For many chefs opening their first restaurant, the process of undertaking the design and construction of their newly leased space can be overwhelming and frankly confusing. Restaurant design and construction can be both simple and complicated at the same time. Above all else, it is costly and time consuming, but with proper planning the process can actually be enjoyable if you understand what awaits you in your journey. This post is intended to help outline those steps. It is less about design ideas, this is covered in the post called "so you think you can design," and more about really understanding what to expect from day 1 when the lease is executed right though your grand opening.



Doing it right?


Before you dive into the meat of this article below, I think it's important to take the 30,000ft view to make on quick point. At the end of the day, every project comes down to quality, cost and schedule. You want your restaurant to embody the vision you've been developing in your mind often times for years, you have a certain amount of money and you have a deadline. As I say to my clients over and over, if you want to maximize your chances of success on these three items, you need a bulletproof set of drawings. This means a totally thorough set of architectural drawings that address all of the details in the design. The set of architecture drawings is the basis for everything you'll do in your project: I compare it to a map.



Imagine the complexities of taking a journey to a far of destination but doing so with a map to guide you. For adventurous souls, this may sound exciting, but it's inevitable that the trip will take longer than expected, cost more than expected, present challenges that were unanticipated and in the end, you may not ever find the place you originally set off to discover. That process is bad enough if you're doing it by yourself, but now imagine you have 20 people following you. Imagine the complexity, confusion, frustration and inefficiencies that would exist taking this long journey with a large group without the map to guide you.



Now imagine that same journey with a highly detailed map. At the beginning you can identify where you're going, you can explore all the different possible routes ahead of time and assess which will be the quickest, which will be the cheapest, which will be the most enjoyable. Most importantly at the front end you can pick a group of people to join you on that journey who have specific expertise related to your specifically selected trip. Yes it will take extra time on the front end to do this planning, but you will begin with assurance that you've done the work necessary for the trip to be a success. With all this information in hand, you and the group can set off on your journey assured and confident in the cost, timeline, experience and destination. Your chances of success are greatly increased and on top of this, if challenges do arise, you have a group that clearly understands your goals and one that can react quickly to address these challenges.



Question: Do I really need an Architect?


To help clarify the information below, assume that if you need a permit, you'll need an architect.


This question is always the first one that comes up. Restauranteurs are entrepreneurial, self-starters who are used to blazing their own paths. Money is always a key component of the start-up and the added expense of hiring an Architect is often one cost people look to cut. As outlined in previous sections, the benefit of hiring an architect goes beyond the legal requirement to hire one. The question of do you need an architect really hinges on what scope of work you intend to undertake. If you anticipate any of these elements being part of your scope of work, you likely will need one. The list of items below are triggers that often necessitate a permit and therefore an Architect:


Is the building currently ADA compliant? Is the entrance compliant meaning the front door and the threshold, is there an ADA complaint bathroom? If you have a bar is there an ADA compliant bar area for serving patrons? If not, this is the first thing a building department will bring up if you pull a permit and you will need an architect to provide drawings for this.


Are you doing any structural work? Removing a wall, changing the exterior or window sizes or doing anything to the exterior of the building other than painting it and/or adding awnings? If so you will likely need an architect.


Are you doing work to the kitchen that involves equipment that may need a hood such as the cook line, a dishwasher, etc? Are there hand wash sinks, 3 compartment sinks, mop sinks? Sometimes depending on the scope of work, you may be able to avoid permitting some of these elements but it's unlikely and you will ultimately need a permit and an architect.


Are you doing work to the lighting in the space and plan to add lighting? In California, this will trigger Title 24 and will require you to permit the work and to provide design drawings from an architect


Often times, owners assume that changes are minor when in fact they are triggers that will require permitting the job. Our best piece of advice is don't touch anything that's in the walls including electrical, plumbing and HVAC. Don't switch out equipment that will require repiping or new drains in the floor such as ovens, sinks, fridges or freezers. Also, make sure that all your ADA required areas are compliant as outlined above, this will always trigger a permit if you are not in compliance. ADA elements are not "grandfathered" in for the most part, if you do work to your space assume you'll need to bring the space up to current ADA standards.


