Five Reasons Why Restaurant Construction Business Is Like No Other

You may ask, “How different can building restaurants be from any other type of construction project?”

The short answer is – a lot.

During my 20-year career in the construction business, I’ve successfully completed residential re-modeling, new home, retail and government construction projects in addition to our primary business; restaurant construction.

Each has its own challenges and each demands a different kind of expertise and skill set. But building a restaurant is a different challenge altogether. Many contractors underestimate the complexities of restaurant construction because it looks easy … from afar. Not really.

There are many reasons why that is so. Let’s look at five of them.

Number One

It requires sticking to a tight time schedule.

We build fast-food restaurants from groundup with all the site work, utility work and the actual construction, all within only 70-to-90 days. A full-service restaurant on the average takes 93 working days to build. Of course these numbers may go up or down depending on the size of the restaurant.

Restaurant owners are small business owners. They spend a lot of cash upfront to open a restaurant and train new employees. For them, each day spent for construction is yet another day of lost revenue. That all adds up to a lot of money in a hurry. Thus new restaurants have to be built quickly to minimize that loss. And that requires sticking to a tight building schedule.

Number Two

You have to find the right qualified subcontractors.

Finding a good, reliable subcontractor for a construction project is a difficult challenge for every general contractor. But finding a good subcontractor who is specialized in restaurant construction is even more difficult.

Since timing is an important factor in restaurant construction, the subcontractor must be willing to work long hours, even over the weekends without increasing the cost. They must be familiar with kitchen equipment, the ansul system and exhaust system construction. They must be able to work in a tight crowded environment without causing any delays. It’s not easy to find subcontractors like that unless you’ve already formed your own crew through the years, working together closely on restaurant construction projects.

Number Three

It’s difficult to find the right job superintendents and project managers who know restaurant construction inside out.

Since this is a fast track project which requires a lot of advanced scheduling, day to day updates, very clear, frequent and one-on-one communication, the superintendent and the project manager must know how to handle this speed. To keep up with the sub-contractors working long hours, these individuals must also be able to work the same hours and turn the project around quickly.

Number Four

The kitchen equipment and the HVAC system require a different and careful approach when building a restaurant.

Unlike any other commercial construction, restaurant construction needs to accommodate the kitchen and cooking equipment which require a special exhaust system and the related electrical work that goes with the ansul system.
This work can be tricky and difficult sometimes for those who are not familiar with how these systems work. Air balance might be a challenging task to achieve, based on the size of the restaurant and the construction style. The kitchen equipment must be installed on time by the right installers to be able to provide the final electrical and plumbing connections on-time, ready for the startup of the equipment.

Number Five

Training and getting ready before the opening is easier said than done.

This is a very expensive and difficult process to pull off without a hitch. New employees arrive and start to get trained in the kitchen, front service desk and the dining room. Managers, cooks, floor employees all get paid but there is no revenue yet for the restaurant owner. The owner keeps the show rolling out of his own pocket while the contractor is trying to complete the final items including those on the punch list, and complete the final inspections.

If you can overcome the first four obstacles discussed earlier, this fifth challenge gets a little easier to handle and the owner’s initial out-of-pocket expenses are minimized.

Overall, finishing a restaurant building on time and within budget requires the kind of expertise and proven track record that you’ll find only in a contractor specializing in restaurant construction and who’s been doing it for decades. Buyer beware.

Osman YAZGAN, President
ITEK Construction

Open Door Restaurant Remodels

Remodeling restaurants has been the go-to sales driver for much of the restaurant industry during the past few years, either by refreshing a brand in danger of going stale or by innovating design and menu to reignite growth. In the last fewyears, ITEK Construction was involved in several major re-model projects such as McDonald’s, Red Lobster and Pollo Campero in Penn., NJ, Md., DC, and Va.

For many large, mature, local or national chains, there is no room for extra U.S. units; or building a restaurant is more costly and time consuming. So remodeling stores to add sales layers or to encourage more frequent and lengthier guest visits has become the way to grow. McDonald’s, for instance, already has upgraded hundreds of its domestic restaurants, with more units cited as candidates for remodeling or rebuilding in the long term. This remodel project is called MRP (Major Remodel project) and the Baltimore-DC region is holding a national construction completion record with 2-3 weeks duration time. Itek Construction is among five approved GCs in this region.

