A Q&A on Restaurant Design and Construction

photoBrian Laug, Principal of Heath Design Group, Inc., recently sat down with John Klakamp of Encore Construction to talk about the design and construction process for restaurants. Encore Construction is an Annapolis, MD based firm that specializes in providing pre-construction, construction and project management services for the restaurant industry. Heath Design Group is located in Baltimore, MD and has provided design solutions for countless Mid-Atlantic area restaurateurs over the years.

Their informative interview can be found below:

John Klakamp: At what point in the process do you recommend that owners consult with an architect?

Brian Laug: In general, the earlier in the process you involve an architect, the more smoothly the project will run. For instance, a common mistake is hiring an architect after selecting a site and finding the location is unsuitable. The better approach is to hire an architect to work alongside a real estate professional and help with site selection.

JK: At what point in the process should a site evaluation and analysis be performed?

BL: In the most preliminary stages of the process. An architect will evaluate the property to ensure all building codes will be met, check on the need for a sprinkler system, fire alarms, fire rating separation, HVAC systems and accessibility to plumbing and utilities. A list of these potential items will be brought to the restaurateur/owner at the beginning of the project to minimize potential surprise additional costs during project construction. This all helps assist with understanding the “true cost” of a project and evaluating whether a particular property will meet the restaurateur’s budget.

JK: What are some common issues about which owners are not well-informed when they approach you with their concept?

BL: The most common issue is a lack of knowledge about the cost of making the concept a reality. Restaurateurs understand costs involving making and serving food but are not usually well-versed on the cost of finishes, equipment, materials and labor. I see a lot of sticker shock when a restaurateur hears an initial estimate. Also, restaurateurs are trained to think of income and expenses in units with a relationship between what’s spent and what’s made. Unfortunately, that experience doesn’t relate when spending money on concept design and construction. Suddenly the figures are much bigger, and there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between what’s being spent and what’s being made. The savviest restaurant owners understand that a well thought-out concept can add to the dining experience and increase the bottom line. It’s just hard to put on a per unit basis.

JK: When working with a restaurateur client who is new to the business, what are some things you do differently than when working with someone more seasoned?

BL: It is important to educate the client and explain what he or she can expect at each stage of the planning process, from design through construction. I also stress the importance of having a realistic budget for what they want to accomplish. I advise them on the importance of hiring and listening to the advice of an experienced restaurant design firm such as Heath Design Group, Inc. Though working with a first-time restaurateur can be challenging and time-consuming for both parties, there is a level of excitement knowing that we are all working to create a successful and prosperous endeavor.

JK: Discuss the difference between construction management and contract administration. What are your feelings in regard to the necessity of each?

BL: Construction management is the coordination and budgeting of the entire project in order to complete that project on time, within an authorized cost, and to the required quality standards. Contract administration is the process of managing contract creation, execution, and analysis for the purpose of maximizing financial and operational performance and minimizing risk. It really depends on the size and complexity of the project. Construction management may be needed on a complex project that requires more on-site immediate attention and project coordination between the trades. Contract administration may be more appropriate on other projects. Smaller projects may require only occasional site visits by the architect to ensure the project is being constructed in accordance with the design documents and to answer the contractor’s questions.

JK: Are you more in favor of the traditional architect/owner/general contractor relationship or a teamwork approach such as integrated project delivery?

BL: This also really depends on the project, the client’s experience and the size of the project. Some projects are relatively simple and straightforward and may work fine using the traditional approach. However, more complex, larger projects warrant a “team” approach that allows all parties to bring their expertise to the project. This approach has been successful for us in many projects.

JK: How do you best judge the relative importance of a client’s goals, the available budget, and the nature of the site?

BL: First and foremost, the client’s goals are most important. Everything should revolve around what the client is trying to accomplish. The client’s available budget has to be reviewed in respect to those goals. As an architect, I can create a project that looks great on paper. However, if a client can’t afford what I have
designed, I have done a disservice and the design is not worth anything. Last, the site must work within the confines of both the client’s goals and budget. An experienced architecture firm typically is able to come up with a creative design that falls within budget, meets the client’s goals and fits within the desired site.

JK: What can a restaurateur do to manage architectural costs?

BL: A restaurateur can hire an architect to provide a range of design service from design documents to construction administration. Regardless of scope, communication is critical. Generally, fees start escalating when the restaurateur starts changing directions, has trouble making decisions, or rushes the project and finds surprises as the project progresses. The best way to control
architectural costs is to spend time during programming and schematic design to develop a clear and decisive plan. By openly discussing the level of services you will require for the project, an architect can develop a design that doesn’t over- or under-service the project.

JK: How can the owner’s overall budget be best achieved?

BL: The simplest approach is to say, “This is the money I have. What can you do for me?” The other option is to establish a budget based on the concept. Providing a range of what he or she can spend will allow the architect to give the restaurateur an idea of whether it’s realistic. Once programming and schematic design are completed, a clearer picture of the budget will emerge. Once your budget is finalized, insist that the project be designed to that budget. It is also a good idea to factor in a 10 –15% contingency for unforeseen or concealed construction conditions.

JK: How do you control additional costs and change orders throughout a project?

BL: It really starts at the beginning of the project. If the architect understands the owner’s goals for the project, has restaurant design experience, and produces a good set of construction documents, then, in theory, there should be no or very minimal additional project costs. However, sometimes additional costs arise due to unforeseen conditions. In the event additional costs or change orders happen with a project, the architect should
be made aware of the potential additional cost immediately. The architect is creative and many times can reduce or eradicate
the cost of the change order by offering an alternative design solution.

JK: What makes a successful project?

BL: A successful project is one that meets the client’s budget, has been designed efficiently, looks great, and ultimately is lucrative to the owner.

JK: Share a story about when you encountered a problem during a restaurant project, how you responded, and the solutions you provided.

BL: Often, we get called into projects when the project has already been designed or is in its infancy during construction but hits a snag. We make ourselves available to the owner quickly and analyze the problem, review the design documents and provide
multiple alternative solutions to solve the problem with little or no construction delay. We strive to see the project complete successfully, on time and within budget.

JK: Finally, what makes Heath Design Group different from other architectural firms?

BL: Heath Design Group’s mission is to “help our clients succeed” by providing creative and professional design solutions in a timely and thorough manner. We listen and ask questions to ensure we have a complete understanding of your project. Having both architecture and interior design services in-house allows us to communicate together to deliver a cohesive design concept. Additionally, we don’t really have a “signature design look.” Each of our projects is uniquely designed to each client’s vision, operations and budget. It’s not about us, it’s about the client.