Like a gourmet meal, the design of a restaurant requires vision, planning, agility and technical skill in order to execute beautifully. When a lease is signed, the clock is ticking and it’s important to balance all of these things along with your budget.
Designing a restaurant is different in many ways from designing a house or other project. Often with a house, you have the time and budget to explore many design pathways to arrive at the best solution possible. With a restaurant, where time is of the essence, choices (& their implications) must be communicated clearly and early on, so that decisions can be made quickly.
For us, the design process often starts even before a lease is signed. Clients come to us and want to know if it will meet their needs before they commit. For instance, if the space was not a restaurant before, sometimes converting it to a restaurant triggers costly code upgrades to the building. A potential restaurant owner can avoid a lot of headache later by investing time to assess the feasibility of the space before the lease is finalized in order to make sure it is a good fit. We can hand-draw speculative restaurant plans that help potential restaurateurs really visualize things like how a space could layout, how big the kitchen could be, and how many seats could fit, making sure this aligns with their business plans.
Envisioning and Refining the Design
As Architects, we are trained to solve a design problem from many directions and many scales at once. On one end, we are thinking about the overarching concept of the restaurant: What is your Big Idea? What is the menu and style of service? How do you want the place to feel? On the other end, we are thinking about your unique process of operating a restaurant: What is your kitchen workflow? What kind of equipment does that require? What are the critical equipment adjacencies? We attack the design from both ends at once to arrive at a solution where all of the parts (hidden or not) work together harmoniously with your vision.
It is also important that necessary drawings are prepared and submitted for permits from the City Building Department, County Health Department and other jurisdictions so that construction can start as soon as possible. While we are waiting for drawings to be reviewed and permits issued, we develop the rest of the necessary drawings and details (interior views, colors, lighting, cabinetry, furniture, material & finish selections, etc.) to communicate the entire design intent and create the finished space.
Constructing the Design
When all necessary permits are obtained, construction crews are on-site, and it’s time to build! This is a very exciting time in the life of the project, where you start to see intangible pencil lines and computer models transformed into wood, concrete and steel. Sometimes you find some pretty cool things under the surface after the demolitions of old walls and such. When Café Pettirosso was under construction, we found an entire room that had been boarded up and forgotten!
We also like making things. For Ethan Stowell’s Bar Cotto, we designed and built the light fixtures ourselves, adding a personal touch to the restaurant. We’ve also designed custom chairs and tables for many other restaurants.
In the end we must be agile in order to react quickly to changing site conditions during construction in order to maintain tight project timelines. We must be available and on-site to answer builder questions, problem-solve and respond quickly with drawings and decisions. In the restaurant world, this means doing whatever it takes to get you open on time for the Grand Opening you scheduled months in advance, a challenge that we love.
To learn more about our restaurant design process, check out our featured article in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious Dining Guide!