Business and Operations
Need more than paint? Freshen up for 2010
When you step into your pizzeria, what do you see? If you’re the entrepreneur, it’s the physical representation of your livelihood, the place where you’re kept immersed in the day-to-day operations of your passion for pizza. Now switch shoes with your customers. What do they see?
When you step into your pizzeria, what do you see? If you’re the
entrepreneur, it’s the physical representation of your livelihood, the
place where you’re kept immersed in the day-to-day operations of your
passion for pizza. Now switch shoes with your customers. What do they
|Hirschberg Design Group’s revamp of Piazza Manna. |
“I think many times a restaurant knows it’s time for a makeover when
it’s too late,” says Martin Hirschberg, president of Hirschberg Design
Group in Toronto. Hirschberg’s firm is made up of registered
foodservice consultants and registered interior designers, of which he
is both, and has specialized in hospitality internationally for over 35
Often, the need for upgrades becomes urgent in existing businesses when
profits slip after a competitor opens in their landscape that is
“newer, fresher, and more inviting,” says Hirschberg. If it gets to
this point, you’re facing an uphill battle.
Unless you’re really paying attention to the competition, you may be
losing customers over the state of your store even if they’re not
complaining. Indicators that it may be time for a makeover include if
your restaurant feels dirty or if you can’t keep the touch points, like
door handles and backs of chairs, clean anymore, says Chris Hannah,
principal of Toronto-based Cricket Design Company. Created in 1988,
Cricket Design’s expertise is in catering to the foodservice and
“Every restaurant should have a maintenance program, and it’s very
difficult to do,” acknowledges Hirschberg. “It’s hard for a restaurant
to put money aside when they need it for so many things . . . the times
are changing and they’re changing rapidly. Peoples’ demands, clients’
demands and everything else are changing and you have to appeal to a
MISTAKES OPERATORS MAKE
It can be stressful to realize that your pizzeria needs work, whether
it’s a cosmetic facelift or a major renovation. Upgrades take time and
money, both of which will be best invested by going forward with a
plan. There are some common mistakes that interior designers see
independent restaurants make when faced with physical changes to their
“The first one is taking a knee-jerk reaction to change, and ending up
doing a patchwork fix rather than spending the money appropriately,”
says Hannah. “Step back, look at the big picture, and spend it focused,
Restaurateurs that pick individual pieces for the space that don’t go
together esthetically and/or with the concept of the brand, is another
blunder Hannah sees. “If it doesn’t all fit in, then it’s a waste of
money. That’s the worst mistake.”
“We see independents underestimate the cost of renovation,” says
Hirschberg, whether it’s cosmetic or major construction. Beyond the
cost, operators should look to what client base the atmosphere needs to
appeal to. “Renovations are more than just making the store look
pretty. The store has to act as a marketing device. Look at your client
base, and ask, has that client base changed? Who are you appealing to
If your pizzeria is located in a food court, you could potentially
face huge costs or be forced to move if you haven’t kept your image in
line with the mall, notes Hirschberg. You may have been in the location
for a while, but landlords may order you to upgrade to a new concept
that fits in with the image of the mall or you won’t get your lease
renewed. This is a worst-case scenario, but certainly something
Hirschberg sees happening.
STRUGGLES AND SIGNS OF BAD DESIGN
A store space that doesn’t function can create a host of problems,
while an efficiently thought out restaurant is a time and money saver.
In John C. Birchfield’s book, Design and Layout of Foodservice
Facilities, he outlines the potential savings of good design: “Labour
costs and food costs consume between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the
income of most food operations, and the control of these two costs
determines the difference between profit and loss. It follows, then,
that the efficiency of a food facility can be judged by how well the
design limits the cost of labour.”
Birchfield notes that a good design can make two low- to mid-range
employees unnecessary, which could result in a three-year savings of
more than $150,000. Signs of poor design include cross-traffic between
employees and guests, wasted steps backtracking, hard to clean
surfaces, ill thought out dining and work spaces, and issues pertaining
to employee safety.
Design is inexpensive when compared to construction, so planning is
still the number one key. It’s important to see the space
three-dimensionally to address any potential pitfalls, says Hannah.
Problems can also arise if the durability of the materials used is not
up to par, and things wear down prematurely.
“This often happens when trying to do a cheap renovation and using
stuff from Home Depot intended for residential, not commercial, use. It
doesn’t work. Restaurants take a tremendous amount of abuse,” says
SIMPLE STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT
Once you’ve determined who you are in the market (i.e., family, date
night) and thus who your clientele is, you can look closely at what
aspects of your store may turn that particular demographic off.
Creating atmosphere is core to the entire value package of your
restaurant, and different clienteles will feel comfortable in different
spaces. It’s important your customers feel at home in yours. Likewise,
if you are trying to reach a new demographic, look at what you may need to do to create an inviting space for them. Sometimes simple changes are all it takes.
“Sometimes it’s just attitude that can be a simple thing to create that
atmosphere,” says Hirschberg. It could be changing your music, or
swapping the random but pretty pictures on your walls for ones that
reflect your community, he suggests. And washrooms are one of the
basics. “If the washrooms don’t look clean, there’s a perception that
everything else isn’t clean.”
Light and colour are two principal ways to really make a change in the
atmosphere of your restaurant. Attention to how light alters the space,
particularly in sit-down restaurants, can make all the difference, says
“A fluorescent lit space after dark can be cold and oppressive and
natural light isn’t always the best either. By being able to control it
with dimmers and blinds, you can change the atmosphere immediately.”
A LEADING DESIGN TREND: FOOD UP FRONT
If you are looking at making significant changes to your store or even
moving to a new location, open kitchens and food up front are trends to
“One of the biggest things we have now is food up front or kitchen up
front, where you see the product being done fresh for you so you get
the feeling it’s being done for you,” says Hirschberg.
This entails more than just a kitchen you can see into, he adds. It’s
also how you merchandise, display and plate the food. Processes
normally kept out of sight in your operation are now brought out as
part of the entertainment experience of the restaurant.
Hannah says he currently has three restaurants in design that are being
constructed with the kitchen in view, including one with a wood-fired
“If you do it, it has to be reflected in the way you operate,” he says.
“You’re putting your staff on display.” It’s also important to control
the views into the kitchen. Waist up is ideal to hide the floors, as
they do get dirty.
DIY OR HIRE A DESIGNER?
You’ve decided to make some improvements to your store. You might be
feeling a little pain in your chest at the possibly mountainous
expense. Whom do you turn to?
“In the long run, hiring an interior designer probably won’t cost you
anymore,” says Hirschberg. “The expertise that an interior designer has
and the end result will save you money. But before you get a designer,
you have to do some thinking first about what you want to do and why.
It has to be more than a pretty store.”
There may be a perception that interior designers make additional
revenues from mark-ups and relationships with furniture suppliers, but
Hirschberg says this is not the case. “When we select a chair for you,
we’re not marking up that furniture or have a vested interest in
selling you any particular piece of furniture.”
If you’re considering doing the upgrades on your own, Hannah advises
asking yourself whether you have an eye for design and is it a paint
job or beyond? For instance, not many people know how to manipulate
“If you need a building permit, or large material resources, you should
see a designer for sure,” says Hannah. “Not every project does needs a
designer. Sometimes the expertise is in-house. Sometimes you can do
some of the work yourself, or a friend, or you can do some kind of
contract with a regular customer.”
A fresh set of eyes can be invaluable in determining what your
customers see. Your suppliers can be an excellent source since they
visit countless restaurants. Sometimes a new perspective is all it
takes to freshen up your store for 2010.