For the sake of planning, assume the following work can be done and not require a permit: Switching equipment out in kind, painting, replacing furniture like tables and chairs, swapping out signage (though you will likely need a signage permit but may not need an architect to do this as many signage vendors do drawings for these), adding exterior seating (this may require a separate permit but can be completed without an architect), swapping out lighting fixtures in their original locations, internet and speaker system upgrades, changing out the floor finishes (watch out there are very specific health requirements for the floors and base boards in any area where food prep is occurring such as the kitchen or bar areas as well as in any bathroom areas), switching out finishes on the walls (again there are health requirements for the wall finishes in the food prep areas), upgrades to the bar area millwork at the back bar and the bar top (for the bar top area the ADA area needs to have the same finish as the main bar top area). This is a partial list there are other upgrades but these are some of the main ones clients often ask us about.


Question 2: What will the architect do if I need a permit?


To understand the value of hiring an architect as part of your start-up team, you first need to understand the overall process of doing any type of renovation or addition to your restaurant.


There are four main phases that exist in any project:


1. Design

2. Permitting

3. Bidding

4. Construction


Like anything in life, proper planning on the front end will set you up for success on the back end. Also, like everything else in life, we are all impatient and prefer to just "get started." This is especially true when the lease is executed and operating costs have begun without and income from operating an actual business because you're waiting around for your construction project to be done!


1. Design


Each phase of a project requires different sets of team members. At the beginning, the design team on a mid sized project is typically made up of the following consultants:



Interior Designer

Commercial Kitchen Consultant

Lighting Designer

Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing Engineer

Structural Engineer

Energy Consultant

As-Built Drawing Consultant


This is a lot of people! That's usually the first response we get. Keep in mind, the Architect is the quarterback and leader of the design team responsible for the coordination of the consultants and the overall development of the permit set of drawings.



2. Permitting


Once the permit set is complete, the plans are submitted to the local building department for review. This process can be completed in one of four ways typically. Often the "expediting" as it's called is overseen by the Architect, the owner, the contractor or sometimes by professional consultants known as "expediters" who basically live at building departments and work to get permits approved. Choosing the best option for expediting is another post all to itself. Often times, the entire design team will be required to make changes to the drawing set during the expediting process in response to "plan check comments" made by the local building officials during their review. This entire "plan check response" process is overseen and coordinated by the Architect.


3. Bidding


This phase is optional and depends upon factors including budget, location, schedule and owner preference. In its simplest form, owners can either put a project out to bid to multiple contractors or they can "negotiate" a contract with a single contractor.


During this phase the team typically consists of just the Architect, owner and contractors.


4. Construction


Once a contractor is selected and construction has begun, the primary team includes the Contractor, owner, architect, interior designer, MEP and structural engineers. For all consultants this phase is know as "construction administration" or "construction observation."


Okay so back to the question of what an architect does now that we understand all of the phases of a project. In the most simple terms, the Architect works with the owner to set and oversee the whole process of design, permitting, bidding and construction. It's important to note, often times when we say we oversee "construction" what this really means is we follow along during construction to ensure that the work is being completed in accordance with the permit set that was designed and completed thought periodic site visits and meetings with the GC and owner during the construction phase. The architect does NOT actually do any on-site work or management of the work by the contractor.


At each step, the architect oversee the process as it evolves from phase-to-phase. During the design phase we will identify other design consultants and help to solicit proposals for the owner to approve. Once the team is built, we oversee the design of the space in coordination with the owner and develop a schedule for developing the permit set to guide the team. We ultimately work with all the consultants to build the permit set and oversee the final coordination and compilation of the set as it is prepared for submission to the building department. During permitting, we oversee the "plan check response" and complete further coordination with the design consultants should changes to the set be required during the permitting process. If we are expediting the project, we do the on-site meetings with the building departments.


During bidding, we help to identify GC's to include in the bid list. We release the drawings, set the bid instructions and bid schedule and answer questions during the bid process. Upon receiving the bids, we do the bid qualifying(comparing the bids to ensure that they are all quoting the same scope and quality of work), and help to facilitate GC interviews. Upon selection of the general contractor we enter into the "Construction Administration" phase.