ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Cafe Design: Form & Function.
By Lloyd M. Gordon
Friday, 30th November 2007
Okay so  maybe the great architect and designer Louis Sullivan never sat  down and  designed  a pizzeria; or ate a pizza, for that matter.

But he did come up with as good a pizzeria design axiom as  anything  we, as  restaurant consultants, have developed.  His observation that "form  should   follow   function"  applies to philosophies of design and architecture that basically say, "Make it  look like what it does."   I believe that dictum applies to the form (not the theme or concept) of any restaurant.
As a nursery retailer, you have already  stepped up to the plate again and again. Like a successful baseball hitter, you have made decisions to swing at the ball and have sent profits soaring. You've hit home runs. With a foodservice venture, you can step up to the plate again  confidently, and hit another home run. But,  you must have the necessary information or knowledge to furnish the power behind your swing.

My motto is "Knowledge is Power."  This motto has guided me for more than 44 years   permitting  the creation of hundreds of successful food operations both for myself and others.   A critical component of  any restaurant's design is the knowledge of its functionality.  In creating any food facility, regardless of size, be it a simple kiosk or a full-blown  restaurant, your priority is to design  it so that it is highly functional but looks appealing. Here is where your search for knowledge must begin. You should  ask professionals appropriate questions to gain insight into how to bring these ideas into reality.

Before professionals can give answers they must get inside your head and understand what you see as the essential project.  Each expert will ask a different series of questions to gain knowledge of the undertaking. An interior designer or decorator  might ask, "Is this place going to be upscale or casual?" A restaurant consultant, on the other hand, may phrase the question differently: "Is this place going to be ‘serve yourself' or will  all the food be brought to customers at their tables?"

Both questions directly impact the interior design, but while one might work to create a pretty restaurant, the other is more likely to guarantee a restaurant that functions well.


Have you ever stopped to think that restaurants of a certain type may have similar equipment because  they may have similar menus? What equipment a restaurant has isn't due to its being a coffee shop or a full service house or a fast food place, but fixture needs are often akin because their menus are similar. Restaurant concept and menu planning come first, but a well thought out equipment plan must follow.

You  will find this list of equipment in most restaurants---- a range top and oven combination, griddle, char-grill and /or broiler,  French fryer, slicer, toaster, three compartment pots sink, upright refrigerator and upright freezer, hot food  table, coffee maker, soda dispenser, food mixer and an ice cube maker. Other fixtures are needed as the menus vary.

Proper equipment placement is as important as what  equipment is used.  First, select the exact fixtures you need and get the specifications for them so you can determine the exact size and space required. This is a time-consuming task and requires not only skill in measuring dimensions but awareness of what is available in the marketplace. To do this you need equipment catalogs, scale rulers and some drafting ability. You may be better off to have a professional do this for you.

Plan to place the equipment in such a way as to provide a proper and adequate flow of food, supplies and service from the kitchen through the dining area as well as a return flow of soil ware and waste to kitchen and garbage areas.

Imagine the product flow as follows:

(1)    Products flow from vendors delivery to storage areas.
(2)    Products flow from storage areas to preparation areas.
(3)    Prepared foods flow from prep to service areas.
(4)    Food flows from service to guest tables or pick-up counters.
(5)    Waste products and soiled ware flows from dining area to waste collection areas.
(6)    Move after-products from collection to wash area or garbage.
(7)    Move clean ware from wash area to food serving areas.

Rules are needed to keep materials moving through the restaurant effectively. Products should reach their destinations quickly and directly with a minimum of interference with other flow patterns. Here are a few helpful hints;

(1)    Lines of flow should be direct and not backtrack
(2)    Flow lines should avoid congested cross traffic.
(3)    Food shouldn't pass through  waste areas.
(4)    Serving areas should be accessible to all servers.
(5)    Serving areas should be as close as possible to seated guests.
(6)    Waste collection should be masked from view of guests.
(7)    Vendor delivery should be into rear of a kitchen.
(8)    Garbage area should be screened from view of guests.

Correct layout and placement of fixtures can make your operation more efficient and smooth running. Employees are happier, customers are more satisfied and things move along better. Time and money spent in wise planning of your facility will pay dividends in the future.


For many retail establishments, fixturing means building racks for metal hangers to display merchandise. A restaurant, on the other hand,  incorporates some of the biggest, bulkiest and most conspicuous objects around. Much of this equipment is needed in the dining room in full view of the public. These  include servers'  stations and silverware set-ups,  napkin storage, busboy bin storage, water, ice and  coffee service as well. A good design will integrate this equipment in a way that is almost imperceptible to the public's attention.

In the back of the house, kitchen equipment placement is a science unto itself and should not be left to an interior decorator. Rather, it should be delegated to a specialist in kitchen design who has both equipment knowledge and operating experience. Often, a foodservice consultant is the only member of the design team qualified to design the kitchen. The kitchen, although not usually in view of the public, (a situation that now is often featured) is the most important part of a restaurant interior. Regardless of the quality of your front area design, without a properly designed kitchen, your restaurant could be the most beautiful place ever to go out of business!

What's next? After the equipment phase is complete, the functional operations  must be examined in terms of design. The flow of traffic  and table positioning is crucial, not only to the "look" of the place but also to the comfort and convenience for Diners. Tables must be big enough to handle all food plates as well as the requisite number of seated guests. A correct design leaves enough room for both the products,  the guest and the server's mobility

After the functional aspect of interior design has been met, it's appropriate to  let the interior decorator work up the ambiance or look of the place in keeping with the overall concept.

