Photographs By Josh Keown
Kim Fiorcello flips on the A/C as early as mid-April at Antonio’s Pizza in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. That’s because even on a mild spring day when temperatures hover at 70 and summer’s dripping humidity is yet to come, the dining area can become rather stuffy. And the kitchen can be downright hot, too.
It’s a challenge to keep the front of the house temperate while ensuring the kitchen crew doesn’t swelter, Fiorcello says. “It’s tough. You can’t have the door open with flies coming in, and the health department doesn’t allow that anyway. But once the door closes you need the A/C,” she says. The kitchen is the worst, though, not just because of oven heat and deep fryers, but also because standing in one place to wash dishes or the physical effort to make dough can generate body heat, she adds.
What’s a pizza restaurant to do? Keep the A/C on too high, and you become known as the place for parkas. Keep it too warm, and customers expect a place to cool off when they eat. But if you don’t have cash for state-of-the-art thermostats or cooling systems, there are other short-term steps that won’t cost as much, experts say. Here are the biggest problems with restaurant temperature and solutions so that tempers won’t rise:
Problem #1: “Temperature” vs. “air flow”. “Sometimes it’s not the temperature that restaurants have issues with,” says Chris Tripoli, president of A’la Carte Consulting Group, a restaurant consulting firm in Houston, Texas. With advancements in thermostats, restaurants can now set temperature “zones,” like the kitchen versus the dining room, he says. There are also timers to manage temperature with peak hours.
However, “what is still a concern is the direction of the air flow, not the temperature,” Tripoli explains. “A customer will say, ‘I can’t sit here! It’s too cold!’ They’re really saying that a vent overhead is blowing directly on their table.”
So, if the airflow isn’t correctly managed, you will get cold spots, even though the temperature is right. “Technically, it’s not cold, but most of the air is being dumped on them. Then the waiter adjusts the thermostat, and oh, my God! Now it’s hot!” Tripoli says.
This is the case for Antonio’s, which has been in an old shopping center since 1996. About two-thirds of the 3,400 square feet in Antonio’s is dining space. Fiorcello relies heavily on ceiling fans, but there are pockets that are still hotter.
“We expanded to the place next door, and there’s not a door in there. We have an archway from the original restaurant into the dining area, and that’s where it can get stuffy. Also, all of our venting is in the ceiling, and if a ceiling fan is close to a vent, that might bother somebody,” Fiorcello says.
Solution: Examine your ventilation layout. Which tables are under offending vents? Hire a professional to analyze how air can be redirected using ventilation diffusers. “They spread the air out along the ceiling and the wall and change the way it is flowing,” Tripoli says.
In his own office, Tripoli has diffusers that look like an inverted pyramid. “I bet they spent $100 to $200 for those, so we’re not talking about a redesign of your venting system. It’s true that big restaurants may need a couple dozen, but a smaller may just need six or eight,” he says.
Problem #2: “Expensive cool air” vs. “air hogs.” Your A/C bills may be higher because your oven exhaust hood is sucking air out of the dining room.
“The amount pulling from outside into the kitchen should be 80 to 85 percent of the amount of volume you’re taking out of the kitchen,” Tripoli says. “The exhaust fan is taking smoke and heat out of kitchen, but if you’re not creating an air curtain to replace the air, you’re taking the expensive air out of your exhaust hood.”
Solution: Do an air balance inspection. The hood must be in balance within itself, and it must be in balance with the rest of the HVAC system. If it is not, it adversely affects the air flow in the front of the house as well as the back of the house, says William C. McBride, kitchen engineer and founder of Hangman Corp. of Stafford, Texas. McBride’s firm provides complete design of commercial kitchens and bars and equipment installation.
“One simple way to know if the hood is robbing conditioned air is to stand in a doorway into the kitchen, or, in front of a pass through window. If you feel a breeze flowing from the front of the house to the back of the house, you have an energy hog in the kitchen,” McBride says.
One of the largest energy hogs is the HVAC system if it is not performing properly. To evaluate all energy burdens, hire an air balance company, he says. Evaluate exhaust hood energy management systems, walk in cooler/freezer temperature modulating systems, energy efficient equipment as old equipment is replaced, maintenance schedules for all refrigeration, air curtains at doors and the exhaust hood over the dish washer.
As for the front door sucking out air? Tripoli recommends a vestibule. “They can be made to look like they’re a designed piece of the restaurant –– like they’ve always been there. You walk into a five-foot space that fits into the wall and then leads to the bar or hostess station. It’s wonderful for temperature management.”
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners. She is a regular contributor to Pizza Today and lives in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Photo by Josh Keown
If you’re looking to move or expand, one of your first questions might be whether to purchase or lease your new location.
The decision to rent or buy can be as unique as your concept, says Dan Simons, principal with Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, a restaurant consulting firm with offices in Kensington, Maryland, and Austin, Texas.
“It’s really a risk-return recipe, and that’s why it’s different for everybody,” he says.
Steven Josovitz, vice president of The Shumacher Group in Atlanta, agrees. “The first and most important strategy that a restaurant operator has to look at is, what is his (desired) end result?” he says. Shumacher is a real estate brokerage specializing in restaurants.
If you’re looking for business longevity and a long-term investment, buying a building is the obvious choice, Josovitz says. But if a pizzeria operator wants to open multiple units only to sell them, or if he or she has little operating capital, leasing is the best bet.
“If you’re just starting out, renting is a great option, especially if you’re not financially stable and don’t have a heavy cash flow,” says Meredith Wickliffe, co-owner/operator of Wick’s Pizza Parlor and Pub in Louisville, Kentucky. She adds that this was the case in the early days of her business.
“If infrastructure is there already … a pizza operator can literally go into a space, sometimes for a very small amount of money, and open within matter of weeks,” Josovitz says. Even for shell space, the cost to renovate and rent is often cheaper than making a purchase, he adds.
Wick’s has five locations — four leased and one owned. The company’s original location opened in 1991 and expanded into an adjacent building twice since then, all rented from the same owner. Three of Wick’s four rented stores are on common triple-net leases, which means Wick’s is responsible for taxes, insurance and nearly all interior and exterior upkeep.
“Looking back after 22 years, I can say that I would have liked to have control over my own destiny,” says Wickliffe, adding that she has nearly all the responsibility of an owner on her rented stores but none of the benefits. She says Wick’s made significant investments in renovations in all of its rented locations.
If you move, you’ve only served to increase the property value for the owner because you can’t take those building improvements with you, Wickliffe says. Simons agrees. “You buy the new air conditioning unit with a life of 15 or 20 years, and you lease for five years and you’re gone. You’ve invested a lot of money into somebody else’s asset.”
Another potential pitfall: beware if a landlord requires a percentage of sales as part of your lease agreement, Josovitz says. It may save you money in the beginning because your base rent is reduced, but “nothing comes for free.” Simons also warns pizza restaurateurs against signing personally to guarantee a lease. “If you’ve personally guaranteed a five-year lease, and your rent is $5,000 a month, $60,000 for five years, you’ve just committed to a $300,000 liability,” he says.
Still, a lease can be an attractive option, Simons notes, because it can offer less risk and more flexibility than a purchase. If the neighborhood deteriorates around your restaurant, it’s much easier to pull up stakes and move if you’re on a standard 5-year lease than if you own the property, he says.
On the flip side, “If you are going to rent, make sure you have at least one option to renew so the landlord can’t rent it out from under you,” says Wickliffe. In a perfect world, Josovitz, Wickliffe and Simons all agree that if you can buy, you should.
“I believe the conventional wisdom that’s out there: pizzerias and restaurants are risky, and real estate is not,” Simons says. If you’ve been strategic about site selection, want to invest in a long-term asset, have good credit and can qualify for a loan, and you have up to a 30-percent down payment, purchasing your new location is almost always the best choice, says Josovitz.
After 10 years in business, Wickliffe says her company was in a position to buy its newest location in the Middletown area of Louisville, and it has proved to be one of her best business decisions. She also formed a separate limited liability company, WWF Properties, to buy the building. WWF leases it back to Wick’s.
Simons advises his clients to emulate Wickliffe’s model because it reduces their liability and makes good business sense.
“There are tax advantages to owning the building and leasing it back” to the business if they are two separate entities, Josovitz adds. Owning your building doesn’t come without its headaches, however.
“It’s easy to underestimate the ongoing maintenance, the ongoing facilities management. It can feel like an additional job,” says Simons. In the end, though, it’s usually worth the hassle.
“As a pizzeria operator, you are going to work just as hard whether you are a tenant or you own the building,” says Simons. “The advantage with owning … at the end of 10 years or 15 years, you may well have a multi-million dollar asset on your hands.”
Think you’re ready to buy? Steven Josovitz, vice president of The Shumacher Group, a real estate brokerage specializing in restaurants, offers up some questions for pizzeria operators to consider:
- Are you in the startup phase of your business, or do you have an established financial history? A startup always will be scrutinized by lenders more closely.
- Do you have liquid assets for a down payment? You may be required to put down as much as 30 percent of the purchase price.
- Is your credit healthy? If you have any recent history of late or missed payments to landlords or vendors, this could be detrimental to your ability to get a loan.
- Can you pre-qualify for a loan? This can help expedite the purchase process and get you a more favorable interest rate.
- What is your long-term business strategy? If you plan to open multiple units and sell them off, investing in real estate may not be your best bet. It’s often easier to sell the business without the real estate.
- Do you have a mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and upkeep factored into your monthly budget? If you haven’t done so already, work with a CPA to establish an overall operating budget for your business.
Josovitz also notes that if you choose to buy, it’s smart to hire a real estate broker or real estate attorney to advise you during the purchase process. An attorney can assist you with the legal contracts, but a broker also can help scout locations and negotiate the sale.
Amy Board Higgs is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to a wide array of businesses. She is based in Louisville, Kentucky.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
The types of window treatments for Pierro’s Italian Bistro and A’mis Italian Restaurant are as far apart as the geography between them.
At Pierro’s, a former five-and-dime-store-turned-hip-hangout in the historic district of Fayetteville, North Carolina, fabric draperies showcase tall windows. Owners Mike Laurenceau and Daniel Fair wanted a classic look to blend with a sophisticated, lounge-like dining atmosphere.
Conversely, at A’mis in Rock Hill, Missouri, a multi-colored neon sign hangs across plate-glass windows. It loudly displays the St. Louis arch and Chicago and New York skylines. Owner Amiram Damti designed it
18 years ago to catch drivers’ eyes on a humming thoroughfare. The sign has done its job to lure customers into the boisterous family-focused pizzeria.