Darden Restaurants Inc. also remodeled hundreds of its Red Lobster and Olive Garden locations in the past several years. Since these stores are so big, we had to work phase by phase by dividing the restaurant into four or five sections with each section having to be completed before moving to other sections. You can work with these remodels day or night based on your business volume, your financial strength and how fast you want to complete the project. As a general contractor, my preference is to work only at night and keep the restaurant open and clean during normal business hours.

As restaurants compete for new business, they have to attract customers by not only offering good food, but also creating a welcoming atmosphere. As many restaurant owners know, changing things up on the menu every now and then is good for business. What many are just now learning is that remodeling a restaurant also has significant financial rewards.

According to a survey, restaurants generally see a 6% to 8% increase in sales traffic following their remodeling. The remodels cost from $300,000 to $1 million depending on the type of business and scope of remodel. Since so much money is involved in a restaurant remodel, restaurant owners and contractors should have a solid understanding of what makes a restaurant remodel successful. A few of our clients even preferred to close their restaurants completely during the remodel since remaining closed increased sales more than staying partially open during the remodel. It seems that customers came to newly remodeled restaurants as if brand new instead of with a remodeled store mentality.

EXECUTING THE PLAN

The Design Phase

Address all issues during the design phase. I would recommend discussing fire code issues (exits, emergency lights, alarms, etc.), HVAC concerns (including hoods, exhausts and A/C), plumbing issues (drainage, grease traps, ADA bathrooms, etc.), electrical issues (sizing panels for current loads and future use, lighting, etc) and building issues (accessibility issues, ADA restrooms, fire codes, design issues (just because it looks nice on paper doesn’t mean it will be easy to build). This approach saves the owner lots of money by minimizing/eliminating change orders and most importantly, helps the owner open faster which will allow him/her to start making money faster.

The Exterior

Focus on the exterior first. According to our most established, large national restaurant chain clients, the exterior of a restaurant is one of the best investments that a restaurant can make in their business. One hundred percent of potential customers see the outside of your restaurant. People are less likely to want to go into a restaurant that looks decrepit and run-down.

The Interior

Plan out your space. ITEK advises making the work-space more user efficient. People (servers, customers, hosts, busboys) are always moving around in restaurants. You’ll want to make sure that you have enough space for everyone to comfortably move during peak business hours. Think about how close you want your tables to be to each other. This will depend on your clientele. A small tapas restaurant might have tables closer together than a large family focused restaurant.

Consider enhancing your bar. Alcohol sales can account for upwards of 50 percent of a restaurant’s revenue. Typically, bar patrons don’t mind sitting a little bit closer together, nor is there the need for space to put high chairs. By emphasizing the bar area and maximizing space, restaurant owners can draw more patrons into the bar and in turn, increase alcohol sales.

Determine ceiling height. Not only does ceiling height add to or decrease from the ambience and feel of a restaurant, but also affects acoustics. Will your restaurant play music? How many people do you expect to be there during busy hours? These are all things to consider when figuring out ceiling height.

Lighting

Analyze your lighting needs. Again, this is based on what type of restaurant you have. The lighting in an upscale Italian restaurant will be very different than that of a casual burger joint. Your contractor/architect should work with an electrician to make sure there is adequate lighting for your customers and employees.

Structural Changes

Limit major structural changes. Based on our experience budgets can get out of control when you start talking about plumbing and mechanical changes or moving walls.

Fire Protection/Grease Interceptor

Don’t forget to make sure that your fire system is up to code. During a remodel, especially one in which new equipment is added or changes have been made to the electric system, it is imperative to make sure that the sprinkler system, fire suppression system, and fire alarms are up to code.

Don’t overlook the grease interceptor. The purpose of the gravity grease interceptor is to reduce the amount of animal and vegetable fats, oils and greases in wastewater to acceptable levels as established by the authority having jurisdiction. These units should be provided with easy access for maintenance, be sized to hold large quantities of grease (to reduce pumping/clean-out costs) and be outdoors to facilitate easy inspection and reduce the possibility of food contamination during clean-out. Solidified grease can cause sewer blockages and overflows that pose unnecessary health hazards as raw sewage backs up into residence or commercial establishments. A properly plumbed and maintained grease interceptor will protect sewer systems from these occurrences.

Osman YAZGAN, President
ITEK Construction & Consulting, Inc