When we meet with potential restaurant clients, particularly those just starting out, there are a lot of initial questions as to the need for an architect. The conversation generally goes a bit like this:

I have always dreamed of owning my own restaurant and I know that’s something you specialize in. Is there any advice you can give me?

Truthfully, we run into this question quite a bit in our practice. Perhaps it’s coming from a chef, looking to make the leap and create the food that they know others will love. Or it’s from someone passionate about food with a lifelong desire to own a restaurant. Or maybe from someone who sees an unfulfilled need in the food world that they know they can fill.  Let’s try to shed some light on the process, in case you too have the same dream.

There are hundreds of different steps that need to be taken in order to open a restaurant; but from our perspective, the design of the space itself is absolutely critical to its potential success. How will the environment where your food is prepared, presented and enjoyed embody your dream and tell your personal food story?

As much as the quality and taste of the food sets the tone, it is the atmosphere that whets the customer’s appetite as to the restaurant’s potential, long before the first bite is even served. Of course, your food will be the star, but it’s equally true that the restaurant’s design must also be the supporting actor. Without both working in concert, the overall experience will unfortunately come off as “one-note.” Weaving the story of the food and the place together makes for a more meaningful, personalized and engaging experience for your guests.

These are just a few of the reasons to hire a qualified architect with food and beverage experience — an architect who understands how customers flow through a space, how to layout effective seating groupings, the elements of bar design, current health codes, and what is becoming increasingly more relevant, how to deliver on your brand promise.

But hold on, you say….why exactly do I even need an architect? Can’t I just hire a contractor to build based on my sketches and ideas?

Well, for the most part, the answer is “no.” Typically, your local jurisdiction will want to review the project’s use, and evaluate the health, safety and welfare of the design. More often than not, you will need an architect to help you navigate through this process and formally submit drawings for approval. If you happen upon an existing restaurant that requires only new finishes, then there may be a chance that it can be re-opened without a permit. However, even then, an architect with an extensive food and beverage portfolio can provide you with the necessary expertise on customer experience, layout, lighting, color and materials that should speed up you ROI and increase profitability.

Ok. Fine. But I think I have a good eye, and I definitely know better than anyone else what my restaurant should look like. Can’t I hire someone to just produce the required permit drawings as a way of saving money?

Sure, you might be able to find a few bargain-priced firms willing to provide documentation services, but in our experience, it’s not the best use of your time and money, and you will ultimately get what you pay for–and you don’t need to be hand-holding an inexperienced draftsman through what will a very hectic and busy time. Remember the hundreds of different steps mentioned above? These will keep you very occupied! Your talents should be focused on the quality of the food. Leverage our expertise in crafting the superlative guest experience. If you try to take on both, inevitably one of them will suffer. And do you really want to be dealing with the intricacies of design at the same time as your restaurant is opening? Leave that part to the experts, who have the passion, skills and training necessary to design your dream!

This all sounds like a lot of money. Is it really worth it?

The costs associated with design services are a very small percentage of the overall cost of a new restaurant, especially when you compare them to the money needed to build out the space, purchase equipment, and hire qualified staff. And because the design is integral to the quality of the overall experience, we believe there is incredible value in working with a qualified architect. For one, we can analyze and assess the space before you sign your lease, giving you a good sense of the extent of work necessary to get the bones of a restaurant in place, which should help you better allocate your initial funds. During the design phase, we can optimize the space plan in order to satisfy your restaurant’s unique priorities, which will translate into increased sales. We can also work within your cost constraints and give you a design that respects your budget. On a less tangible level, but perhaps most importantly, we know how to interpret your brand promise and integrate it with the design, making the food and the space a seamless expression of your concept. That marriage of food and atmosphere provides a far more meaningful experience for your guests and is what keeps them coming back!

Ok, this is starting to make more sense, but exactly what services would you provide for my restaurant?

We offer the full range — from initial site analysis through the smallest details necessary to complete your restaurant, many of which we have touched on above. Plus, we can do much of this under our umbrella, should you want us too.  Much of it depends on the type of restaurant, its size and your budget. We will describe all of these in depth in our next post.


Next up: the design process, from finding a space to opening day