4 Key Considerations in Restaurant Construction

When I take my wife to dinner (a rare event these days with three little ones), I don’t think about how the building was built. I notice the table setting, and how the light flickers on the wine glasses. I hear the clanking in the kitchen. My mouth waters as the waiter sets my rare ribeye in front of me. I take the building for granted as I enjoy the space.

But those of us involved in construction – whether we’re restauranteurs, restaurant contractors, or subcontractors – know buildings don’t build themselves. We understand that while the restaurant patrons might only care that their meal arrives on team and their glass stays full, someone has to build the infrastructure that makes great meals possible. The goal of a restaurant owner is to create a great experience and the goal of their construction team is to help build a space that makes it possible.

So, with the end goal of a high-quality guest experience in mind, let’s discuss the 4 major considerations when building a restaurant:

1. Allow for schedule slips in your move-in.

Commercial restaurant contractor reviewing schedule

Allow flexibility in scheduling.

Don’t start the delivery trucks in motion as soon as you scrape dirt. Should you plan for an open date? Of course. Should you start hiring once you have an expectation of your finish date? Yes. But do your best not to overcommit to a magical opening date. Even the best contractors are at the mercy of weather, change orders, and other unavoidable construction issues. Long story short, allow for some schedule creep not only in your plans but also in your own mind as you manage your expectations.

2. Pick talented subcontractors for customer-facing areas.

Electrician hired by a general contractor for restaurant construction.

Use skilled and detail-oriented subcontractors.

Restaurants are an experience. Those subs with customer-facing work should be craftsmen, not just workers. And while we might normally think of carpentry as a customer-facing trade – and it is – remember that your electrician might run exposed conduit where customers can see. The HVAC sub might run exposed duct work. The point is that there are a lot of trades that do work that affects customer experience. (If you are an owner and your GC selects the subs, just make sure you’ve communicated the above to them and be prepared to pay a premium for premium subs.)

3. Pick an architect with a great design mind AND common sense.

Architect at work on restaurant construction project.

We eat with our eyes first– work with a reputable and skilled architect.

A fast food chain has different requirements from a steak house, but both want to create an enjoyable environment for their customers. As you shop for your architect, the first bit of advice would be not to judge solely on price. There are some architects who are artists and there are some that are more like draftsmen. Start with a look at their design portfolio, and then check their references. Ask past clients about their responsiveness and the completeness of their plans. Then dissect their proposal. A diva artist is not fun to work with, but a bore cannot design beautiful spaces.

4. Don’t let beauty trump function when it comes to high traffic areas.

Completed restaurant construction project

Use durable materials in high-traffic areas.

Pick durable flooring surfaces and counter surfaces. Do not become aesthetically enamored with something customers will destroy. Clean lines and timeless materials work best.

The best restaurants are living, breathing works of art. There is the art produced in the kitchen, and the poetry in motion of the graceful waitstaff. There are intoxicating smells, pleasant sounds, and interesting sights. A great restaurant is like a living, breathing organism with people scurrying around in chaotic harmony – and its building is its bone structure.

So, when you’re building a restaurant, make sure to keep the above in mind. And whether or not we have the honor to help build your eatery, we’d love to stop by for a meal.

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