Both restaurants have one thing in common: They’ve tied window style to business identity. Your branding concept is “your business’s DNA.” So thread it throughout the restaurant — even into the seams of your draperies or windowpanes, says Dean Small, president of Synergy Restaurant Consultants in Laguna Niguel, California.
“We design restaurants all over the world, and window treatments are always a big consideration, because if they are too heavy they send out the wrong message,” Small says. “Everything that you do must be in full alignment.”
Window treatment design doesn’t have to be rocket science, but there is a science to meshing style with brand at the right price. Here are tips from Small and Oneka Benn Schwartz, owner of the firm Design Pretty in Union City, New Jersey. Schwartz’s interior decorating niche has been window treatments:
“Build” your dining area design, starting with the most important item. For restaurants, it’s seating. Look at the style of your chairs. Are they modern, minimalist, luxurious?
“Use that as a jumping off point to pick the window treatment colors and wall colors,” Schwartz says.
The other component when building a room is lighting. “If you have spectacular window treatments but fluorescent lights, everything will feel horrible. People will look green,” Schwartz says. “Make sure you have proper lighting and window treatments that control natural light and set the mood.”
Remember not every space requires elaborate window treatments. Schwartz has designed Italian restaurants with a Tuscan theme, with all the accoutrements of a highly-styled villa. In a case like that, heavy window treatments compete with décor, not compliment it, she says.
“A Plantation Shutter works best in that situation, because they’re so understated. You want the customers to focus on the other décor, not the windows,” she says.
That was the case with Pierro’s, which is chock-full of eye candy, like glittery wall lights in its “Sky Lounge” area and the architectural detail of the historic building itself. Laurenceau and Fair renovated about 80 percent of the building while keeping its façade. It had been abandoned for about
60 years before they moved in seven-and-a-half years ago. They deliberately steered from decorative window treatments.
“If you look at the restaurant from the inside, it’s high up, and we have very tall windows and high ceilings. We could’ve been decorative, but we kept it simple so that they blend in,” Laurenceau says.
That said, the drapes are not functional. “We have had customers ask if they can close them. You can move them a little, but they can’t cover the whole window. That was not the intention we had when we put them up there,” he says. Which leads to the third point …
Quantify usage. If you’re in a strip mall with a lot of windows, solar shades and tinted windows are important for lunchtime diners to regulate temperature and shield noonday sun, Schwartz says.
A’mis mounted simple green blinds behind the neon sign, says Benji Damti, son of the owner. The Rock Hill restaurant is the original business location; two others are in strip malls. Although those don’t have the signature neon signage on their windows, they have basic blinds for the same reason.
On the other hand, valances or cornices allow people outside to see the action, food and eating within. Small says, an open window view is important. “Seeing the food being prepared or the cooking of food has the biggest impact on a customer and really adds to the ambiance,” he says.
Factor cost. Like anything else, window treatments run the gamut, and before you know it, you may be spending more on them than tomato sauce and mozzarella.
“Window tinting can be a good option in concert with roller shades,” Small says. “I would generally stay away from fabric where there is direct sun as it collects dust, can become discolored due to the sun and over a period of time does not stand the test of time. Plus, fabric drapes can become very expensive. I prefer roller shades, because they can allow light through and be cleaned. As far as cost goes, I think a good rule of thumb is $200-225 per window. Another option can be an outside awning to deflect direct sun. Again, if you have a great view you want to make it visible.”
Pierro’s hired a local seamstress. But the owners actually spent more on the flame-retardant fabric (necessary to pass fire department inspection) than for her work. “We kept it simple and did it cost effectively,” Laurenceau says.
As for A’mis, the neon sign cost $10,000 18 years ago. Recently, a couple of neon bulbs cost about $2,500 to replace, Damti says. Even so, the sign has been worth every penny, he adds.
“We have tons of walk-ins. They always say they’ve been driving by and have seen the sign in the windows and that they come in because of it,” he says.
Small recommends using decorators with restaurant design experience. “That person will be looking at the window needs and will understand the realities of maintenance, cleaning and overall wear and tear. I would also ask why they are recommending a specific treatment. It is also important for them to see the window needs when there is direct sun on them,” he says.
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners. She is a regular contributor to Pizza Today and lives in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Photo by Josh Keown
My brother and I own a pizzeria and deli. We have been open almost two years and business has been OK, but not terrible. We are paying bills, payroll is covered and my brother and I are making money. I don’t think we are making profit; I feel we are making salary for the amount of work we are putting in (which is still good considering we are still open). The concern I have is we should be making more! We have a proven product that is far beyond the competition. I know there is always room for improvement (i.e. our delivery times, consistency with product and overall atmosphere of our location).
This is where I need some help. I’m torn between expanding my current location or opening a second location. We are a small location and not very appealing for a sit down location. So, should I stick to what we have or put my focus into another location, or possibly move and expand our current location?
Whenever I get a question like yours, I feel I need to read between the lines and make some assumptions. My first assumption is that detailed financial statements are not being done every month. If you were doing your own or having them prepared by an accountant, you would know for sure if you were running in the black or red. In addition to the bottom line amount, good financials would show you your exact amounts as well as percentages for each and every expense category. If you don’t understand, or haven’t been mentored in basic profit & loss statement, balance sheet, cash flows, current ratios and what EBITDA means, you are not ready to open a second location. You have bought you and your brother a job. Unfortunately you two are the last ones getting paid.
One of my must read business books is titled The E Myth Revisited. The author, Michael E. Gerber, states a truism I absolutely agree with. He says: “The problem with most failing businesses I’ve encountered is not that their owners don’t know enough about finance, marketing, management and operations — they don’t, but those things are easy enough to learn — but they spend their time and energy defending what they think they know. The greatest business people I’ve met are determined to get it right no matter the cost.”
Start by getting yourself more up to speed on accounting. When you have a handle on that you are ready to take your next step. u
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
On weekdays, the lunch crowd from the local police academy and nearby industrial park pack out Lido’s in Meriden, Connecticut. And on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s all about serving it up to the kids — soccer teams and Brownie troops alike. Although the folks at Lido’s pride themselves in turning the tables quickly, sometimes a waiting time just can’t be helped.
That’s why the restaurant recently re-designed its waiting area, says manager Linda Collins. Eight months ago, Lido’s installed red-striped awnings on the walls inside the front door. The awnings, which match those on the outside, hang over a wrap-around booth seating up to 15 people. A table in the middle provides space for drinks or crayon coloring. Plaques and photos from fundraisers line the entryway walls, a testament to the restaurant’s commitment to service.
“We’re good at helping with the community and also with relief in Haiti,” Collins says. “Our waiting area is designed to instill a sense of belonging. It’s a busy place. We’ve been here in this location 16 years, and the owners have been in business for 30, so we have a lot of regulars. We now serve kids who are grown up and bring their own kids.”
Lido’s has hit on a two-pronged strategy to keep customers happy while they wait: “Engage and Promote.” Is your entryway inviting enough that people are willing to hang out there, even if it means waiting up to an hour for a table?
“You want to engage people and use this as an opportunity to promote what you are,” says Chris Tripoli, president of A’la Carte Consulting Group, a restaurant consulting firm in Houston, Texas.
“The thing we preach is that being busy is a good thing. It’s not an excuse for something to go wrong. You don’t want to be so busy that the customers leave and then say: ‘I guess that happens! They left!’ Busy isn’t an excuse. It’s a reason for being in business. You have to figure out, ‘How can we profit from the reason?’ ” Tripoli says.
Here are some steps to consider:
Step One: engage. In the past, Tripoli says, “lobbies were afterthoughts.” Restaurant owners didn’t realize the value of capitalizing on the wait time.
“The last thing you want is for the customer to come in and think, ‘I missed out. I feel like the left over. I have to stand in this waiting room. I have to sit on this little bench,’ ” he says.
To make the customers feel included in the dining room action, streamline the surroundings. “So if you have a particular theme, design, color, background, music, style of seating, make sure it’s carried out into the waiting area. The lighting is the same. If you have a speaker in the ceiling with background music, you include it in the lobby,” Tripoli says.
Set the expectation with decor, says Liz Toombs, an interior decorator and owner of Polka Dots and Rosebuds Interiors in Lexington, Kentucky. Among others are two popular themes for pizzerias, she says: kitschy (black-and-white tile floors, bold red and vibrant greens) or “Old Tuscan” (tin tiles on ceilings, plastered walls, lower lighting and golden warm colors). You want to bring that theme all the way to the front door, she says.
“One thing that works well is wall art, because the things you put on the walls and the lighting when a customer first comes in creates ambience in the restaurant. The first thing people will see are the colors, the art, the lights — all of that fits into what you’re going for in the rest of the restaurant,” Toombs says.
Textiles in the waiting area also play a role in engaging the customer at first entrance, she says. For example, in a Tuscan-feel environment, you might have iron chairs, but add “a certain amount of velvet or suede or faux material. That’s good for making a place warm and luxurious,” she says.
For a family-centered restaurant, keep on hand kid-friendly items, Toombs says, such as a flat-screened TV with age-appropriate shows “to keep the kids occupied so they’re not nagging to get out the door. Flat screens don’t take up a lot of space. You might even have little tables where kids can do coloring activities. It makes them like going to your restaurant and makes it a novelty.”
Also, make “greeting” a part of the hostess’s job description, Tripoli says. Just like the people at Lido’s know their customers’ names, the hostess should be walking through the area, calling people by name, providing menus in advance and telling them about specials. “It helps you save time, because they know what they want when they sit down, and it can increase the per-person check average.”
Step Two: promote. This is the easy part, but it’ll take a little effort on your part, Tripoli says. Use the waiting time to promote who you are. This could be as simple as displaying the plaques of community service on the wall, like Lido’s does, or by circulating food samples to whet the appetites.
“This takes the feeling of being ‘a leftover’ to being someone special: ‘I’m getting something for nothing,’ ” Tripoli says. “If you have a dessert promo going, what a nice opportunity during the one-hour waiting list to give them a taste of a special strawberry cheesecake. You say, ‘We don’t want to ruin your appetite, but here’s a sample. Save room for this! It’s on special!’ They feel important, because they got something for nothing, and you stand a chance of selling more dessert.”
If you have a bar, make sure that those who wait for a table there get the same freebies you’re offering in the lobby, Tripoli says. “You don’t want them thinking, ‘You sent me there so that I would spend more money, and the other people in the waiting area are getting free stuff.’ If the bar is part of the waiting area, then the bartenders have the same promotional program.”
