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Restaurant Design
by Judd Brown
gourmet articlesarchiverestaurant design

How did you start designing restaurants?
JuddI have been fascinated by the restaurant industry since I was a kid. My brothers and sister must have caught the bug too because they are still in the business. My parents first owned a catering company and then an 800 seat supper club in Massachusetts. I spent time in the back of the house doing everything from washing dishes to cooking on the line and manning the dessert and salad stations. Then I moved to the front of the house as a server, a host and maitre d'. I loved the restaurant business where I acquired my nuts and bolts education through lots of hands on experience. I took this knowledge, along with what I learned at Arizona State University where I received my architectural degree, and started designing restaurants. This way I could still keep my hand in the business I loved by creating the visual component to go along with the owner's dream.

How can a chef find an designer/architect that specializes in restaurant design?
When you see a restaurant that you like, ask who designed it. Another good way is to ask friends in the business. Nothing beats a personal recommendation from a peer that has already successfully used a design/ architectural firm. The next option would be to contact the restaurant association. Another way to go, is to call your State Building Association. They will have a list of approved design companies, obviously make sure they realize that you are looking for restaurant/hospitality design specialists.

What questions should chefs and/or owners ask when interviewing prospective designers/architects?
JuddMake sure they can offer what I term as a seamless service (also known as one stop shopping). By seamless, I mean look for a company which offers a predesign service - this is vital. The prospective restaurant space needs a professional evaluation. You will need the company to review the site and calculate the space to ensure the square footage will accommodate the number guests required to pay the rent. I just completed a project where there was not enough space to do this. To make the location viable, we decided to add a mezzanine floor. A good designer/architect will also understand the local building regulations and clean air policies. Additionally, they will be able to identify the landlord's responsibilities. In many situations in order to lease a space, the landlord will have to pay for some alterations. Ask your prospective firm for previous projects they have worked on. Find out what is done in house and what work is farmed out. Most companies will use food service consultants to design the kitchen, but your designer/architect should be the one who figures out the location of the delivery and storage area, where the kitchen is going to be and pencil in the sauté, pantry and pastry stations . Ask firms you are considering if they have first hand hospitality experience? Many of the key players at JBD have worked in restaurants or come from families who are in the business. That I think is one of our greatest qualifications, it enables us to visualize how a restaurant will flow on a busy night. Ask if the prospective company can also handle the small details like signage, graphics and menu design. These areas may seem less important at the beginning of a project, but as completion nears, they become large issues. In order to have a uniform statement when a restaurant is finished, I think it is important every aspect is discussed and conceived at the beginning of the project so the package is complete.

Above all, whether you select a sole practitioner or a larger firm, make sure they have restaurant/hospitality experience. It goes without saying, like with any partnership, you should like and respect the person or people you're going to be working with throughout this process.

Do design/architectural firms find sites for clients?
Often for regular clients a design/architectural firm will spot a space and recognize that it suits a client's requirements.

Who selects the construction company for the client?
This is the client's decision. The designer/architect will suggest firms in the area based on the project's criteria. Construction companies bid for the contract, and the client makes a decision. A designer/architect can add valuable advice during this time period.

How much does an architectural firm charge?
That depends on the scope of the project and the design/architectural firm's experience in the field. Naturally, the project's budget will also play a role.

What's the best advice you can give someone who is looking to open their first restaurant?
Hire professionals with experience who see your vision and can turn your dream into a reality. Choose people you have confidence in who can see the job from start to finish. Opening a restaurant is extremely stressful. The last thing you want to do is bite off more than you can chew. Hiring a good designer/architect will make swallowing much easier.

Judd Brown, ASID, is the founder and president of JBD in Warwick, Rhode Island. The 25 person staff conceives restaurants and country clubs all over the country. Their design of Naked Fish resulted in a Hot Concept! award in 2000.

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