2011 October: Floor Dance

With so many options available, upgrading or replacing a floor can be overwhelming. But, if an operator can identify the needs of the restaurant, flooring can be a perfect reflection of design and function.

“Restaurant floors should be planned and designed with practicality and safety as the top considerations,” says Restaurant Consultant Aaron Allen.

Allen recommends operators look for flooring that has easy to clean surfaces, high/durable base boards, is accessible to surface cleaning tools, holds up to chips and cracks, is resistant to stains and fading and offers a guarantee or warranty for its lifespan.

“Flooring at the restaurant entrance will have different considerations than flooring under the fry line in the kitchen, where oils are likely to splash and spill,” Allen says. “Carpeting areas with high humidity can result in mildew which may smell; likewise, high humidity can cause wood flooring to buckle and warp resulting in poor aesthetics and trip hazards. Flooring that may need to hold up to heavy equipment or weight strains has unique considerations.”

Eric Peters, a communications specialist with Acoustical Solutions, Inc., in Richmond, Virginia, advises operators to minimize noise.

“Customers appreciate the fact that they can hear each other as well as their servers, but with dishes clanging, servers scurrying about, conversations and sometimes multiple TVs on, it is very hard to hear anything,” Peters says.

To fight the noise, Peters suggests treating the floor with an acoustic floor underlayment to stop noise transferring to lower levels and reduce echoing.

Consider upkeep when choosing a floor, advises Doron Armony, president and CEO of Eden Flooring and Construction, Inc. in Orange County, California. He suggests textured quarry tiles for kitchens because they provide some traction and are easy to clean and maintain. Smooth quarry tile may be required under machinery.

“In high traffic areas of the restaurant, porcelain tiles that resemble wood and come in various colors and sizes are a good choice,” Armony says. “If you mix the sizes and the colors in each row (i.e. one row will have all 8-inch red tiles and the next row will have 4-inch brown tile and the next 6-inch yellow tile etc.), the untrained eye will easily mistake it for hardwood flooring.”

Armony warns operators against hardwood flooring because it is often cleaned incorrectly with water, which creates separation, gaps and eventual buckling. He suggests laminate flooring for dining room areas, but operators should take caution; too much spillage or water can penetrate the laminate and cause it to expand. For industrial use, he recommends concrete because it can handle forklift pressure, is very low maintenance and is easily repaired.

For operators who want waterproof and easy-to-clean flooring, Debbie Gartner, owner of Floor Coverings International in Elmsford, New York, suggests tile or vinyl.

“Tile will look nicer and cost more,” Gartner says. “The grout lines sometimes make it harder to clean, but it also helps if you have tighter grout lines. And, if you seal the grout (and reseal every year), it will last longer and look better. I would choose something with some texture rather than shiny/glossy, which can be more slippery. I would stay away from natural stone (unless it’s a very upscale store) as these are harder to clean and maintain.”

According to Gartner, vinyl offers many options. On the low-end, sheet vinyl and VCT (vinyl composite tile), which are 12-inch by 12-inch squares, are easy to clean but not as attractive. On the high end, luxury vinyl plank or tile offer the look of hardwood or tile.

For operators who want to go green, Allen suggests flooring made of sustainable materials. “Bamboo, unlike typical wood trees, replenishes at incredibly fast rates and is therefore a sustainable material now being used in flooring,” he says. “Crushed coconut is also on the horizon as a commercially viable material.” Then, of course, there are recycled materials, which are being transformed into all sorts of new restaurant flooring options.

With the hustle and bustle in restaurants, operators need flooring to be a safe foundation. “Both ceramic and quarry floor tile will be more slip resistant than the standard (lowest cost) VCT,” says Matt Vetter, president of River’s Edge Project Management, in Hamburg, Michigan. “There are options available for textured VCT designed to be more slip resistant, but in my experience it is very difficult to clean. There are also solid epoxy options available (much like what you would see in a residential garage), but I have not found many health departments that are on-board with this yet. ”

Armony recommends abrasion-resistant tiles to prevent slippage.

“Minimizing the height between different floor finishes will minimize safety hazards (i.e. don’t put ½-inch tile next to 3/8-inch marble without adjusting the height at the seam where the two meet),” Armony says.

Of course, an operator’s budget may have the final word in the flooring debate.

“If budget is the key priority, then I would say some sort of commercial carpet — one with a lot of color variation that will hide the dirt,” Gartner says. Nylons will hold up better than olefins/polyesters. The carpeting will cost less, but will need to be replaced more often.

Vetter suggests balancing budget with style.

“A worthwhile compromise that I suggest often when project budgets are very tight is to install ceramic tile in the lobby (most of my clients do not have any dine-in areas); install quarry tile in the walk-in coolers and around any wet areas, and fill in the rest of the kitchen with VCT,” Vetter says. “This presents the best look to the customer, keeps employees safer from slips, and controls budget.”

To get the most from their flooring investment, operators need to apply elbow grease.

“One, make sure the flooring is installed properly –– any flooring installed improperly will not produce the desired results and will most likely fail,” Vetter says. Two, keep it clean. Any flooring needs to be cleaned on a regular basis — doing so will prolong the life and look.

With so many options available, operators are sure to find flooring that meets their safety, maintenance, design and budget needs.

DeAnn Owens is a freelance writer in Dayton, Ohio.