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Dark dining, a trend where you eat in complete darkness, was introduced both in the United States and abroad about three years ago, but it never caught on. That’s because the right lighting enhances the dining experience, helps the staff, creates a sense of security, makes the pizza and other dishes look their best and creates a pizzeria where people keep coming back. Poor or bad lighting can drive customers away. But no lighting at all just doesn’t work.
“You can have the best reputation in town, but if the light levels are inappropriate, it doesn’t matter,” says Mark Hershman, director of lighting design at Impact Illumination in Lenexa, Kansas. “People won’t come back.”
That’s why when customers, at Sy’s New York Pizza in Eugene, Oregon, complained about the bright lighting in one of his locations, owner Mark Fischer took immediate action. He had just completed a rebate program with his local utility company and installed low-energy fluorescent fixtures throughout the building. These fixtures each contained two tubes, so Fischer removed one tube from each fixture, which dimmed the lights enough so customers stopped objecting.
Before Fischer took ownership of Sy’sin 2006 and used the utility’s rebate program, he said the lighting in his original location was a hodgepodge of thrift–store fixtures, which just didn’t work. Fischer found out that paying attention to just one aspect of his lighting – the energy efficiency – improved his bottom line by earning him a 15 percent savings on his electric bills.
Whether you’re installing lighting in a new pizzeria or changing what you already have, if you’re not already working with a designer, you’ll want to ask yourself the same questions a lighting expert would before you begin. What market are you going after? Is it high-end or not? How do you want your customers to feel in your pizzeria? How long do your customers usually stay? Is it mostly sit down or carry out business?
Higher light levels tend to get people in and out quickly, so that’s what fast food chains have. Hershman says the brighter lights lead to a higher pulse rate and a desire to move so they aren’t conducive to sitting, talking, enjoying your meal and lingering like lower light levels are.
“If you want a more elegant establishment that’s associated with higher priced pizza, the lighting should be more subdued,” says Hershman.
The first order of business when considering lighting is to make sure people can find you. Ron Harwood, president and creative director for Illuminating Concepts in Farmington Hills, Michigan, says lighting begins with the roadside experience.
“You want your façade to look cool and make people want to stop,” says Harwood. Onesto Pizza and Trattoria in St. Louis, Missouri, managed to spotlight their pizzeria with white “twinkle” lights surrounding the awnings, large picture windows, the landscaping around the patio and lights shining on the brick wall displaying their signage.
Because the restaurant is located in a neighborhood that is nothing but homes, Michele Racanelli, co-owner, says people often think they are lost until they see the “lights.” “We truly stand out with our outside lighting,” says Racanelli, who also did the decorating for Onesto. “It makes us pop.”
Make sure your outside lighting makes customers and staff feel secure walking from the parking area to the door of your restaurant. If you have a parking lot, developers or your local utility company usually take responsibility for the lighting. Know who to notify if any of the lighting outside isn’t working or seems too dim to provide security.
“Half of our (eight) locations have parking lots,” says Dan Black, president of Zeeks Pizza in the Seattle area. “Those have flood lights that are handled by the property manager or the building owner.”
You’re going to need to find a focal point. Racanelli decided to use track lighting and other larger lights to illuminate her pizza station.
“Because we only have 60 tables, people often have to wait for a table — so we provide a show at our pizza stations,” Racanelli says. “Our chefs not only throw dough, but they’ve mastered synchronized dough tossing.” Aim lights at your photographs or paintings on the wall. Shadowy mixed with brighter light levels works the best to keep the visual experience exciting, Harwood says.
Tables need to be lit so customers can at least read the menus. Instead of wax candles, consider LED batterydriven candles for your dining tables. They produce the same amount of light as a regular candle and are safer, says Harwood.
“You can use a row of MR16 downlights (low voltage recessed lights) to highlight the top surfaces of the tables and make the food look better,” says Harwood.
Because pizza, for the most part, uses “warm” tone foods like red tomatoes, yellow-orange cheeses, red pepperoni and wheat-colored crust, the light that shines on the pizzas should be in the 2,800-3000 degree Kelvin temperature range (your electrician or lighting supply store can help with this) to render these colors the best, according to Hershman. The warmer light source also make mushrooms, green peppers and onions look more appetizing.
And don’t forget your register area. Mistakes made at the cash register almost certainly affect your bottom line. This is one place where people need to be able to read and you don’t want dim lights. Harwood recommends two 50-watt lights three or four feet above the register area with the lights pointing down. Harwood says you don’t want your restaurant to look like your home, so shy away from the light fixtures you’d have at home. “This is a third place experience, not a home experience. The lighting should be eye candy,” says Harwood. ❖
Here are some suggestions on how to be more “green” with your lighting:
❖ Use lamps that use less than normal wattage.
❖ Incandescent and Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights are disposable and environmentally-friendly.
❖ Install lights that allow you to manipulate the levels by raising or lowering them.
❖ Don’t light every square inch of your restaurant –– just place lights where needed.
❖ Contact your local utility to see what programs it offers to help you with lighting.
❖ See if you qualify for the tax benefit offered by The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT), which lets you deduct the cost of new lighting systems completed before January 1, 2014, in a single tax year instead of amortizing them over a period of years. (Visit www.lightingtaxdeduction.org to learn more.)
❖ Buy your lighting supplies locally.
Heather Larson is a freelance writer in Tacoma, Washington, who frequently writes for trade publications.
Photos by Josh Keown
Restaurant operators tend to think of capacity in terms of the number of seats, but this is incorrect, says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president-food strategies for WD Partners, a design development fi rm in Columbus, Ohio. Instead, capacity depends on the number of tables. “The tables will get used up first,” he explains. “And if the tables are full but you have a lot of empty chairs, this is a red flag that there are table configuration issues.”
These issues can present serious problems for restaurant operators, says Izzy Kharasch, president of Hospitality Works, a hospitality consulting company in Deerfield, Illinois. “Many times we’ll go into a place that’s losing business and scrap the tables,” he says. “Table configuration can absolutely affect profitability.”
Table configuration exerts a decided impact on how people experience your restaurant. This can be obvious — there’s no mystery why customers are put off by extended wait times, poor service or a “bad” table placed in an undesirable location — or subliminal, says Jeff Cahill, principal of Jeff Cahill Studio, a fi rm specializing in restaurant design, located in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. The food and service could be great, but if someone has spent the evening uncomfortable or getting bumped all night, he may not understand why he doesn’t want to come back, but the result will be the same — he won’t.
You should imagine what it’s like to actually be in the restaurant, says Kharasch. Configurations that look good blueprint-wise may not translate well into real life.
“There are tables where people won’t want to sit, even though it works in the blueprint, and you probably shouldn’t put them in,” he explains. “And you need to think of customer comfort. The tables may be moved around to fit eight, but will they be comfortable?”
Restaurant operators typically don’t give enough thought to table configurations, so they tend to just go with four-tops and over-configure with these, says Lombardi. And four-tops, says Kharasch, take up more space for the least amount of diners.
“For example, if you have six people and you push two four-tops together, you’ve just lost two seats,” he says. It’s important to incorporate flexibility, allowing staff to quickly reconfigure the room, says Cahill, which is why, generally, a mix of two-, four- and six tops is best.
How your operation changes depending on day and time, and to what extent you’re a special-occasion destination, also affects configuration, says Lombardi. Greater differences require greater flexibility.
Jordon Scott, president of Mama’s Pizza, a five-site restaurant chain headquartered in Ft. Worth, says they must meet the needs of two distinctly different groups.
“We have a lot of people who come in alone for lunch, so we have a lot of two-tops,” says Jordon. “But we have mostly four- and six-tops we can push together for the dinner crowd where we attract a lot of families and groups.”
Because of the buffet (lunch only) and the salad bar, allowing enough space between tables for unimpeded traffic flow is an additional consideration (tables are 28 to 32 inches apart). Also, all their tables are sized to accommodate their largest pizza, a 20-incher.
That’s another thing — pizza takes up real estate, says Lombardi. Obviously, tables must accommodate the pizza and all the required accoutrements, but there should also be enough room for customers to move items around.
“They must have the ability to make the table feel the way they want. For example, moving things out of reach of the kids,” Lombardi says.
The way service is provided, what servers carry and how easily they must maneuver around tables must also factor into configuration and placement, says Josh Zinder, principal of Princeton- based Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design. This can prove especially important to customer satisfaction.
“If the traffic pattern is an issue, certain tables will be harder for staff to reach,” he explains. “Therefore, they won’t circulate around these tables as frequently as others, meaning that some customers aren’t getting the same amount of attention.”
Since they’re not as flexible as other types of seating, Lombardi isn’t a big fan of booths. Others like adding them to the mix. Jordon says they’re useful for increasing occupancy (“You can get more booths against a wall than tables”). Although Kharasch agrees they’re not as flexible, he puts them where space doesn’t allow for tables, such as in corners.
Cahill also likes banquette seating; one long booth with a mix of two, four, and six-top tables with chairs on the outside.
“This gives you a lot of flexibility,” he says. “You can have a separation of 18 (inches) between tables and people still feel like they have enough space. You could never do this out on the floor. Plus, communal-style seating for casual dinning is extremely popular.”
How to tell if your table configuration is working for you? Stand back and observe your restaurant at different times, says Zinder. “A restaurant where the seats are filled is a restaurant that has done its homework,” he says. “This is an indication they understand their clientele.” ❖
Doing Your Homework
Devising an optimal table configuration requires getting a solid grasp on your predominant customer mix. Different types of customers have different preferences. Example: families with small kids like to corral them in booths, says Dennis Lombardi, EVP - Food Strategies for WD Partners. However, group-oriented teens and millennials prefer bigger configurations that can be combined into large social areas.
It’s important that new owners of existing restaurants take a fresh look at configuration, says Josh Zinder, principal of Princeton-based Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design.
“Very often they come in and take things as they are instead of really standing back and looking to see if there’s a way they could maximize their use of the space, or to make their staff more efficient,” he says.
Also, ask your staff, Zinder suggests. If they complain that chairs are in the way or there’s not enough room on the tables, listen. And remember, capacity restrictions and emergency requirements vary by state. Know yours before you plan.
