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Restaurant Design on a Tight Budget

Tips for creating a restaurant design to match your personal vision.

The dream of opening your own restaurant is a powerful one. The elements of design you choose to follow can make or break that dream. Whether you are updating an operating steak house or planning your Italian bistro, a tight budget is a fact for all establishments. The importance of spending your design dollars wisely cannot be overstated.

The most important piece of the design puzzle is market knowledge. What type of customer are you trying to attract? Every part of your design goes back to this basic question. When you close your eyes and envision your restaurant packed with customers, who are they? The furnishing styles, wall colors and accent pieces all need to blend together into an environment which attracts those types of people. If you are planning for lingering customers enjoying wine and desserts after an exquisite meal, you'll need comfortable seating and low lighting to promote conversation and intimacy. If your dream is an exciting gathering place serving the latest trends in culinary fashion, your seating arrangements and lighting choices will be entirely different. Acoustics are a major player in design planning. Are guests animated and moving from tables to the bar? To you want to create an environment encouraging romantic dinners and cozy chats? Become your target customer and develop a picture of your perfect surroundings. Be completely clear on your vision before making any decisions regrading updating or designing your locations.

Once you have a clear picture of your ideas, be completely honest regarding your budget. One of the most common mistakes made by new and experienced restaurateurs is to cut things too close for design elements. Make sure all your other issues such as plumbing, kitchen equipment and structural repairs are covered before jumping into design. Reserve a portion of your design budget for unexpected expenses. The truth is the great track lighting you want may require wiring upgrades and the new tile floor will require subfloor repairs. Once you have an accurate budget, purchase the best quality you can afford for your design elements. Cheap seating will tear and sag quickly under constant use. Flimsy tables and low cost fixtures are very noticeable to customers. Regardless of your overall vision, you want to project an atmosphere of professionalism, cleanliness and stability.

When you design your restaurant, design from the back of the house to the front. The most expensive furnishings, gold plated lighting and painted masterpieces will not offset poor planning when it comes to the flow of people through your establishment. Wait staff need access to the kitchen without having to bump into diners and carry trays over each others heads. Diners need to feel they have the space to relax and converse. If you plan to accommodate large groups, tables will need to be moved without creating an obstacle. Pile ups at the egress and wait stations will lead to disaster. Employees will be happier and so will your guests if you plan for easy maneuverability for everyone. Don't overlook the importance of curb appeal. Many times designs focus on the inside of a restaurant and entrance doors or lobbies are ignored.

Lastly, if you plan on hiring a designer to help you pull all these elements together, get someone who has experience with restaurant design. Talented home and office designers are not your best choice -- you need someone who understands the relationship between food and place. Dedicated restaurant designers understand the need for flow and table turn as well as ambiance. Check out references of potential designers and tour establishments they have helped create. You need to find someone who places as much importance on your ideas as on their own. This needs to be a collaboration between you two, not a battle of the egos. For more information check out websites such as Restaurant Report and the National Restaurant Association for more detailed information. Ask current employees and customers for their input if you are planning a remodel. If there are major flaws to be overcome, these are the people who will let you know. Check out the competition for information. Seeing where improvements could be made in another restaurant will help you avoid the same problem choices in your own restaurant.

The sense of taste is only one of five senses your customers bring to your establishment. The smells, visual effects and sounds of your restaurant all play into the overall experience your customer absorbs. With more people choosing to eat out everyday due to time constraints and the desire to combine eating and entertainment, spend some time evaluating how your restaurant can key in on a total dining experience. Restaurant design on a tight budget doesn't mean cheap design. It means keeping your choices in line with your vision and creating an investment which adds to your profitability.

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