Having a newly designed space and the ability to mold your concept into said space is a blessing and a curse. For those who are not familiar with how the basic restaurant/cafe real estate model – you have two choices: a newly created space or an existing restaurant space. The advantages and disadvantages to either are pretty clear cut.
In an existing space, you have the ability to simply setup, make minor aesthetic changes and start cooking with the available set equipment. You do not need to worry about new building permits, overarching technicalities or any element of structural/building design. The negative side of that equation is the inability to create or design a space that ideal for your concept. And sometimes, you may have to end up ponying up for the actual restaurant business and also an overvalued (existing) lease linked to the space. This amount can be exorbitant at times.
If you happen to conjure the lunacy of deciding to renovate a space for restaurant use – you are looking for a world of hurt and hassle. All changes are major. There is no equipment until you buy it. You need permits to okay everything from hanging ceiling fixtures to wiping your asshole (it seems). Everything aspect of the space requires thought, design, criticism, consideration, and execution. In other words, the pain and process are burdening, but if you see it through (as we seem to get closer to doing daily), it should be very self-fulfilling process and rewarding result.
Since the Summit is of the latter method of hell, we have recently been going through our changes to existing plans and updating proper equipment and bar design components. This requires a redrawn and resubmitted plan – which after completion, will require approval. After approval, there will be new contractor work on design changes, more approval, more new changes, more approval, purchase, installation, more approval and hopefully completion. And all these steps and items require money and more money. It seems that everyday there are a set of new challenges and changes with how or what we can technically do or not do – a constantly fluctuating current.
I can see that for many people, it may seem that with a newly designed space, it might appear fairly straightforward to design something from scratch and execute the plans, but I assure you that that’s not the case. Let it be known that new spaces must go through the permitting process and approval according to new regulation – a problem that does not surface for restaurants grandfathered in existing restaurant spaces.
The changes and revolving cast of characters (contractors, vendors, designers) required to set the proper events in motion (and on schedule) are sometimes a challenge enough to keep straight with calls and emails. On top of all that, you must have contingency plans and flexibility to alter designs and make quick decisions or sacrifices as you navigate the waters of multiple permitting government agencies.
Time obviously equates to money and your timing essentially becomes your debt collector. If you are not careful with your scheduling and you happen to mismanage your timing, you end up creating your own domino effect of compounded loss and penalty. For example, if you hit stalls in revision planning, then you can’t finalize the work details with your contractor, who in turn can’t start their work on the proposed date, which in turn delays each department of the permitting process, which in turn delays your final site approval and thus delaying your opening and resulting in possible accrual of losses in your initial operating budget. Even worse, pushing other steps past their schedule seems to promise an exponential possibility for more delay for each following step.
I wish I could say that there is some form of control over issues and timing, but I can only say that most of the time there is only the perception of control. Trusting the process and luck, especially with your choice of contractors/designers, is really as important as any steps you may ultimately take in trying to put the gas to the pedal. If you can shop for the right people, please do so – but keep in mind that it may end up costing you more in the time wasted gathering estimates than allowing the appropriate and most responsible group (a lot of times, the group most attached or in-tune with this project or similar projects) to do the work. Coming from a family of contractors, the lowest estimate for a project might only give you the temporary illusion of saving money.
Along with some of the basic warnings I outlined, here are a few things I think may serve those thinking to venture to a new space or any type of construction/contractor work they may want to pursue:
- Make good decisions quickly. Do not make good decisions slowly. Do not make quick decisions.
- For everything that you plan to be on budget for in terms of time and money, add a buffer of 20% in addition of that. Or scale everything 20% down and move forward that way.
- For everyone you need to contact, contact them first by phone and if necessary by voicemail. Whether or not you’ve spoken to them on the phone, always followup with reminders by contacting them by email. Never assume detailed information is properly transmitted over phone or conversation.
- Most scenarios and decisions should be made to get ready for an opening/finish date, but make sure they will have positive ramifications for direction, success, growth or expansion in the next 2-5 years.
- Don’t rely on things to get done on time because you can only hope that they do.
- Don’t rely on any piece of information or feedback based on something you can figure out yourself. In other words, don’t trust someone to do something well that you can probably do better by yourself.
- And finally, sometimes success is not necessarily about perfect execution, but rather it can be defined by how good you are at damage control.