way to control health safety issues, it’s more important to look at the placement of kitchen hand sink options for your employees. Hand sinks should be easily accessible from anywhere in the kitchen and should be placed near make stations where raw proteins are cut and processed. There are typically four tiers when it comes to handwashing stations. The most basic hand sink includes a faucet with two handles, and it costs less than $100. In this case, employees need to be trained on proper operation, to avoid touching the handles with both dirty and then freshly cleaned hands. The next step up includes foot pedals to operate the sink. These typically range from $400-600. For that one-time cost, you now eliminate human error and employees don’t touch the faucet surfaces when their hands are contaminated. The third tier is a fully touchless sink system that includes water, soap and towels – all dispensed automatically. These now get into the $700-1,000 range. Finally, hand sinks are now available that utilize infrared operation to completely sanitize your employees’ hands. While these eliminate most of the chance for human error, they are the most expensive option, coming in around a few thousand dollars. However, with the typical financial loss at a minimum of $6,000 in the case of an outbreak, it might be worth taking that risk.