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
STELLA ROSSA PIZZA BAR // SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
To begin to try and define what makes good pizza might take years of in-depth research, highly elevated arguments and countless caloric consumption. And after all is said and done, you would still be where you started. Pizza varies from region to region, city to city, and even street to street. The best part about this is that everyone thinks that they have it correct. I remember sitting down with my partners and discussing what Stella Rossa Pizza Bar should be. We listed ideas, inspirations and goals on sheets of paper. Some were eventually crossed out, some were underlined and others highlighted. The end result? We created our own philosophy and style. Much of it was rooted in our own traditions and values, while leaving the door open for new.
While much of the pizza industry is traditionally associated with red checkered tablecloths and chianti bottles with slow burning candles for centerpieces, we set out not to recreate the pizzeria, but rather put our own spin on it. From the restaurant design to the food served and down to the vibe created, each part of Stella Rossa was intentionally thought of and then tested and retested. We wanted to create an approachable atmosphere that would not only be inviting to large parties of friends looking for great drinks and delicious pizza, but welcoming to first dates and single diners. We desired Stella Rossa to be a destination restaurant while still being your neighborhood joint. Ultimately, we strived to serve the best pizza we possibly could without any gimmicks and show. Needless to say, we had a lot of ambition.
I have taken an approach to pizza that I cannot say is absolutely original or unique, but is grounded in the years of experience I have had working in fine dining. This doesn’t mean that I’m creating pizzas with foie gras or caviar; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I crave simplicity. It’s the hardest form of cooking that I have found or practiced. Simplicity means that there is nothing to hide behind. Each bite and every flavor needs to be at its best. We have gone to great lengths to pursue this idea. We have taken the time and energy to locally source quality ingredients, such as our flour, which is grown and milled nearby, and build relationships with local farmers. We have experimented and perfected our mixing and resting process for our dough, a process that takes about 30 hours. Additionally, we place our dough into individual containers to proof. This allows each of the boules to proof separately, consistently and to be the best it can possibly be each time a pizza is made.
I’ve spent much time thinking about what sets Stella Rossa Pizza Bar apart from other pizzerias and it keeps coming back to hard work and quality. Each day we have one goal in mind –– to take one thing and make it better. This goal has no parameters and can range from the food, to the service. If we keep this in mind, imagine what we will be in the years to come. However, the bigger question may be –– have we broken the mold from the everyday pizzeria? To answer this question is simple. We never started with a mold. We had an idea and we worked hard on it, and continue to do so. Our restaurant represents our values –– to make great food.
Photos by Josh Keown
The running joke at Piecora’s Pizza in Seattle reads: “We sell parking, and it comes with food.”
With restaurants and bars blanketing Piecora’s high-density Seattle neighborhood and street parking at a premium, the pizzeria’s 45-stall parking lot stands both a welcome site to customers and a boon to business. “Without the parking lot, our sales would be down significantly and we couldn’t have the capacity (over 200 seats) we do,” says owner Dan Piecora, whose driving customers would otherwise have to find hard-to-come-by street parking or paid parking one block away to accommodate their visit.
In an ideal world, all operators might own land with ample space for the restaurant and parking; unfortunately, that reality proves elusive for many. Particularly in urban areas, Main Street business districts and resort spots, parking can be tough to find given residences, commercial outlets and visitors all clamoring for their slice of blacktop. Toss in municipalities’ evolving desire to charge for parking — sometimes inflated rates — and the parking issue intensifies. Inaccessible parking can unnerve customers and compel them to choose another eatery, subsequently impacting sales. “If people can’t park and can’t reach you, then they won’t come,” says Chris Bianco, owner of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. “There’s no faux finish to parking; it’s just a reality that needs to be addressed.”
Prior to opening his namesake pizzeria, Piecora sat on a Seattle neighborhood council in 1979. Surveying the residents about important issues, the top two concerns — before social issues such as crime and education — were affordable local dining and parking. Those survey results guided Piecora’s concept, site selection and focus on dedicated parking, one key to Piecora’s 30-year survival.
Piecora believes that his 45-stall parking lot expands his customer base, entices people to travel to his location, and plays to families, some of whom might scratch a restaurant off their list if parking is a hassle.
“We constantly hear that people come to us solely because we have parking, so the lot has served us well,” says Piecora, adding that the availability of parking at his pizzeria has increased his takeout business, many customers selecting his outlet over rivals because of the easy-in, easy-out process.
When parking supply does not match parking demand, many operations turn to one of three solutions:
Vouchers and validation. If a private or public lot is nearby, many operators work with the lot’s owner to provide discounted or even free parking to restaurant customers. Though it can be a costly premise, validated parking can bring customers in the door, overcome the veto vote and minimize parking stress.With limited parking available at its downtown Phoenix spot, Pizzeria Bianco validates parking at a nearby 300-spot city lot, a necessary expense many operators encounter as they try to remove obstacles for customers. Validation “is simply the cost of doing business in the big city,” Bianco says. “If you want people to come to you, this is one solution.”
Valet. Once the sole domain of high-end establishments, valet parking has trickled down the restaurant food chain, particularly in high-traffic areas. In fact, most cities now host a number of credible valet companies a restaurateur can contract to handle the parking operation and its unique liability concerns. Others, however, take matters into their own hands.
As snow piled up outside of Vito and Michael’s Gourmet Pizza in New City, New York, and parking became thin, the pizzeria’s owners offered temporary valet parking as a service to customers. On weekends and for special events, Piecora hires a parking lot monitor who is charged with monitoring interlopers, helping customers find spots and, in some cases, double parking cars to further maximize the lot’s capacity. “Though yet another cost to bear, you’re providing a real service to your customers and taking the hassle of parking right out of their hands when you offer valet service,” says Denise Beeson, a California-based small business consultant. Many pizzerias highlight the valet parking service on their marketing efforts, just the incentive some consumers might need to visit the establishment.
Neighborhood partnerships. In their quest for parking solutions, operators are increasingly turning to partnerships with other local entities, specifically those with limited hours and parking spots, such as schools, churches, and banks.
On Sunday mornings, Piecora allows a church across the street to direct its overflow parking into his lot. While he hasn’t had to ask the church to return the favor, he knows his neighborly ways could yield future assistance.
“If we need to, we know we could ask and it’s nice to have that type of relationship when your business depends on customers getting in your doors,” Piecora says.Weekday lunch visitors to Pompei’s flagship location in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood must find and pay for street parking. On most nights and weekends, however, Pompei visitors enjoy easier parking thanks to access to an elementary school lot adjacent to the restaurant.
Bianco calls this smart business.
“Look at your relationship with your city, your neighbors, and then get a solution that maximizes efficiencies,” he says. “That’s what good business is all about.”
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers and magazines.
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.
Photos by Scott Weiner
Lower Manhattan is a ghost town. Century-old trees are uprooted, the world’s most incredible public transportation system has ground to a halt and power is out — not just in some buildings, but everywhere south of 28th Street. As I write this, New York is just days removed from the landfall of Hurricane Sandy. Most residents and businesses have remained closed, but several pizzerias have figured out how to keep the lights on both literally and figuratively.
The first challenge for powerless pizzerias is how to make dough without a working mixer. Some went back in time and whipped up batches by hand. A beautiful photo quickly made the rounds on Twitter of Motorino’s Mathieu Palombino, hands deep in a flour trench filled with yeast-clouded water. Employees at Pizza Box on Bleecker Street were proud of their handmade dough, especially because they had never attempted it over decades of pizza making.
Others were fortunate enough to have access to kitchens in electrified parts of the city. I saw Roberto Caporuscio getting out of a taxi with two bags of vegetables and a stack of dough trays. He was transporting supplies from the refrigerator at Don Antonio in the Theater District to his powerless Greenwich Village pizzeria, Keste. A similar task was necessary for Forcella’s Giulio Adriani, who carted dough from his location in Brooklyn to the one in Manhattan. Newcomer Cowboy Pizza in the Lower East Side made trips to Long Island for access to a working mixer at a friend’s pizzeria, even though road and bridge closures made the drive interminable.
Even with mixed dough in hand, the problem of storing it without refrigeration remained. The storm brought a cold front to New York so overnight temperatures are low enough for dough trays to be stored outside. Pizza makers had to tweak their dough formulas to compensate for slightly warmer ambient temperature but I found the slightly softer crust texture to be a welcome change.
Heating ovens is no challenge for pizzerias whose central piece of equipment is fueled by wood, coal or natural gas, but operating them safely with minimal light is another story. Joe’s in Greenwich Village created a system of flashlights taped to poles to provide oven lighting. Percy’s lit its tiny counter by candlelight. Lombardi’s probably had the most complex setup, with a series of car batteries powering lights in the kitchen, dining room and even a couple for the sign outside. Most pizzerias are avoiding the lighting issue altogether by restricting service to take-out and delivery.
No matter what obstacles are placed before them, these pizzerias found solutions. Beyond just being a business, you’re part of a community that depends on you for comfort food in times of need. Seeing how these pizzerias have gone out of their way to serve their neighbors has been a great testament to the resilience and dependability of the pizza industry. Just think about what you would do in an emergency situation so people like me can turn to you for the comfort of a warm slice.u
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Pick-up windows add appeal for on-the-go customers
BY Annemarie Mannion Photo By Rick Daugherty
That’s the belief of operators of pizzeria drive-thrus who are making it as convenient, comfortable and as quick as possible for customers to get their pizzas.
Operators who have embraced the idea of drive-thrus say opening one, and equipping it, is not as daunting as one might expect.
The drive-thru at Mr. Scrib’s Pizza in Muskegon, Michigan, proves that theory. It opened 28 years ago and operates with a simple system that includes an intercom and a metal box with lights.
The intercom enables workers, even if they are not standing at the window, to hear that a driver is there and wants to place an order. The metal box has numbers that light up and allows customers to go and park and then see when their orders are ready.
“We tell them their number and they go and wait until they see it light up,” says Manager Lisa Crabtree, “or sometimes (they) go and get gas or run to the store and come back for their pizza.”
Other operators have developed their own approaches for how to handle drive-thru sales. Home Run Inn, which operates in the Chicago area, only sells pizza by the slice through it’s drive-thru, which opened in Melrose Park, Illinois, about a year ago because a fast food business had left the space.
“The Arby’s that had been there already had the drive-thru, so we
decided we’d make a go of it,” says Dan Costello, president of the restaurant group.
Costello says customers can choose slices, priced at $4 a piece, from four different pies that are prepared and waiting in cabinet warmers.
“It’s not so different than staging and storing pizzas like you would for a buffet,” Costello says.
