Planning For Coordinated Design/Decor.
By Lloyd M. Gordon
Thursday, 6th December 2007
As we discussed previously there are many problems that an individual experiences when building a restaurant or remodeling an existing facility - Some of them are ghastly enough to discourage even the most determined developer. 

If things go well it can take 6 to 9 months to plan and develop a new restaurant.  If things go less than expected it can take over a year. Meanwhile, restaurateur's costs continue on and on every month and by the time the restaurant is ready to open, all too often, funds that were scheduled to meet the needs of construction and development and grand opening are depleted before there is a grand opening.

Recently I met Joseph D. Alexander, the President of Alexander & Associates, AIA, Architects in Northbrook, Illinois.  Mr. Alexander has been designing and building restaurants for over 20 years and he and I found we had common interests when we began to discuss the problems the restaurateur encounters in building or remodeling a restaurant. We thought it was so interesting that we invited Food Industry News to sit in on the discussion and this is the record of that conversation.

Gordon:  I think one of the greatest problems that faces the restaurateur today is getting his facility constructed in a timely fashion. 

Alexander:  I agree.  Historically there have been hosts of problems that plague the developer and all to often the developer is not equipped to handle them.

FIN:  Why is this a bigger problem today than say, five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago? 

Alexander:  Well, one of the reasons is the cost of construction is so great today that any delay, any mistake, any back-tracking can raise the cost to astronomical numbers.  Also, when you're borrowing money to do your construction, this cost is on-going at the high numbers that you have to pay to borrow, so the cost for maintaining the interest on those funds is very, very high and it keeps going on as the job progresses.  Therefore you really can't stand delays.

FIN:  That sounds pretty discouraging, but are these delays unanticipated?

Alexander:  No, I think delays can be anticipated. For instance, starting from scratch for a 200 seat restaurant and erecting the building we say allow between 7 and 9 months, however if you run into a problem with the site and you have to do a lot of site work, you can be delayed a month or two beyond expectations.  Meanwhile the costs are going on.
Gordon:  When we do a feasibility study, we try and put in safety factors. Sometimes, depending on the site, we'll put in a safety factor of 15% to 20% of the entire project.

FIN:  Don't you have to make some kind of valid projections to give the developer an idea of what it's going to cost him?

Alexander:  Sure, but the projections can vary.  Let's take a simple plain ordinary restaurant with its own building.  It might run $ 500,000  to $600,000 , whereas an elaborate restaurant exactly the same size may cost $1,000,000  and up. There are so many variables that you have to be really on your guard.

Gordon:  You certainly can't start making projections until you have your theme nailed down, a general equipment layout and the appearance of the building as well as host of other things.

FIN:  Could an independent restaurateur figure this out for himself?

Gordon:  Sure he can, if he's got the time and he doesn't have to bother running an existing restaurant.  It's very difficult to be running a restaurant and doing the planning that's required to build another one.

Alexander:  Yes, and then if you're new at it, if you're just coming into the business, you really don't have enough facts and figures and understanding of the problems to be able to do the job of planning.

FIN:  So in other words, at the very start you need professional help.

Gordon:  Absolutely,  there's a saying that "Only a fool acts as his own attorney".  I think we can paraphrase that in to "Only a super optimist will plan a restaurant without the help of  professionals".

FIN:  That makes sense.  You talk about time and money. You say it takes about 9 months from  conception until birth of a restaurant, that sounds familiar.

Alexander:  Sure, it's like the birth of a baby.  But unlike the development of a baby which is all preplanned by the genes, the birth of a restaurant requires a lot of input developed through experience and many decisions along the way.

Gordon:  Yes, and in order to do that, to keep track of the decision making and the path to follow, we furnish a PERT chart to our clients to help them keep tabs of where they're going and how fast they're getting there.

FIN:  Can you describe a PERT Chart?

Gordon:  Yes, a PERT Chart is really a Progress Evaluation and Resources Tracking procedure.  As far as a restaurant is concerned, the chart starts with a market study and concept development.  The market study includes the name, graphics, and logo, marketing concepts and strategy. 

FIN:  What then?

Gordon:  Then you move forward into developing this into a "theme" with graphics and logo and you end up printing stationary with the logo, and making advertising cuts.  PERT tracks your employee uniforms, it follows development of your signage, it checks into your menu- graphics. 

FIN:  Does PERT assist in design/decor?

Alexander:  Yes.  PERT follows your concept development from preliminary design/decor concepts and layout of the building and facility, through to the actual construction.  You move forward through site location and negotiating for the site and signing purchase agreements, mortgages, or signing a lease, final layout and decor, and then the construction with the mechanicals and HVAC, plumbing, electrical, fire system, floors, carpentry, installation of equipment, installation of decor, furnishings and carpeting. 

FIN:  How does it provide control over construction?

Alexander:  You move forward from beginning demolition, if necessary, into actual construction, roughing in the finished  HVAC and all the other mecha­nicals, finishing the interior and exterior, and checking everything.

Gordon:  PERT is actually invaluable when installing, connecting and testing equipment, making the final contract check, setting up for the grand opening and bringing everything together.  It can be used for the trial run and for the grand opening.  Every one of these is assigned a time factor.

FIN:  That's a pretty comprehensive system!

