By Eric Schechter, CRFP
Eric Schechter is a Certified Restaurant Facilities Professional (CRFP) with over 25 years’ experience in the restaurant facilities industry
If you have a successful restaurant that has been open for 7 or more years and business is good, then you are already on the right path. But there comes a time, when you want to start thinking about re-investing in your own business. With new restaurants opening up all around you, as a restaurant owner, you need to make sure you stay relevant.
When it comes time for a refresh or remodel, stay ahead of the curve. “If you wait until it looks like it’s time to renovate, you’ve waited too long.”
Industry experts recommend a facelift every five to seven years to keep your business relevant and to compete with all of the new restaurants that open. Depending on the type of restaurant you own, a renovation investment can be as low as five thousand dollars or as expensive as hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What are some things you should know before starting a renovation?
Timing is everything.
Don’t wait until your restaurant is dated and worn before you renovate. Planning and knowing ahead of time what work needs to be done can help you define the scope of the work and develop a budget you can afford. Define who your customers are or the target customer you want to attract. Analyze demographic trends in your area that might expose a change in the population, age, employment, income, etc. Decide on a design that attracts the right customers for your business.
Your projected budget is never the “real budget”.
Renovating a restaurant always costs more than you expect and more than you want. It’s important to strike a balance between taking on more than you’re prepared to —try to avoid doing too much, but doing enough that customers notice a difference. There is a term in construction called “value engineering”, this is the practice of looking for less expensive techniques and materials to obtain the same design you are seeking. There are many “look alike” products that are less expensive. It’s natural to want the most expensive, beautiful things for your restaurant, but remember that there are less expensive alternatives out there. Decide what’s most important to you, what will make the biggest impact, and what you’re willing to splurge on. There are always two budgets: one budget you know you can spend, and one budget that you want to spend. You have to have a “Not to Exceed” number and stick to it.
Check your lease.
Before thinking about any renovation work, you will probably have to have a discussion with your landlord. Some landlords are willing to help with the cost of the remodel since technically it is their building and they want to keep it looking fresh. Some landlords will argue all costs are your responsibility as it is your restaurant. You will not know unless you ask. Always get permission in writing from your landlord and understand what requirements they may have. Make sure your lease is in good standing so that if you do invest in renovation, you can stay in the space long enough to get a good return on your investment.
Listen to what your customers are saying.
A remodel is the perfect time to take into consideration the feedback you get from customers. What do they like and what could you improve if you remodeled? A great example of listening to your customers, is figuring out their seating preferences. Should you add or upgrade your booth seating? It depends on what type of restaurant you are running. Booths are kind of essential to the following establishments: diners, American comfort food, and any other fine dining restaurants. Booths can provide comfort to your customers, because of the cushion on the back and on the seat, as compared to wood or metal backs on a typical restaurant chair. If you pay closer attention to customers in a restaurant with booths, you will find that booths are usually the first to be taken as compared to other type of seating. With this being said, booths do have a high initial investment. Good quality booths can cost somewhere between $600 and up a piece depending upon the type of fabric and style. One alternative for booth is settee. Settees are more versatile and therefore are more popular with new restaurant owners these days. A settee is an extended booth, generally cushioned, to accommodate multiple tables and loose chairs. It’s more economical to have settees now since they cost less money to build, and a 20 feet long settee can typically provide enough visual impact to the overall atmosphere. Other than providing visual impact, these colorful booths and settees can also help enhance the acoustics. Therefore, if budget allows, booths and settees can add tremendous values to your restaurant. This is just one example of listening to customer’s wants and needs, and figuring out how to fit it into your budget.
Get the proper financing for your project.
Renovations can cost a small fortune and this is why most restaurateurs look for outside financing to complete the project. There are many sources of financing including banks, fund services and individuals. Ensure your funding has been approved and is available before hiring a contractor or initiating the renovation.
Choose the right contractor.
You must be very careful when you choose a contractor for your renovation project. They must have the proper credentials like licenses and insurance as well as the experience to tackle your project. Their references are valuable- did they provide quality and on-time performance with other projects they completed? Have they completed similar projects recently? Ensure they obtain the required permits and inspections, and make sure you review these documents as you do not want any issues that will delay your renovation. Shop around and use trusted resources like SendaGuy Now to ensure you get the quality and speed you require.
Plan your schedule.
Can you keep your restaurant open during renovation or do you need to shut it down? Shutting down has a negative impact on your financial situation as your restaurant will not be generating money and your regular customers may become a regular of your competition. You must be “hands-on” during the renovation and get involved with every detail and be on-site every day that work is being done. No one cares as much as you, and you must be the one to push the job forward. Anything you can do to minimize downtime during a renovation is best. The point of upgrading your restaurant is to keep your regular customers satisfied and to attract new customers. It is recommended you begin a marketing campaign that draws attention your new restaurant and lead up to a “Grand Re-Opening” event. This can be accomplished through both online and offline marketing.
Don’t try to fool yourself.
Before pulling the trigger on a renovation, be honest with yourself. Is a renovation a good decision? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Will your restaurant still be open? Is this a commitment I am willing to take? Will there be a return on the investment if I renovate my restaurant? These are all hard questions to answer, but if you plan on staying in business long into the future, keep the front and the back of the restaurant in the best possible condition. This ensures your staff has the tools and equipment needed in the back of the house to produce amazing food for your guests and the front of the house provides an experience that keeps them coming back for more.
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