He says customers like the convenience of it. “We see a lot of moms who’ve done their grocery shopping and want to pick up a slice before they take their kids to soccer practice,” Costello says. “They don’t want to get their kids out of the car to do it.”
One of the largest considerations when adding a drive-thru boils down to space requirements. Though Home Run Inn wants to have drive-thrus at new locations, Costello says it is not that easy to find a site that can accommodate one.
“You have to have a large enough site for a drive-thru lane and an escape lane,” Costello says. “It’s a lot of land that you need to allocate to it.”
Pizza Patron, which has locations in the Southwest, West and Southeast, opened its first drive-thru in 2006 and has given the green light to adding more.
“It’s become the primary objective in our real estate search to look for places where we can put in a drive-thru lane,” says Andy Gamm, brand director for Pizza Patron.
While finding an appropriately sized site can be an issue, Gamm says building a drive-thru is not cost-prohibitive, even for smaller operators.
“It can be relatively inexpensive —maybe $5,000 or $10,000 — if all you have to do is put a hole in wall (for the window),” Gamm says.
Equipment will add to the cost and can include cabinet warmers, special ovens, menu boards, and communications systems.
At Pizza Patron, the company worked with a company to develop a quick bake oven that enabled the company to reduce its baking speed from 5½ to 3½ minutes.
Pizza Patron also prepares some extra-large pepperoni pizzas that are held in warming cabinets for customers who want a pizza immediately. If those pizzas are not sold in 20 minutes “they either get sampled or thrown away,” Gamm says.
While drive-thrus may seem the province of larger operations, Gamm says it can work for smaller venues and will pay off over time.
“If you’ve got the space that’s
conducive for it, then I think it would work for anyone,” he says. “The more convenient you can make it for people, the more they like it. They really like not having to get out of their cars. And the return on investment is pretty significant.”
That has been the case at Mr. Scrib’s, where half of the restaurant’s sales come from the drive-thru. Some days it’s where most of the small pizzeria’s sales are rung up.
It also helps the business, which is located on a busy street, compete with the fast food joints that line the strip. Thanks to its drive-thru window, Mr. Scrib’s can cater to the needs of many of its customers who work at nearby businesses and who want their pizzas quick. It also keeps the interior of the restaurant less crowded.
“Our restaurant isn’t that big, so it helps us with crowding,” says Crabtree. “It’s more convenient for our customers, particularly in bad weather.”
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area. She specializes in business and health stories.
The Price Of A Remodel
Investing in updated look can breathe new life into restaurant
BY DEANN OWENS PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When considering a remodel, operators need to ask that question and others before making a decision. “You don’t need to go for broke. Every situation is different,” says Kevin Goldfein, owner of KBG Dining Group, a hospitality management company in California that owns Rosti Tuscan Kitchen. “The important thing is to ask why you want to remodel and what are your goals. What do you want to accomplish?”
After developing an extensive plan, Goldfein remodeled the Encino and Santa Monica locations of Rosti Tuscan Kitchen.
“We increased seating and improved infrastructure and became current with our competition and our brand and our image, but we kept our identity,” Goldfein says. “We wanted people to come in and say, ‘oh, this is brand-new, but it’s still the same Rosti we love. The remodel has been a big benefit to us.”
According to Goldfein, the remodel was a chance to increase sales as well as update Rosti’s brand.
“I bought the company in 2008, because it had great bones in terms of great service, food and reputation. But it had been in business for over
15 years and needed updating,” Goldfein says. “So, remodeling went hand in hand with re-branding — a chance to rejuvenate itself.”
The right remodel can result in
increased sales. “Yes, renovation will absolutely lead to increased sales if the design (and designer) is simpatico with the brand and target customer. If you don’t have that synergy between design, brand and target customer, then you won’t be maximizing sales. Not at all,” says Christopher Studach, creative director of King Retail Solutions in Oregon.
According to Studach, for a remodel to stand the test of time it must start with a focused plan.
“If you figure that ‘worn’ is likely a sign that the business has been suffering over time — losing customers — then just the mere fact that the business is investing in the customer’s experience will create a jump in business,” Studach says. “But how successful over time is a direct result of an educated and targeted design process.”
So how much does it cost to put a design plan into motion? It depends on the scope of the plan, the size and location of the restaurant and the needs of the business.
“Remodels vary in scope tremendously. A simple face-lift (no kitchen, furniture, etc.) can be very affordable, while a complete change including
updated equipment, finishes, furnishings and exterior upgrade can cost much more. Of course the size and location will affect that number as well,” Studach says.
Lena Gordon, principal interior designer and owner of D2D Studio, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado, offers these examples of renovations in Denver.
Example 1: A 15-table casual pizzeria, young college demographic, simple standard toppings and no alcohol served: New furniture, paint, flooring, some architectural interest, simple restroom. Cost with design service: $25,000-$50,000.
Example 2: A 15-table medium scale pizzeria, young family demographic, semi-upgraded toppings and wine/beer: New furniture, paint, flooring, more architectural interest, impressive light fixtures, medium restroom. Cost with design service: $45,000-$100,000.
Example 3: A 15-table gourmet pizzeria, hip foodie demographic, upgraded toppings, fancy salads and apps, full bar: New furniture, wall treatments, flooring, lots of interior architectural elements, nice restroom. Cost with design service: $75,000-$200,000.
The remodel of the Valencia location of zpizza focused on the kitchen and the customers, according to Amir Sabetian, vice president of operations for zpizza International in Irvine, California.
“In the case of Valencia we spent about $20,000 total. Almost half was in kitchen equipment that needed repair or replacement. Guest view — we
upgraded about $11,000,” Sabetian says. “Complete customer area
remodels, which include changing all furniture, lighting, art, interior signage, paint or wall coverings, flooring and casework, can run from $100,00 to $200,000 depending on location and size. This does not include kitchen and business equipment upgrades.”
A budget will help operators determine where to spend and save.
“The bulk of cost is usually flooring, furniture and then electrical. Details, such as flatware, table linens, etc. can break the budget quickly. Splurging on lighting and restrooms is a good bet,” Gordon says. “Operators can save money by using the creative genius of an interior designer to create inexpensive wow moments without necessarily throwing a ton of money at the space. Strategically using used restaurant furniture and equipment, inexpensive art and wall/ceiling treatments, designing unique items with simple materials.”
Operators should make the most of what they already have. “A professional assessment should be done to determine what the challenges are and to prioritize the opportunities,” Studach says. “ ‘Splurge’ is not something we would even recommend — it implies spending more than was necessary to achieve maximum benefits. It’s more about prioritizing to determine, for your particular business, which investments are going to generate the most sustainable ROI.”
Doing homework will result in a better bid. “Be practical about restaurant remodels; it’s not your house — lots of contractors need work these days,” Sabetian says. “Shop around. We saved $1,200 just on the paint quote in Valencia by calling for three quotes. Also, fortunately franchise stores share the same brand elements, furniture, lighting (and) art work, so these items can be purchased with deep quantity discounts. Paint is one of the quickest, cheapest and most dramatic ways to make a change that will be noticed by your customers.”
According to Sabetian, successful updates are in the eye of the beholder.
“The majority of expense should be done where guests can experience the enhancements. Operational equipment in the kitchen is important, but if the guest can’t see it, it won’t affect their view on the enhancement expense.”
Operators need to make design trends work for their brand now and in the future.
According to Gordon, trends lean toward the raw, natural materials mixed with metals, upgraded metallic vinyls, great design in light fixtures and impressive restrooms.
Studach warns against getting caught up in a trend. “Any trendy design element will quickly date itself and negate much of the benefits of the remodel in the first place. Unless, of course, you can afford to update every three to five years. Besides, do you want to be just like everyone else?” he asks.
When it comes to design ideas, the brand determines the look. “For the zpizza brand, minimalism and pure were the driving forces,” Sabetian says. “These were expressed through light pure colors and materials, bamboo, stainless steel, and accents of the brand red. Packaging materials were recycled and recyclable. (We went for) modern clean lines in furniture and lighting.”
Since any remodel, small or large,
requires time and money, operators need to do their research before any walls come down or high-price equipment is ordered. To put the right remodel in motion, operators need to know what works best with their current establishment, brand, budget and business goals.
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.
Many operators have asked me questions about opening a second unit. Going from one store to two was one of the hardest moves I ever made. Going from two to three was much easier. I caution operators that if your current store is running better when you are not there, you may be ready. If you need to be on the schedule every week and “make it, bake it and take it” yourself, the second unit will never make it.
Great companies begin with the end in mind. They have a clear picture where they will be in the future. Their operational, financial and marketing procedures are in place and are functioning well.
Multi-unit operations are completely different that single units. Single units can usually survive and thrive without solid operating systems. The boss is never far away and can make all of the hairy or unusual business calls. When there are multiple locations and your name is on the sign, every situation needs to handled in the same way.
Operating systems give step by step detailed instructions on every area of how you want the restaurant to run. The manual spells out all of the who, the what, the why and how of running the restaurant. When and only when these systems are in place is it time to consider growing your concept.
Once the tedious operational manual has been printed and refined, the next hurdle is selecting the management team. You should find yourself mentoring and growing your managers more than making pies. I’ve homegrown every manager I’ve ever had. I feel they must be hungry to know everything you do. The why we do it this way must be learned face to face. We didn’t have many sacred cows at Big Dave’s. Managers were encouraged to challenge the status quo and convince me that the new way was better. They often did and we were all better off from it. One side note regarding manager grooming: let them make and learn from their own mistakes. It’s almost impossible to see a train wreck coming and let it happen. If it doesn’t hurt the business, let it happen. Experience is the best teacher. My good friend and client, Sean Brauser, owner of Romeo’s Pizza of Medina, Ohio, shares my philosophy of grooming managers and cutting them in on a piece of the action of new stores. These managers have been personally coached and have been running the place without you. In order for them to move to a second unit they must have trained their replacement.
Financing the new operation is a lot less scary that the first. Lessons learned from opening number one will still be fresh in your mind. A comprehensive capital budget is a critical step in ensuring that the new store will not financially bleed your original anchor store. Lenders and partners tend to pull back if you go over budget. This financial model must include often forgotten expenses like permits, security deposits, professional fees, staff training and recruitment and working capital. The Murphy’s Law of Restaurant openings is to get your best number and add another third to it, kind of like home remodeling projects. Sales and expense projections should be one of the first orders of business. The Pro-Forma should reflect three scenarios: a conservative worst case as well as an average and optimistic study. At this point, I’ve advised many clients not to go forward. If the expenses are too high and the costs of building out and occupancy are high, chances are that you won’t be able to make a substantial profit. This is not the time to dash the dream; just look at other in-budget options.