As a foodservice consultant, I have to take all factors into account.  Interior decorators when they lay out the palette and style of a restaurant usually ignore the purpose of the restaurant which is the menu. There is a functional  relationship between menu items and design. The menu dictates a lot more of the design than most people realize. Taste, texture, color and smell of food items can add tremendously to the effect of interior design—or subtract from it. 

Food can clash with interior colors. Sauces  can create havoc if they are served in  too-shallow plates. An unglazed plate can "feel" bad when a customer scrapes a fork over it. The list of interactions with food items and interior design goes on and on. Are the plates designed  to accommodate the largest food presentation you offer?  How will be a product look served on  an earth-tone dish?   Want to create a sensual "Night in Venice" look with blue or pink lights?  First test how your main food items look  under bluish or pinkish light  before you put time and resources into designing that  component.

Restaurant equipment is expensive. New equipment costs for a new, small-menu café can run  $50,000 or more while those for a full-menu restaurant can run upwards of $350,000. But with a bit of ingenuity, business acumen and plain, hard work, operators can reduce equipment expenditures by as much as 20%. The trick lies in either reducing the need for certain pieces of equipment or getting equipment at a lower price. Here are five tips on how to accomplish those objectives:

1. Reexamine your equipment plan as it was originally developed. The equipment might have been specified to last 15 years and be highly energy efficient. Do those specifications still fit your business plan?  The price of the equipment depends, in part, on the level of engineering established by the fabricator  who determines how long the fixtures are designed to last. Equipment designed to last the longest costs the most money. The durability tradeoff sometimes means trading down on the gauge of metal used in fabricating the equipment. Reducing the gauge of metal from 14 to 16, 16 to 18, 18 to 20, and so forth can reduce costs.

2. If you can simplify your menu without compromising its quality or damaging your restaurant's concept, you might be able to eliminate equipment that is not absolutely essential. Determine what pieces of equipment are absolutely needed and what preparation functions can be produced on other equipment. This can prevent any duplication of functions. For instance, soup can be made in a stockpot on top of a range eliminating the need for an expensive steam kettle.

3. If possible, only buy factory stock-type equipment. Avoid custom or specially fabricated pieces.

4. Consider buying close outs. Find equipment that is reduced in price because the manufacturer plans to discontinue the item or they have minor dents or scratches. Warning! It may be   difficult to find service for these items five years down the road. The above suggestions might shave 15% to 20% off equipment costs.

5. Look into buying used equipment. Buying used equipment results in the most dramatic savings.

Several major sources exist for equipment of this type. Call a local used-equipment dealer. Or go further afield and contact dealers in other geographic areas. Another route: Attend auctions. This often gives operators a good opportunity to secure bargains on large quantities of fixtures with a single stroke. Successful "bulk bids" often have been made for a restaurant's entire equipment package at 10 cents on the dollar. Be prepared, however, to run into protests from other buyers who have come to bid only on specific pieces.

Check advertisements in trade publications and local newspapers for specific equipment offered for sale. Also,  put the word out to contacts that you are seeking certain pieces of used equipment. Be aware that there are a few potential problems involved with buying used equipment:

  • The equipment might not run prop­erly. 
  • It might not pass current local codes. 
  • There could be parts missing. 
  • Those parts might not be available. 
  • Used equipment might be so energy inefficient that it raises operating costs. 
  • The equipment might require the wrong voltage. 
  • Cleaning and reconditioning used equipment can cost a lot of money. 
  • Another area of concern is the possi­bility that the equipment won't fit properly with the rest of the equipment in our   kitchen, and might give an erratic appearance to the final instal­lation.  

The most successful restaurants do not strive for great food and service alone but for visually sophisticated beauty as well. Thirsty five  years ago our concept of ambiance in dining places began to change due to a revolution in design trends.  This was sparked by the growth of foodservice chains.  This resulted in the  dining-out society  moving into the position of becoming visual culturalists.

We all learned crossover integration. The old boundaries between society's cultural affinities and architectural disciplines were no longer necessarily valid.  Today's modern design age observes that one compliments the other.

Today, in creating  restaurants,  a designer understands  that there is a subliminal level of comfort and enjoyment that the customer seeks to experience while dining. If this occurs, the Diner is happy about the restaurant.  This is  the simplest  level of sophistication.  Since  restaurant patrons occupy up to two hours dining and entertaining themselves, a designer must create a lasting impression in their minds. Hopefully, it is a kind one.

A successful restaurant  reinforces that ongoing feeling each time a customer returns to the place to dine. Who is the best candidate to work with you to expedite a foodservice operation that will meet your expectations? Of course, it should be the restaurant designer with a wealth of  experience in all phases of food operations.
As a restaurant designer and food-service consultant, I tip my hat to that old master, Louis Sullivan. When he said, "form should follow function," he may well have been at the ball park eating a thin crust pizza with extra cheese, heavy on the pepperoni. Or, at least thinking about it! 

Mr. Lloyd M. Gordon, President of GEC Consultants, Inc. has an MBA from the University of Chicago. He has concepted more than 390 restaurants and has been consulting for over 44 years. He helps people enter the restaurant industry, points the way to profitability, and helps keep them successful. To discuss "Cafe Design: Form & Function" he can be reached at 847-674-6310. email experts@gecconsultants.com   or on the web at www.gecconsultants.com

© Copyright GEC Consultants, Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved

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