planning a restaurant renovation

The importance of planning your restaurant’s renovation

By Judy Henderson

Planning a restaurant renovation is the key to success — miss this step at your peril. This process, conducted every seven to 10 years, will keep your restaurant in the game. Here are some things to consider when making your plan:


This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many restaurant owners don’t realistically calculate the time needed to get things done and wind up closed as high season approaches. Optimism has no place in a renovation project. Slabs of granite for the bar top can, and do, crack. Lighting fixtures get held up at customs and your electrician is balancing multiple jobs, so they will inevitably miss a day.

Experience has taught me to plan for life’s little hiccups so they don’t adversely impact the entire project. Get estimates on weeks of work from your designer, contractor, etc. Also, consider permits, city planning, health inspections and staff hiring.

Work back schedules

When you know how long your renovation is going to take, make a work back schedule – working back from the day you want to re-open. Most importantly – build in some contingency. Plan to reopen before high season and build in some time to iron out any kinks.


Keep everyone informed: staff, suppliers, and most importantly, customers. This is a great time to gather customer emails and send out a short survey asking customers what they think about the restaurant space and food. You can use this feedback in your planning and design. Send email updates throughout the renovation process to keep customers informed and excited about the new space and menu.


As well as customer feedback, have a wander around your neighborhood. Observe who’s buying property, have dinner at local hotspots — how would you make your space even better than the competition?

Floor Plans

Every good renovation starts with a floor plan. Unlike menu covers or staff uniforms, floor plans are not easy to modify once they’re in place. Plan your restaurant to look great even when it’s slow. Consider areas that can be screened or sectioned off. Consider private rooms and semi-private seating – these are must-haves for high-end urban restaurants in 2017!

Flow is arguably one of the most important factors of a floor plan. Flow determines the way customers, staff and food move through the restaurant space. Flexibility is also important. Being able to move tables, chairs and even wait stations around allows you to accommodate both large and small parties easily.

Create simple understandable traffic patterns – corridors for ease of movement around the restaurant and clear access to washrooms. Avoid having customers walk past the kitchen entry (staff will thank you for it). Avoid seating guests too close to the front door, as it can be noisy and drafty.

Bar placement needs to be considered — a bar at the entrance of a restaurant can do double duty as a waiting area. A bar in the center of a restaurant is easier for staff to access during the dinner rush. And a bar at the back of a restaurant is more intimate, away from the hustle and bustle of the front of the house. Decide which option is best for your restaurant.

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” So make a plan. Next time we will talk design and how to add just the right finishing touches to your reinvented restaurant.

About the author:

Judy Henderson is the owner of Inside Design, a Vancouver firm that focuses on modern hospitality design. Based in Vancouver, B.C. with a list of global clients including Hilton, Westin and Coast Hotels. Inside Design has an experienced team with a reputation for innovative design and precise project management.