Your second operation has several options to evaluate and choose the best for your circumstances. You may choose to have all of your units company-owned, enter into partnerships or franchise. All of these arrangements are common in our industry but each of them has different requirements.
Finding an affordable ‘A’ location could be a challenge especially in prosperous trading markets. Whenever possible I advise my client’s to locate in a property that was at one time, a restaurant. The space has already been health department approved, probably has ADA bathrooms, ample water, sewer (grease trap) big gas lines, large incoming electrical service and adequate HVAC. Having these pre paid assets in place will shave tens of thousands off of the capital budget.
• Is it a corner location with exposure from two side roads?
• Could a drive-through be installed?
• Does the main road have easy ingress and egress for customers as well as delivery drivers?
• Is there ample space and friendly signage ordinances in place?
• If my shop gets really busy can I place an exterior walk in cooler or storage building in the back of the building?
It’s easy and normal to have dreams and aspirations of multiple locations. You probably have been asked repeatedly by friends, family and customers to expand. Once you have done your homework and have passed the money, financial, operating systems, personnel issues and gut check…go for it. Just look before you leap and surround yourself with solid advice from people who have been there and done that.
Second Unit Checklist:
• Can my first unit run smoothly and profitably without my being there?
• Do I have enough financial resources to expand without putting a burden on number one?
• Do I have a management team in place?
• Do I have rock solid systems in place?
• Is this an Ego or business decision?
• Have I consulted professionals and other successful operators and learned from their experiences?
• Is my brand name awareness strong in the marketplace?
• Are you an excellent manager of managers?
• Have you thought out your long and short term exit plan?
• Will the sacrifice of much of your existing personal free time be worth it?
PHOTO BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Opening the second Pizzeria Piccola location, at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee last month, was a success — despite enduring a smaller footprint and catering to a new audience. That’s because the brand was firmly in place.
Despite having just 25 seats, the new location in Concourse C is reminiscent of the two-story original in Wauwatosa (a Milwaukee suburb), which has sit-down seating, an outdoor patio and a home-y feel. It opened in 2003.
“Pretty much every time I’m there I run into some of our customers who are flying in and out,” says John Wise, director of operations for The Bartolotta Restaurant Group, which owns Pizzeria Piccola. “They appreciate having good food options at the airport.”
Locations for pizzerias that are on college campuses, in airports or within amusement parks or professional sports stadiums are usually leased by large companies, such as SSP America or Aramark. SSP America owns the new space inside Concourse C, yet it is staffed and operated by Pizzeria Piccola. “They gave Joe (Bartolotta, the restaurant group’s owner) total control on the design and the type of equipment that’s used,” says Wise. Ensuring a smooth opening, with as SouthSide Pizzeria located in the Chicago Midway Airport terminal When it comes to expansion, think outside the strip mall few kinks as possible, Wise put seasoned Bartolotta employees in charge of the new location. “There is a Margherita pizza at the airport and there is a Margherita pizza in Wauwatosa,” he says. “It should be the same Margherita.”
In addition to pizza, gelato (from Cold Spoons Gelato in Milwaukee) and cocktails are sold at both locations. Yet the airport location needed unique items for on-the-go customers. Breakfast sandwiches and a breakfast pizza were added. Pizza sizes and selections are the same. Duplicating the menu avoided the cost and time it would have taken to develop new offerings.
Streamlining the existing menu was a tactic that worked for Hungry Howie’s Pizza, however. The company operates locations inside three Detroit-area entertainment venues — Ford Field (home to the Detroit Lions), DTE Energy Musical Theatre and Palace of Auburn Hills (where the Detroit Pistons play, and circus performances and music concerts take place) — as well as Detroit Metro Airport.
“You need to serve them fast and you need to serve it hot,” says Jeff Rinke, Hungry Howie’s vice president of marketing. Just pepperoni and cheese pizzas are offered, and in an 8-inch size, although at the airport full-size pizzas with customized toppings can be ordered. The pizzeria normally offers a choice of eight crust flavors, but to keep things simple, only garlic-herb crust is offered at the entertainment venues and airport.
Hungry Howie’s Pizza hires consultants to do unannounced spot checks to ensure the quality is consistent. “We don’t want to enter into an agreement where we’re serving a product that’s not a true representation of our product,” says Rinke. “The product is 100-percent Hungry Howie’s. It’s all our ingredients, it’s our sauce, it’s our dough and it’s our cheese.”
John Arena, who is one of the three founders of Metro Pizza in Las Vegas, which has three sit-down locations, visits each of his two non-traditional locations (inside a casino and on a college campus) daily. Doing the prep work off-site, and at one location, avoids inconsistencies in flavor and quality. “There isn’t going to be a difference in the dough, because we’re pulling dough out of inventory,” he says.
Problems can erupt, however, when there is not good synergy and respect between the operator and the owner. Arena found that out the hard way. Four years ago a Metro Pizza location opened inside Boulder Station Casino. It didn’t last long: in December the casino took over the ownership and operation of Metro Pizza and shut it down.
“It succeeded to the point where the food and beverage department at the casino wanted to take it over,” he says. (Slices is the casino’s new pizzeria.) “You have to be very careful in how they write the lease — no pun intended, but they’re holding all the cards. Their justification is that the casino environment is always changing. With these casinos it’s all about relationships.”
Metro Pizza has operated inside Ellis Island Casino since 2000. The casino views the pizzeria as a partner — even going so far to include them in promotional opportunities. “They see us as an additional option for their guests. They’re a true collaborator and advocate for us,” says Arena. With just 200 square feet, the location earns around $1 million in sales each year. “It’s basically a counter with an oven,” says Arena.
For established pizzerias scouting non-traditional locations, “you have to evaluate what kind of match-up your customers are with what your brand represents,” he says. That Ellis Island customers are mostly locals that are already familiar with the Metro Pizza brand.
It’s that familiarity that has allowed Metro Pizza’s University of Nevada Las Vegas location, which opened in 2010, to prosper. “Many students grew up in Vegas. When they see us on campus we have credibility,” he says. Metro Pizza actually replaced the in-house brand, which lacked recognition with students and wasn’t raking in a profit.
Like Pizzeria Piccola, only employees familiar with the brand work in the satellite locations.
Space challenges aren’t as much of an issue as they appear, says Rinke. Each Hungry Howie’s Pizza store is normally 1,200 feet, but the non-traditional locations range in size from 400 to 800 square feet. The typical set-up is simply condensed, with a reduced-size oven, and a smaller area for food preparation. Some feature more than one stand (and at Ford Field some of those are shared with other vendors).
“The concourse is your lobby and you don’t need restroom facilities,” says Rinke. “There is also off-site storage.”
Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer living in Wisconsin.
Seven tips for renegotiating your lease
BY ROBERT LILLEGARD
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
While the recession is coming to an end, many operators are still struggling. The good news? Your landlord is feeling the squeeze, too. According to the National Association of Realtors, retail vacancy rates nationwide were at 12.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, and retail rents actually declined during the year. With empty space everywhere, it’s easier than ever to renegotiate your lease.
Real estate agent Jim Ronding has worked with several restaurants and recently sold a building to VIP Pizza in Superior, Wisconsin. He says the downturn has made real estate deals easier for tenants.
“There are more vacancies now than there have been in the last five years,” Ronding says, adding that it’s definitely a buyers market.”
How much can you expect to save? While that depends on your location (retail vacancies in San Francisco, for example, were only 3.7 percent last year), smart operators in most areas are in a position to save significantly. Ronding, for instance, has seen local rents fall over 20 percent from peak years.
There’s “some of the retail where the high-end traffic is $24 a foot,” Ronding says. “If you’re paying that much in rent per foot you have to be honest with the landlord. $24 a foot space is probably now $19 a foot.”
So how should you as an operator go about approaching your landlord? Here are tips for making sure you get the best deal you can.
When it comes to leasing, timing is crucial. If your pizzeria is struggling, you want to move quickly. Brad Erickson, owner of Duluth, Minnesota’s Vitta Pizza, says landlords are willing to cut their tenants a break immediately to save themselves the hassle of finding someone new.
“A lot of landlords will renegotiate just not to have a new tenant in there,” Erickson says. “And (high turnover) is a black eye on the space. They don’t want that. They want stability and good tenants that pay their rent and don’t give them a lot of headaches.”
Have an honest talk with your landlord, and be ready to prove your case with your balance sheets. It’s embarrassing to admit that you’re not doing well, but your landlord is on your side and probably willing to accommodate you.
If you’ve been successful in spite of the recession, however, you won’t be able to use the pity approach. Instead, run down the clock to around 18 months before your lease is set to expire before starting talks. That way, you’re close enough that your landlord will start feeling the heat, but not so close that you can’t walk away from the deal and find a new place if you need to.
“The smart ones are going out there before their lease is up, with plenty of time,” Ronding says. “If you do it with three months to go, they know you’re not going anywhere.”
Any landlord would rather work with a good tenant than a bad one. Do you pay your rent on time? Are you easy to deal with? If not, start thinking about ways you can improve before you start throwing down requests.
“If you’re going to attempt to renegotiate your rent, you’ve got to know your landlord,” Erickson says, “How much do they value you as a tenant?”
Once you’ve nailed the basics, little niceties like holiday cards or a free pizza dinner for your landlord’s family can further smooth out rough edges. And don’t be afraid to play two landlords against each other. “You have to know your market,” Minnesota-based real estate lawyer Paul Kilgore says. “I would never tell a tenant not to shop around. If it’s a tenant’s market it can be to their advantage.”
Start talking to other businesses and look for places you could move if you needed to. Even if you’re hoping to stay in your existing space, it’s to your advantage to look at other options.
“They’ve got to be able to convince the landlord that they’ve got other options,” Kilgore says. “For example, if there’s a new shopping area that’s being constructed nearby, the landlord may have to worry.”
Once you’ve gotten your landlord on your side and learned your options, think about the ways you could structure a deal. The most common approach is a cut in rent in exchange for a lease extension — you stay seven more years and your landlord cuts your rent. But now is the time to consider a package deal. Could you shovel the sidewalks in exchange for two more parking spaces? Would your landlord be willing to build you an office in exchange for another year on the lease? Since it will be several years until your next lease renewal, make the most of the opportunity while you have it.
A weak economy means strong tenants, and that can translate into major savings. So find a good lawyer, consider your options, and strike a deal with your landlord. After all, you’ve probably had to cut prices for your customers —why shouldn’t you get a break too?