Alexander:  Yes it is, and it allows the client to follow everything we do and permits the client to  work closely with the architect and the consultant who are acting on his behalf.

FIN:  Do you in effect represent the restaurateur?

Gordon:  Yes, the consultant is definitely a representative of the client as the developer and looks out after the client's interest. 

Alexander:  Yes, that's why, to avoid a conflict of interest, we do not sell equipment, nor do we perform contracting.  We consider that the sale of equipment and the actual contracting have to be supervised and we are the professionals that do that and therefore if we did those two functions ourselves we would be in conflict of interest.

FIN:  How much attention do you give to design/decor?

 Alexander:  Well, design/decor has really taken a major step forward during the past 20 years.  We as a nation of "diner's out" have grown more conscious of the ambiance of restaurants.  We are more accepting of new materials, novel textures, unusual combinations of plastics, wood, and metals than we ever were before.  Years ago designers were afraid to use newer innovative colors.  Today we buy dazzling color concepts with almost no fear.  But one of the big factors has been coordination.  Coordination of all of the factors, brings together through good design/decor a restaurant that looks good, feels comfortable and is a pleasant environment for an exciting dining experience.

Gordon:  I agree.  The design/decor both internal and external are keys to customer recognition.  Customer recognition is a form of marketing, so in effect the design/decor is a type of merchandising.  Today's designers start with the menu.  We observe the type of customer to be attracted and project  a design/decor system based on sound research. 

Alexander:  The purpose of design/decor strategy is to invoke a reaction in the customer.  There should be a conscious response in the customer.  The restaurant should be an event, not just a dining place.  Stimulation of the diners perception should start with the exterior.  The design is the bill­board. 

Gordon:  The decor is like the menu of things to come.   The design brings them in and the decor
makes them happy.  You use lights of various intensities and type and you use lights to splash color and to create textures.  This sets the mood of anticipation in the diner of good things to follow.

Alexander:  Of course a good design/decor system implies understanding of the objectives to be reached.  Helter-skelter buying is rapidly giving way in the minds of most restaurant developers to an organized planned  system of furnishing and installation.  Coordination is the key word.  It includes color texture and comfort.  It views the patron as an intricate part of the dining experience. 

Gordon:  Design/decor systems should be viewed as a part of a major marketing apparatus of a food facility.  In fact, it could be said that the dollars spent for decor should actually be charged off to merchandising.

Alexander:  Yes, and it takes enough dollars to properly develop and buy a good design system.  But those dollars are well spent.  The return on investment is quickly realized in customer satisfaction and profit growth.

Gordon:  A concerted  food marketing effort should use design/decor as a major means for providing an environment that sells food instead of a collection of artistic set-pieces organized as rooms in which food is served.  Coordinated design/decor tries to produce the kind of place that customers remember fondly and promotes their return again and again.

Alexander:  Two major criteria of design/decor systems are durability and adaptability.  The decorative atmosphere of ambiance of the system should be equally rich with detailed planning, followed by careful coordination and exacting application during installation.  Everything has to fit together and look coordinated. 

Gordon:  Flexibility is important, therefore use of tables for two affords adaptable seating.  Also, social bars are becoming very important for efficient use in bars where space is limited.

Alexander:  The designer must be aware of how the people want to move through space.  Various areas of the restaurant must be coordinated for easy movement of traffic.  Of course design should follow the flow and function. 

Gordon:  To make this happen we have to work out the details through exact­ing specifications before work begins.  It's easier to do it first on paper which is more economical than any other way or at any other time.  You can make a hundred changes on paper for a few dollars, but once purchasing, and construction are underway, changes can be extremely expensive. 

Alexander:  The challenge of the designer is to create more perception of quality and elegance at a lower cost.  This is due to the tight budgets and the increasing cost of actual construction. 

FIN:  I can see that the experience gathered by the consultant and the architect gives them the tools by which they can pay attention to exacting details. I'll bet you're both happy when a job is finished.

Alexander:  Finished?  Really, the design/decor of a restaurant is never finished because food service operates in a fluid atmosphere.  Things change rapidly year-in and year-out and the foodservice operator who is tuned in,  realizes that he must change with the times.

Gordon:  That's really it in a nut shell.  Restaurants' food services must be adaptable to meet the changing needs and whims of their clientele.  These changes can be done most effectively in time and money by professionals trained and organized for the exacting services required for coordinated design/decor.

Alexander:  That's really why we're in the business: to help foodservice operators and those that wish to be in foodservice to get in at a price that's feasible with a facility that is truly a real marketing tool.

FIN:  Would you agree. in summary, that the ultimate success of the designer is to generate the greatest favorable response from the dining public, or to give more bang for the buck?

Alexander and Gordon:  YES! BOTH!

Mr. Lloyd M. Gordon, President of GEC Consultants, Inc. has an MBA from the University of Chicago. He has concepted more than 385 restaurants and has been consulting for over 40 years. He helps people enter the restaurant industry, points the way to profitability, and helps keep them successful. To discuss "The Art of Cafe Ambiance" he can be reached at 847-674-6310 or email experts@gecconsultants.com  or on the web at www.gecconsultants.com.  

© Copyright GEC Consultants, Inc. 2007
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