I have been involved with numerous restaurant and pub builds, and I have seen a lot of dust fly! In the throes of a restaurant fit out there are many critical details that can be easily overlooked without a good set of plans and an experienced main contractor at the helm. New restaurant or pub owners in particular are susceptible to construction mistakes because, like anyone on a new journey, they are simply unaware of the nuances involved. Mostly in an effort to save money, new owners, (and plenty of experienced operators too), take on the project management themselves, work from an inadequate set of design drawings or hire sub-contractors unfamiliar with restaurant or pub refurbishment. In either or all of these scenarios inevitably something goes wrong. Here are several reoccurring mistakes that I have seen over the years, accompanied by some personal views:
1. Underestimating the cost of fitting out a pub or restaurant. There is no such thing as a cheap pub or restaurant build. They are all expensive. Even taking over a pub or previous restaurant space does not guarantee huge savings. New restaurant construction costs begin at roughly £1,000 a square metre and can increase in a hurry depending on the scope of work and finish detail. To quote Russell Norman “One third of new restaurants fail to open the doors due to lack of cash”.
2. Asking for forgiveness rather than permission? Environmental health and building regulations have become more stringent for food businesses over the years, and inspectors are evermore wise to the shenanigans of contractors looking to cut corners. I have been privy to some unpermitted work performed on a weekend when local authority employees are typically not on duty. “I don’t know where that huge ventilation duct came from sir”. Do yourself a favour and get the proper permissions for the work being done. Penalties are very costly, and the most expensive penalty can be a delay.
3. Overestimating the construction timeline. “The builder said he could finish my pub in two weeks”. I hear this all the time from customers, and I have never seen a contractor yet who could strip out and fully refurbish a pub or restaurant in two weeks. Contractors will do and say anything upfront to get your business. Remember that even the best laid plans are subject to human error, weather events, inspection delays and unforeseen circumstances. Whatever timeline the builder tells you, double it!
4. Second hand kitchen equipment – not so fast! This is not the best first move when refurbishing a pub or restaurant. A new developer, flush with cash and the eagerness to get their project moving is exactly what the catering equipment dealer is counting on. The myth to dispel here is that you are not saving that much money buying used equipment over brand new. There are no warranties associated with anything used and often no refunds once the goods leave the store. You cannot guarantee that second hand equipment meets current regulations – especially gas equipment. To quote a work colleague “Make your first expense your last expense”.
5. Taking on too much space. In general, restaurants are shrinking in size. The cost to operate, staff and fill 1,500 square metres is unnecessarily expensive. Get creative with 600 square metres instead. There is plenty of room, even for a full service concept with a bar, and your restaurant will feel cozy. Use high ceiling space for mezzanine seating and vertical storage, you’re not charged for that in your rent!
6. Trophy Kitchens. Ah the ego, it makes us do things we shouldn’t; like making the kitchen too big. Chefs are famous for doing this because – well they are chefs. Never allow your chef to go shopping in a catering equipment showroom unaccompanied! I can show you several tiny kitchens that produce high volumes of food. Many use island style prep and cook stations allow for 360 degree access. Remember, kitchens are cost centres. If you must go big add a chef’s table or counter to generate additional revenues.
7. Goldilocks Bars. Bars can either be too big or too small and much depends on the concept and drinks offer. An intimate six seat bar might be perfect as could a 30 seat titanic. Take precaution in sizing a bar and even ask “do I need one”? Bars have to be staffed and if they sit empty your restaurant looks dead. Find the size that’s just right for you. By the way, a normal bar top height is about 1.1m from the finished floor. I’ve seen to a contractor demolish a finished bar at 1.2m because it was too high, (bar stools are standard height). Check everything!
8. Open Kitchens, not open wash-up rooms. Open kitchens are popular these days because they add excitement, connection and transparency to the guest experience. Who doesn’t like to see the sous chef tossing a flaming skillet of mushrooms, right? The wash-up area however – we don’t need to see that. Same goes for the kitchen floor, prep area and other potentially messy sight lines…better left concealed.
9. Sound and lighting gaffes. Finding balance with both of these design elements will make for happy customers. Leave the roar of the crowd to the football ground. When designing a restaurant use a mix of finish materials and decorative items that are sound absorbent. If I can’t hear a conversation across the table then there’s a problem. Having a variety of lighting elements and the control of lighting intensity is paramount. All hail the dimmer knob – but can I read the menu please!
10. TV Overkill. For the love of Pete, unless you’re designing a sports bar get rid of the TV’s please. We are an over stimulated society. Restaurants should be refuge from the electronic madness. Here’s an idea, turn the TV’s around to face the wall. I’d rather stare at the wires.
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