“It’s worse than it was last year, but prices are so low that people are starting to get a little bit of faith here,” Ronding says. “There’s some good deals out there. People are still going to go out and have a pizza.”
Three Big Mistakes When Signing A Lease
Not getting counsel. Since a lease is such a big investment you need a good commercial real estate agent, a quality real estate lawyer, or both, says Brad Erickson, owner of Duluth, Minnesota’s Vitta Pizza.
“Especially people on a tight budget, they may be apt not to hire a lawyer,” Erickson says. “They’ll think, ‘No, that’s too expensive.’ That could save you thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.”
Not looking carefully at the lease. Especially if lawyers are involved, lease language can be quite hostile to tenants. Landlords can ask for personal guarantees or even prevent you from selling your business. So, it pays to look carefully at every aspect of your agreement—and then fight for a good deal.
“Assume nothing,” Erickson says. “It sounds so simple but it isn’t. My lease negotiation didn’t happen overnight — it probably took two months. You’ve got to put your fighting gloves on.”Being unrealistic. While it’s good to drive a hard bargain, make sure not to overestimate your position. Even in a down market, newer or less stable operators shouldn’t expect to get prime terms. You may have to start smaller than you think. “I think the tenant has to be realistic about how long the term of the lease is,” says real estate lawyer Paul Kilgore. “If it’s a start up business maybe signing on to a 10-year lease isn’t such a good idea.”
Robert Lillegard is a Duluth, Minnesota, freelance writer.
Eating with the Eyes
Front-of-the-house display cases put ancillary products in customers’ sights
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Whenever Tony DiSilvestro designs a new YNot Pizza, an endeavor he’s tackled three times since opening his first restaurant in 1993, he encounters the same conundrum: where to put the 28 feet of display cases he says are vital to his business.
In each of DiSilvestro’s four current Virginia-based outlets, five separate display cases are a must: a six-foot case holding Italian cookies; another six-foot case containing cakes, tiramisu, and other pastry treats; a pair of four-foot cases, one housing a dozen flavors of YNot’s homemade gelato and the second hosting chopped salads and a final eight-foot case displaying various pizza options.
Though some might argue DiSilvestro dedicates too much valuable real estate to the display cases, space that might otherwise add dozens of chairs to his 180-seat eateries, DiSilvestro counters by actually pushing other elements aside to make room for the cases, which he says provide a tenfold increase to his dessert sales.
“I feel the display cases are that important to my bottom line,” DiSilvestro says. “I sold 3,000 pounds of cookies last December alone and those type of add-on sales add up quick.”
As DiSilvestro can attest, display cases — and what’s inside them — can help boost an operation’s overall revenue, particularly in carryout venues that can play to impulse purchases. From pre-made salads and bottled drinks to homemade breadsticks and salad dressings, highlighting a pizzeria’s peripheral offerings in fresh, eye-catching ways can heighten incremental sales, steer purchases, and entice product trials.
Much like DiSilvestro, Adam Goldberg knows the power display cases can produce. Each of Goldberg’s six Fresh Brothers pizza outlets in southern California feature a 24-inch-by-24-inch custom-made glass case displaying a sample of a thin crust personal pizza and a deep-dish counterpart as well as two take-out salad samples. The case sits adjacent to Fresh Brothers’ registers, a spot all customers visit with their wallets in hand.
While customers think of Fresh Brothers as a pizza destination, Goldberg says showcasing the eatery’s various product offerings promotes additional sales while simultaneously linking the pizzeria’s menu to sensory marketing.
“When people see a product in the case, they can almost taste it,” Goldberg says. “That’s not true when they’re just looking at a menu.”
Dritan Saliovski, who runs Luigi’s Pizza in Frisco, Texas, believes too few operators assign a retailer’s eye to the display case and its point-of-sale potential, a profitable concept his establishment only mistakenly learned. Originally, Saliovski used his display case to showcase the cheese and fresh tomatoes Luigi’s used to create its pizzas. When people started inquiring about purchasing blocks of cheese, Saliovski saw an opportunity to exhibit his own products, namely the pizzeria’s homemade Moni’s salad dressing line. By displaying 20 to 30 bottles of salad dressing and putting them within reach of customers, 75 percent of whom are carrying out, Saliovski witnessed an immediate uptick in sales.
“When we began displaying the product, we saw people make impulse buys,” Saliovski says.
Saliovski also shares Moni’s story with signage. Using buzzwords such as “natural” and “local,” he says, creates a persuasive, contemporary story that prompts the add-on sale.
Indeed, many pizzeria operators utilize a range of proven merchandising techniques to catch customers’ eyes. During the holidays, DiSilvestro packages his cookies in bags with festive ribbons and packs cookies into YNot coffee mugs. He also places small children’s toys on colorful cupcakes, a marketing-savvy, minimal expense that makes YNot a favorite of local kids and tugs on the parental heartstrings.
“The more colorful and clean the products look in the case, the better they sell,” DiSilvestro says.
Both DiSilvestro and Saliovski, meanwhile, adhere to the stack-it-high-and-watch-it-fly mantra. Both veteran operators assemble extensive product inside their cases, a visual display they say informs guests that the products are available for purchase and worth a trial.
For Goldberg, who does not sell product out of his cases but rather uses them solely to showcase product, less is more. Much as an advertiser uses white space to call attention to a particular item, Goldberg limits the products he places inside his display cases, often emphasizing higher-margin items or salads high in color and vegetables to enhance the value perception.
“By not overcrowding the case, we’re highlighting the suggestive sell right in front of our customer,” says Goldberg, who rotates display case product throughout the day.
Similarly, DiSilvestro seeks the right product mix, making sure the best-selling products and high-margin treats are most visible.
“You want items in there that move,” DiSilvestro says, adding that YNot servers, eager to boost the check average and their subsequent tip, often parade dine-in guests to the display cases to entice a dessert purchase.
In fact, every YNot customer confronts the display cases at some point: carryout patrons are tempted by the savory goods as they await their order, while all dining room seats have clear views of the various cases.
“Every moment they’re in the store, I want them pondering what we have,” DiSilvestro says, adding that case placement must always flow with the restaurant and not impede the mobility of servers or guests.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photographs By Josh Keown
Minding the complexity of the Americans with Disabilities Act may make your head spin with worry. Face it –– this law creates frustration for many, not only because of the business cost it incurs, but also because of fear that an unhappy customer will sue you for an overlooked incursion.
But take heart, because the ADA can be boiled down into a simple rule of thumb: “Be cognizant, caring and aware. That’s all you have to be, and that’s ADA-compliant,” says James Sinclair, who consults restaurant owners on opening and growing businesses, as well as handling “distressed” operations.
As president of OnSite Consulting of Los Angeles, Sinclair also advises on ADA compliance. “Think of it in the human sense,” he says. “All you’re doing is trying to ensure that anyone who walks into your restaurant can enjoy the experience. It’s about care — being a caring owner and recognizing that’s the law.”
Small restaurant owners in particular may feel ADA compliance is financially onerous. Yes, this is a required aspect of doing business. But, it can be seen positively: It’s an opportunity to show the community you’re a friendly establishment, worthy of their patronage, Sinclair and other experts say. Plan for ADA accommodations to work for your space, while also making the front of the house an accessible, friendly place.
In July 2010, President Obama announced the most significant changes to the ADA since it became law in 1991, says Kevin Hughes, who has researched the ADA changes extensively. He is vice president for Project and Development Services at Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in real estate services and investment management.
Under the revised law that took affect March 15, 2012, there are strong penalties for offenders: fines up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for the second. “In some cases, organizations have paid much larger additional amounts to compensate individuals involved in lawsuits,” he says. “And following litigation, courts often dictate remediation schedules, removing control from the organization and often resulting in greater overall expense.”
One example is NPC International, which is the largest franchisee of Pizza Hut restaurants. The company must make accessible improvements to dining and counter service areas, restrooms, entrances and parking areas at about 800 locations, Hughes says.
“Compliance is also good business,” Hughes says. “Many associations publish guides and rating systems that evaluate businesses such as hotels and retailers according to accessibility for disabled persons.”
A Small Business Administration loan can help pay for required changes, Sinclair says. “A dollar saved today is a thousand-dollar cost tomorrow. If you say, ‘I don’t have the $15,000 to buy this,’ you can lease it or finance it. It’s like saying, ‘I can’t afford a stove.’Then you probably shouldn’t open the business,” he says.
Jeff Farney owns Complete Access Solutions LLC of Wichita, Kansas, a firm that consults full-time on ADA compliance. Many small businesses don’t realize there are also tax incentives for “barrier removal.”
“Some of (the tax write-off ) is significant,” Farney says. “what’s available will take, in most cases, 80 to 90 percent of the cost away of modifications, the priority stuff. with new construction, ADA compliance accounts for less than two percent of the total cost of a project, on average.
Here are the usual “red flags” for inspectors and complainants, Farney says:
- A lack of compliant accessible parking spaces. This includes “van accessible” spaces, access aisles and vertical signage. Numbers of accessible spaces required is based on total parking spaces available. Additionally, accessible spaces should be on the shortest route to the accessible entrance and should be level (slopes of two percent or less) in all directions.
- Accessible route to the accessible entrance from parking spaces. Accessible routes are at least 36-inches wide, have slopes no greater than five percent and are free from changes in level (thresholds) greater than a ½-inch beveled.
- Entrance doors with opening hardware that can be opened with a closed fist. “Panel” style hardware is NOT compliant. entrance doors should have a clear opening at least 32 inches wide and thresholds should be no higher than a ½-inch beveled.
“I commonly see condiments and self serve soda dispensers placed too high –– they shouldn’t be higher than 48 inches. I also see register counters too high –– they shouldn’t be higher than 34 inches,” Farney says.
When in doubt, find an ADA consultant, and check their references, Farney says. If you need technical advice, contact the US Department of Justice at www.ada.gov. This site includes information about changes to the ADA law.
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners.
Photos by Josh Keown
Years ago, architect Jim Lencioni recalls being called into a casual restaurant concept based in the Southeast. Despite solid marks for its food, business continued falling.
In surveying guests, Lencioni soon discovered that diners preferred carryout because they were so uncomfortable in the dining room, one emblazoned with large photos of pigs over red and blue walls.
“The interior was actually so bad it was driving people away,” remembers Lencioni, head of Aria Group Architects in Oak Park, Illinois.
