restaurant reinvention

How to start your restaurant’s renovation

By Judy Henderson

If your restaurant is going to survive, you’re going to need to complete a renovation every seven to 10 years. I’m not talking about replacing the fabric on an existing banquet or adding an Edison bulb to an old pendent fixture – that’s maintenance. A renovation is more extensive; a rethink of the front-of-house and perhaps the back-of-house. This process usually calls for the extended closure of the restaurant and is undertaken in order to sustain your business.

A renovation is a daunting thing to do — turn off the revenue tap while spending like a Vanderbilt on what feels like guess work as to your future. It’s so uncertain that many restaurant owners choose to simply maintain what they have. The sad reality is, that decision invariably leads to a slow and often painful death of a once vibrant business.

However, done well, a successful renovation can increase margins and reach new markets that will sustain your business into the future. In the decades that I’ve been in hospitality design, I’ve managed hundreds of restaurant reinventions in different markets across North America. There are four phases to a renovation; follow them and your chances of success are significantly improved:

  1. Planning
  2. Design
  3. Construction
  4. Re-launch

I relish a conversation with a restaurant owner when they talk about market shifts – that allows me to create a design that will endure and be relevant long after re-launch. There’s no design without function and function comes from an understanding of your market and how it’s likely to shift in the future.

A decade or so ago, our dining habits were quite different — you called to make a reservation (for two, most likely), you dressed up and dutifully turned up on time. When you arrived, you were shown immediately to your table and kept your conversation to yourselves while you ate. Today, dining is a more fluid, casual experience. Larger groups assemble over time at the bar and diners are much more willing to interact with other guests, seeking an experience rather than simply consuming a meal in private. My example here might be a little stereotypical, but it serves to show the importance of looking to your market for guidance on when and how to approach a renovation.

The example also demonstrates how a restaurant’s function impacts the design. Today’s modern urban restaurants call for more bar capacity and larger tables. The thought of a communal table would have been comical when I started designing. Now, it’s an element that many restaurants owners consider, and with good reason.

The more insight you can bring to the table about the type of clients and their expectations, the better. Once we understand what you want to achieve from a business perspective, a designer can truly dress you for success.

Next time we’ll get into planning your renovation. It’s arguably the most important stage, so hold off on knocking down walls until then.

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.