Having the right team in place can make or break the build-out process.
By Cliff Bramble
There is a saying that goes, “Building a house with your spouse is one of the most stressful things you will do together.” The same thing goes for building a restaurant. Without the proper people constructing a restaurant, the stress will be overwhelming. Three of the most influential professionals that will be instrumental in building a restaurant are the architect, designer and general contractor.
Build-out costs for a restaurant include architectural, designer, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, HVAC, general contractor and engineers. For the operations part, it has the FFE, or the furniture, fixtures and equipment.
The following issues are some of the main considerations when opening a restaurant. Knowing about these topics may assist you with a faster return on your investment. In addition, paying attention to each area could save the business thousands on pre-opening expenses. On the other hand, ignore the costs or the plans, and it may result in expensive overages.
The first part of building the restaurant will be in creating a budget for the total build-out. Once that has been completed, the financing will need to be in place.
With those two behind you, the following items will be a part of building the restaurant.
When finding a restaurant space, the owners always think they have the design figured out. But as soon as the architect walks into the room, the vision usually goes out the door. So before signing a lease, the first part of the team to bring in should be the architect.
Be forewarned: They should have restaurant experience. Without it, the project may run into many problems. While they will not make the final decision for the restaurant space, they will provide excellent insight into the design of the total square feet. They will see the restaurant and give their idea on the floor plan. Once they give the thumbs up, the excitement accelerates.
How can the business save money in this expensive area? Before the plans are given to the general contractor, ensure the architectural plans are 100% complete. It sounds easy, but it’s not. If construction items are missed or changed, it could slow the construction process or increase the build-out cost. Remember, the bids for the job will be based on the architect’s plans. If they are missing something, it could impact many.
Architects and designers cost money. But the designer may make or break the atmosphere. So it is essential to hire a restaurant designer rather than a commercial building designer.
Let’s look at the costs for the designer and architect. Say the architect and designer cost will be 5-6% of the overall project. How does one know how much the project is going to cost? It can be based on the estimated cost per square foot.
For example, if the project is a retrofit for a 5,000-square-foot full-service restaurant, the restaurant could cost $250-$325 per square foot, or $1.5 million. Five and a half percent of the $1.5 million is $82,500. That’s where the architect and designer cost may be. This isn’t for FFE either. It’s only for the architect and the designer.
As for the project’s build-out timeliness, just because the architect and the designer signed off on the plans doesn’t mean the restaurant will open in 30 days. Typically, once space is located, it could take three to six months to get the plans to the city. Once the city signs off on the plans, it could be three to five months for the build-out.
Remember, this is for a retrofit. If it’s a ground-up build, however, and there is steel needed for the framing, plan on six to 12 months. It will also depend on if there is a building there or not, and the time of year. (Steel takes longer in the spring and summer.)
An experienced restaurant architect and designer may have a list of recommended subs for the job. This may include the millwork, the designer, the engineers, etc. It’s important to let them do their job and let them use their people. More than likely, they already have relationships with the interior and lighting designers, HVAC subs, steel subs, general contractors, structural, electrical and landscaping engineers.
The designer and the architect will have to work side by side at times, and if they already have worked with each other, it may make the process faster. Asking them to use a new sub other than those they have worked with only asks for trouble. Let them do their job, and it will save time and money.
- General Contractor
After the architect, the most critical part of a build-out is the general contractor (GC). The architect and designer will be working closely with the GC. If they all have experience building a restaurant, the process should go faster and be effortless. If the general contractor has never built a restaurant before, be prepared to say, “thanks, but no thanks,” and find another GC.
Once the architect has completed the drawings, the plans may be sent out to bid to three or four GCs. Typically, the architect will recommend a company. Take their advice. The GC should give bids, set timelines and ask many questions. They will also advise if they can do the project. When a decision has been made for a GC, ask for the referrals.
Remember this: the GC works for you. Have them set timelines and a construction schedule that meets everybody’s expectations.
Just when you thought the build-out was going well, the inspector walks in. This time, the inspectors are looking to review the quality according to the plans. The responsibility of the inspector is to see if the architectural procedures are followed. Inspections include building, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, structural, health and fire department.
Even before the build-out begins, there could be an inspection. During the construction phase, inspections are frequent. Whether for grading, steel, a building code, electrical, plumbing inspection, etc., the time it takes and the inspector watching creates added stress.
Ponder this: Who pays for the change order if the architect makes a mistake during the build-out? Is it written in the general contractor’s contract? Most likely, the business owner will be paying for change orders. Oh, and change orders always get a 10% or more addition to the cost. Same with any other issue. It always seems to go back to the restaurant owner’s pocket.
When the construction has been completed, the fire inspector will walk in and inspect the premises. Once completed, they will issue a Certificate of Occupancy (CO), and the restaurant will be ready to open. Many times, this will coincide with the health department’s inspection too.
So the next time you are building a restaurant, think about this: Will building the new space be stressful to you, or will you be mentally prepared to make it happen and have everything perfectly planned? The planning part will allow you to be ready for anything. Having the right team on for the total build-out will allow everyone to sleep at night.
With 40 years of restaurant and hotel experience in all restaurant segments, Cliff Bramble has built restaurants from the ground up, retrofitted restaurants, opened Marriott Hotels and, since 2004, has co-owned and operated nationally recognized restaurants throughout Atlanta. Cliff co-founded Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak, Krog Bar and KR SteakBar and was the owner of Noble Fin until June 2020. He has first-hand knowledge in banking, finance, development, real estate and overall business expertise, assisting in all levels of business. Look for Cliff’s new book, The Business Side Of Restaurants, which provides 18 steps to analyze data that makes a restaurant more profitable, on amazon.com. Currently, he owns Hungry Hospitality, a hospitality consulting firm focusing on all aspects of the restaurant business.