Lencioni’s tale remains a cautionary one for pizzeria operators. As good as the pepperoni pie might be, front-ofthe- house design problems can easily derail a shop’s prospects.
Visuals, after all, are important, confirms Howard Ellman of Dynamic Designs, a Michigan-based design firm that specializes in hospitality.
“If the restaurant is uninspiring to the eyes, it doesn’t necessarily build confidence in the food,” Ellman says.
Veteran restaurant designers identify the five most common frontof- the-house design missteps and offer solutions.
Design problem No. 1: light. Though lighting can be the most impactful element in a restaurant, it’s too often overlooked.
Some restaurants are too bright and others too dim. Some host uneven lighting, while lighting in others is so consistent it lacks drama.
Lencioni’s advice: “Like the stage in a theater, light up anything you want to control the view of, such as your wine collection or artwork.”
Vision 360 Design CEO Brad Belletto adds that lighting temperature can change the way food looks on the table. Softer light, for instance, can make food look warm and refreshing.
“The perfect color temperature for most restaurants is going to be in the 2800-3200 kelvin range,” Belletto says, adding that temperature information will be available on light bulb packaging.
And know who you are, Lencioni concludes. McDonald’s long kept its surfaces hard and lighting bright to encourage rotation. In contrast, dimmer lighting can persuade people to linger and promote wine or alcohol sales.
Design Problem No. 2: sound. In many casual and quick-service restaurant environments, hard surfaces, high ceilings and rectangular spaces can be the norm. Enter acoustic problems. “You want a particular amount of energy in the space, but it cannot be bothersome,” Lencioni says. “You need to provide some acoustic control.” Lencioni suggests creating “zones of energy.” For instance, the bar area might be more lively, which would make harder surfaces more acceptable. In the dining room, turn to softer materials, such as booths, or angled walls to absorb sound. “There can still be noise in the dining room, but it needs to be controlled enough that people can feel comfortable,” he says.
Design problem No. 3: age. In many cases, age can be a positive for a pizzeria, as longevity can inspire confidence. In the dining room, however, age can be a detriment, particularly when it manifests itself in front of guests in the form of ripped booth upholstery, wearing tabletops, or outdated signage.
“Look at what your diners see and feel when they walk into the space,” Ellman says. “If it’s disorganized, in disrepair, or designed for another era, consider a change.”
Ellman says restaurants should update every five to seven years, a process that need not break the bank. Fresh paint is economical and can do wonders to enliven a dining room, while booth seating can be refreshed for a nominal investment in fabric.
“Provide customers a sense of place that shows you care about their experience and what you serve,” Ellman says.
Design problem No. 4: impractical. Too often, designers agree, operators ignore design common sense. Ellman recalls one restaurant with an S-shaped dining counter looking into an exhibition kitchen. While Ellman considers exhibition kitchens wonderful options for some pizzerias –– “Seeing your pizza made and be appetizing and entertaining,” he says –– the jogging counter limited seating capacity.
Similarly, Belletto recalls one restaurant installing a curved wall in its dining room. While the wall’s presence added design punch, it served no practical purpose. In fact, it actually made it difficult for some guests to exit tables and shortchanged seating capacity.
“Whatever you do, it’s important to balance out practicality and functionality with the design,” Belletto says, also suggesting that restaurants have various seating types to provide drama as well as operational versatility.
Design problem 5: overspending. In designing a restaurant, it can be easy to fall in love with high-end finishes or distinctive design elements. That’s an all-too-common mistake.
“Operators can get easily fixated on something they saw elsewhere and insist on it in their restaurant,” Belletto says. “They’ll buy expensive scraped wood flooring when vinyl plank flooring with a wood simulation would be half the cost and a quarter of the maintenance.”
Belletto cites numerous restaurateurs obsessed with silver table bases.
“But who even sees these? If you’re going to spend money, spend where people will notice it,” he advises.
Operators should match their design choices to both the character of the establishment and its profitability.
“You’re going to struggle to pay for that granite countertop in a place that serves $9.99 pizzas all day,” Belletto says. “Know how much profit you can make on the product and then you won’t need to invest in interior finishes beyond the scope of your profitability.”
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
When considering moving your restaurant from one location to another, there’s a lot at stake. As the owner of an established Italian restaurant here in Georgia, we wanted to make the right decision for both our business and our customers. Questions to ask yourself before moving:
Is your rent headed so high that your business can’t even afford it?
Do you have a better opportunity in a nicer space?
Is your landlord easy to work with?
Has business declined and it’s time to downsize?
These are just a handful of reasons why operators consider relocating their business.
Of course, with any deal, there’s a catch: the above questions are all the very reasons why some operators have moved and gone out of business, while others have had great success. I moved my 100- seat Italian eatery just a half-mile away into a slightly bigger space which added 35 seats, a bar area and dining room space that can be sectioned off for private parties.
Originally, when I started looking at available spaces we found one we liked, but it was four miles away. I knew we’d lose some of the customers that we worked so hard to win over. The space was also too raw and needed many costly renovations. We shopped around. The process I went through was extensive and honestly exhausting, but ultimately brought me to the best decision I could have made for my business.
The most important thing you’ve got to do when considering moving your operation is to be very organized and thorough in your research. Create a list of all things to be considered.
The space in which I had built my business worked well for us for five years and I knew it would actually be easier to stay where we were, especially since we had built a great clientele. Remember that easier is not always better! But, we were at the end of our lease and it was time to renew. For some reason the landlord wanted to hike the rent so high that my company would not have been able to afford it. That’s when I knew I needed to start looking at other spaces while at the same time attempting to negotiate a lower rent structure to try and stay put.
This process can take eight to 10 months or longer. Don’t think you can make a last-minute decision down to wire at the end of your lease. If you wait too long, you could be locked into signing a long-term lease somewhere you don’t really want to be or worse –– have no lease at all to operate your restaurant.
I think it’s to your advantage to let all parties know that you are looking at several locations, so you’ll get the best possible rent structure available. I was planning on moving all my furnishings and equipment as well as my hood and exhaust system and walk-in cooler, and it was necessary to get quotes from several companies to do the big work. It’s critical to create a timeline for a big move. If you don’t, the project can take so much longer than you anticipated — which will in turn cost you lost revenue. You can’t move everything overnight, and you’ve got to understand –– and plan for –– the costs associated with moving. The next step is to weigh out how long it will take you to recuperate the investment. Also understand that even if you estimate your moving expense, more than likely, unexpected expenses will arise.
Have an electrician look at your current electrical situation and make sure the new location can handle your electrical load. One problem I ran into with cost overruns was that my old location had three-phase power coming into the space and my steam table, walk-in cooler compressor along with my exhaust and make-up air motors all ran on that. The new space didn’t have it, and it was cost prohibitive to add it. So I replaced the compressor, the motors and my steam table to work with the one-phase power coming into the new space.
I was very thorough and estimated on the high side that it would cost $15,000 to move into a very nice existing restaurant space. Due to unforeseen issues, the move with improvements to the new space had a $10,000 overrun. This could potentially break somebody in the process of moving and prevent them from even being able to open due to lack of funds. Be careful.
When looking at other locations, here are some incredibly important things to consider, especially if you’ll be moving all your equipment to the new location like I did:
You also want your plumber and an HVAC team to check out the new space to see what might be needed to retrofit your equipment and to ensure all things are in good working order.
It is critical to have the board of health, building inspectors and the fire marshal come before you sign a lease to let you know of any potential expenses that need to be taken into consideration. I’ve seen folks sign a lease and then find out they need to upgrade the grease trap. In my county, they are enforcing $15,000 to $20,000 grease traps that need to be installed. That’s definitely not something you want to find out after your money has all been spent on other upgrades.
You need to measure the space accurately and lay out on paper the existing equipment you have and where everything will go. Creating timelines, getting quotes and understanding all that you need to do, including new licenses to operate if applicable, will give you the smooth transition you need. You’ve got to consider your lost revenue while closed and extra advertising dollars you’ll need to spend to inform the community of your new location.
We opened our new location exactly one week after we closed the old. Within 10 weeks of re-opening, we had a 44.3-percent increase in sales, and being just a half-mile from our old location has aided in our success.
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.
A solid carpet care plan is essential, experts say, to keeping carpet looking good, particularly in a busy restaurant setting. There is guidance out there to help you find the right equipment and people.
The Carpet and Rug Institute and the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration maintain databases of experts and equipment that can assist you in caring for your carpet. The Carpet and Rug Institute regularly tests cleaning equipment and cleansers and rates them on their Web site, www.carpet-rug.org.
Look under commercial carpets for their downloadable, PDF guide to caring for carpet, and also for a list of both providers and equipment that has received their seal of approval.
The Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration offers training and certification for those in the carpet-cleaning industry. To access a database of cleaners, searchable by zip code, visit www.certifiedcleaners.org/locator.shtml.
I'm looking at two locations. One is 3,000 square feet and centrally located in a busy shopping plaza. Rent is high and it will cost a lot of money to renovate. Parking is a bit of a problem in this busy plaza. The second location is across the street from a shopping plaza and is not as busy, but rent is cheaper. It's 5,600 square feet, has 65 parking spots and would be cheaper to renovate because it is more turnkey. Which location is better?
I think the larger space may be a better choice. If the busier center doesn’t have ample parking customers not finding a space may dine elsewhere. If the large space is not well insulated, you may end up spending more in heating and air conditioning. The larger space across the street must have excellent visibility and easy access. Make sure your signage is excellent, as well as your concept and product. Take advantage of the space by breaking it up in sections. Create a comfortable and inviting sitting area, as well as a couple of meeting rooms for different organizations that meet regularly.
I'm not sure what I should expect to pay for rent. What percentage of my sales should rent account for?
You really can’t know what your sales will be projected at until you find an appropriate space that is suitable for your concept. When you find the best spot for yourself, then you need to determine what your sales should be, and if it is feasible to achieve that goal in that space. Ultimately you’d like to see your rent at between 5 to 8 percent, with variations depending on your area.
I’m opening my first pizzeria and am building a freestanding unit. My question is: is it worth the extra construction expense to add a lobby/waiting area? I’m going to have 32 four-top tables and eight six-person booths.
With a restaurant that size, it would be foolish not to include at least a small waiting area. You may not need to add an extra space and expense. You can think about taking away a couple of tables instead of adding square footage to your building. I’d consider utilizing the space for a take-out counter as well as a small retail space, or even a dessert case. This way, although you’re losing a table or two, you can increase sales in this space to maximize your earning potential!