What Contractors Need to Know About the Independent Restaurant Industry

Each day, millions of customers step into restaurants for dining, drinks, meetings and events. The design and construction of restaurants are becoming more creative in a concerted effort to stand out in an extremely competitive market.
By Meg Kearney
July 18, 2018

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the independent restaurant industry is quickly expanding and locations have begun to outperform chains in traffic and revenue. Over the next two years, independent restaurants are expected to see annual revenue growth of 4 percent to 5 percent, almost double the 2 percent to 3 percent growth expected for chain restaurants. Consumers feel that independent restaurants offer better quality food, more personalized service and a relatable atmosphere and unique experience.

So, what does this have to do with the construction industry?

The opportunities for construction management firms are vast. Independent restaurant owners have the unique and distinct opportunity of creating a vision and seeing it through, without the fear of backlash from corporate. Independent restaurants set themselves apart from chains with creative designs, meticulous attention to detail and the freedom to go “off-script.” Using this vision, many independent restaurant owners and hospitality professionals look for a true partner to transform their vision into a reality, to set industry trends and create new and returning patrons daily. Following are more about these new, yet timeless trends.

Thoughtful Design

When the average consumer thinks of a chain restaurant, they typically think of in-your-face themed decorations that transport you to the outback of Australia or the coast of Italy. However, design trends are shifting, putting more emphasis on muted styles and décor details that are recognizable only to those paying attention.

Windover Construction’s work at Rail Stop Restaurant in Boston is one example. Instead of installing a massive train car in the middle of the restaurant or having the wait staff dress up as conductors, the restaurant owners opted for subtle design choices that pay homage to a traditional 20th century train car. Beautifully tufted leather booths, high-end millwork and tiling, and lighting accents transport diners to another era and if they’re paying attention, they may hear the slight rumble of a train.

Soup to nuts

Independent restaurant owners want to focus on what they know best—food and customer service—and look to construction management firms to take the hassle out of the process and to handle all the details. To keep on schedule and within their original vision, more restaurant owners are bringing in construction management firms to facilitate the entirety of the project, from soup to nuts. With Rail Stop, Windover orchestrated all components of the turnkey fit-out, including permitting, programming, budget, design and construction, as well as the finer details such as the procurement of the point-of-sale systems, linens, furniture, glassware and silverware.

Raising the bar

More and more, bars are becoming the focal point of a restaurant, placed in the center of the space, and/or with an enviable view of the rest of the restaurant and its outside surroundings. In addition to the placement, many modern bars are being designed specifically so that the bartender never needs to turn their back to the customer.

This promotes better service and enables the design team to get creative with the space behind the bar through lighting, decorative bottle displays, art, drink lists and unique TV placements.

Wine on display

Fashionable and functional, wine storage is becoming a statement piece in a restaurant. Filled with fine and fresh wines, these cellars are being brought out of the depth of restaurant basements and being put on display. Regarded as a status symbol and décor accent to all restaurant clientele, wine displays are becoming fashionable and functional. Achieving a client’s vision for an elaborate wine storage unit is no easy task.

To pull this off successfully, the full design and construction teams need to coordinate the refrigeration systems, HVAC controls, millwork and furniture plans all before the first concrete slab is placed. Diligent planning and constant communication is required by all parties to create a lasting, functional wine storage unit that will also turn heads.

At Windover’s most recent completed restaurant Bancroft & Co. in Peabody Mass., its visually stunning wine collection features 3,000 bottles and creates the upper walls of the featured private dining room in the center of the restaurant. Unique and impressive wine displays such as the one at Bancroft & Co. are comparable to art and require sophisticated engineering and design to ensure proper environmental control and functionality of the piece.

Private Dining

Previously popular only among those looking to provide an extra space for larger parties, private dining rooms for smaller groups are opening the door for design and culinary creativity. They’re a great business opportunity for owners to offer different menu options and to host functions, all while the main dining room conducts business as usual. Many of these private dining rooms are equipped with technology to run business meetings or photo displays at parties, but the technology is so well integrated with the design that when not in use, one would never know it is there.

Private dining rooms are used more and more as “swing space,” designed with glass walls so that when the doors are open, they feel very much a part of the main dining area, but when the doors are closed and the curtains drawn, they become beautifully intimate spaces. The ultimate goal of a private dining room is a graceful finished look that gives a restaurant a leg up on the competition.

Aesthetics are fun to plan and great for customers to view, but without design functionality, private dining rooms can delay the restaurant’s opening (or be frequently unused), wasting crucial square footage. The key to ensuring functionality, as well as a graceful finished look, is careful procurement and diligent planning to anticipate structural, electrical and ventilation loads.

Each day, millions of customers step into restaurants for dining, drinks, meetings and events. The design and construction of restaurants are becoming more creative in a concerted effort to stand out in an extremely competitive market. Restauranteurs need creative, smart, dedicated and true construction partners more than ever to bring their visions to life.

Photo credits: Peter Vanderwarker

by Meg Kearney
Meg Kearney is a Project Manager at Windover Construction. Meg has gained her expertise from managing the construction of many notable restaurants including Rail Stop Restaurant and Bancroft & Co. and, prior to Windover, working on restaurants such as Craft in Los Angeles; Malibu Cantina; Hard Rock Café in Pike Place Market and Hollywood Blvd; and four Nobu locations. To learn more about Windover’s hospitality and restaurant experience click here.

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