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Creating restaurant ambiance in 5 steps

What you need to know before you start planning
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If you’re going to open a restaurant, it’s so easy to let food take up all your attention while other matters fall on the wayside. Remember: ambience and service are aspects of this industry, so you also need to focus your energies on them. After all, the look of your restaurant could mean the difference between getting noticed and being ignored.

 

1. Define your concept

 

Start with defining what kind of restaurant you plan to open. Is it a franchise or an independent concept? Is it a fast-food eatery, casual-dining place or a fine-dining restaurant?

“The first and foremost consideration in opening any type of restaurant is your product line or menu items. Decide on your menu and from there, set up your kitchen. A professional kitchen equipment supplier can help you with the layout and equipment arrangement according to your requirements,” advises Roberto de la Costa, a franchise development and food-service consultant with BusinessCoach Inc.

Jeanne Mercado, an architect, adds: “The size of the kitchen depends on the menu selection, seating capacity, and projected turn-over per meal.” Alex III Restaurant, a 25-year enterprise that offers family-friendly fare and catering services, made sure that their kitchen was up to the strictest standards. “We sealed off the entire kitchen, installed exhaust fans, and made sure the area was efficiently laid out for proper food preparation,” says Annie Tayag, manager of the restaurant’s branch along Tomas Morato in Quezon City.

 

2. Space-planning

 

Once you’ve chosen what kind of food you want to serve, then you can tackle the issue of space. Says de la Costa: “The more space available means that you can accommodate more customers. Fast food restaurants usually rely on higher customer turnover since their products are lower-priced and therefore have lower profit margins. Fine-dining restaurants usually have lower product cost relative to their menu prices since they offer better facilities in a more formal dining setting. Their service is also personalized.”

Mercado, who is a member of United Architects of the Philippines, also points out that the menu determines the physical set-up of your eatery. “A fine-dining restaurant would have a bigger customer-to-dining area floor ratio than a casual dining [place]. Fast-food [businesses] would have a counter and ordering area, plus a drive-thru area, if needed.”  In general, air-conditioning units should be mounted on the ceiling, while the pilot grille area should be located near the entrance of the restaurant, Mercado recommends.

3. Nod to target market

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Norman Cruz, vice president of Alex III, says the restaurant chain is midway between casual dining and fine dining, catering to “different kinds of people, mostly families.” As such, all its outlets use table cloths and chairs that have a brown and beige motif. However, he mentions that their branch in Robinsons Galleria Mall, with its orange-and-green hues, looks different because of its location and customer base. “The people who frequent the Galleria branch are mostly employees who dine there for lunch and after work for happy hour. It is an open space that is more casual for the mall crowd.” He continues: “We don’t want our customers to be intimidated, so the look of the restaurant is appropriate to the area. We adjust the pricing and portions accordingly. But the quality of food and service is the same in all branches.”

4. Professional help

 
When it comes to your restaurant interiors, do you need professional help or can you just wing it? “It will always be advantageous for you to contract a designer to layout and do the interiors of your restaurant,” de la Costa suggests. Mercado expounds: “Getting experienced designers and consultants will greatly help in the initial success and impression [that] the restaurant [makes]… If the designers know how a food establishment operates, half the work is done. Owners should also have a vision of what they want so designers can take cues from them.”

If you have budget constraints, de la Costa recommends seeking the help of furniture suppliers in laying out your dining area. “As a rule, the more comfortable table and chairs are used for fine-dining restaurants as customers [have] longer dining experiences in these establishments. You can also contract local furniture manufactures specially if you want to customize your wood furniture,” he adds.

When Alex III was looking to purchase new chairs to replace the oversized ones that customers were used to, the staff had to road-test the choices. “We were asked to sit on each model chair to find out which ones would be most comfortable for our patrons,” Tayag explains.

5. Pretty vs. profitable

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“Normally, the interior design depends on the menu selection and market projection. It is important [for diners] to feel authentic ambience, especially if it’s a specialty restaurant and the cost per meal is high. In the same manner, you don’t want to go overboard in designing a place [with] low-to-midrange cost per meal. You don’t want to intimidate or turn off possible patrons,” Mercado says. Cruz reveals that Alex III has a policy of allocating one table width per customer. “You need to study what capacity you need for that location. You have to adjust according to sales projections, even adjust the sizes of the tables if necessary.”

In choosing the layout and design, don’t play for keeps. Mercado notes that you should “keep in mind that trend is constant. Interior planning should allow for future redesign and re-engineering [within] every four to five years.” Cruz agrees, citing Alex III’s experience. “About three years ago, our restaurants had an orange-and-green color scheme. Then, we decided to change our look to cater to business meetings and coincide with the launching of a new menu.

Initially, our idea was to make the look more modern.” Customers, however, voiced their opinions. “Our clients thought it was ‘gloomy,’ and they wanted something more ‘homey.’ So after listening to feedback, we adjusted accordingly.”

When you plan, leave enough room for improvements or other elements you might want to add as your restaurant grows. “We actually make changes to our restaurants every year,” Cruz says. “Some are just minute structural changes, like changes to the façade or paint on the parking-area floor, but something that our regular clients notice and appreciate.”

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