Photos by Josh Keown
When Sara Griffith, husband Joe and partners Shawn and Barb Griffith bought a Sam & Louie’s franchise location in Omaha, Nebraska, in August 2012, Sara was looking to update the pizzeria’s interior. She found inspiration from Pinterest, a visual-based social networking site, to use chalkboard paint to cover the entire wall behind the order counter.
“It’s the first thing customers see,” Sara says. “It really makes an impact.” She created an attractive focal point with half of the wall used to promote Sam & Louie’s lunch specials and the other half to depict colorful drawings related to the season and to highlight the restaurant’s features.
“It’s such a quick update,” Sara says. “It’s new and it’s fresh.” The DIY project cost only $20 for the gallon of chalkboard paint and her time. In the next few months, she also plans to paint a faux brick wall, a signature look in many Sam & Louie’s locations.
“Paint can certainly make a big difference,” says Deborah Ward of Deborah Ward Interiors in Tacoma, Washington. Ward specializes in restaurant interior design.
She cautions to plan ahead — calculate the area’s square footage so you know how much paint the walls and possibly ceiling will require. Depending on the size, painting may cost $5,000 or more if you use a professional crew. Also be sure to use low VOC paint to limit fumes.
One of the most obvious, but overlooked, aspects of a worn dining room is simply cleanliness, Ward says. “A lot can be done with just cleaning it,” she adds.
Go beyond your daily and weekly cleaning routines. While closed, take the opportunity to give your dining room a thorough, deep clean. Wash walls and ceilings, scrub upholstery, steam-clean floors, polish metals and dust all light fixtures and décor. Don’t forget to focus on hard-to-reach areas.
Evaluating the space for repairs and updates is vital to a fresh interior, Ward says. Make a list of everything — from wobbly tables, torn upholstery and ripped and worn flooring to an outdated color palette, poor dining room flow and mismatched decoration.
Some high-impact, low-cost dining room touch-ups include freshening up the front counter with a new pattern of plastic laminate, wood or other finishing material; swapping out outdated menu boards; re-upholstering furniture; touching up any wood elements and applying new stain; bringing new art and wall décor and updating light fixtures.
Prioritize the list. But when it comes to execution, Ward recommends that you make the changes all at once. It allows the grand reveal. “You just have to look at it all at one time — what the place needs — so it works together,” she says, adding that you should try to avoid piece-mealing the changes. While there’s usually additional cost involved, many subcontractors will work around your operating hours.
But if you have to phase in updates, Ward says, plan everything out that needs to be done. Poor planning can result in a look that is not cohesive and exceeds your budget to correct the problem.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you are going to get yourself into,” Ward says. That is why planning is so important. “Get all of your prices together so you know exactly where you are,” she says, adding that planning should be done far in advance. If new furniture is ordered, it may take a month or longer to receive. She adds, “when you start getting into plumbing and electrical, those are big dollar items.”
Some questions operators should answer before embarking on an interior project is: How large of a project is it? How much will it cost? How long will the project take to complete? Will it require a designer, architect or contractors? Is the update ADA compliant? Will the pizzeria be able to remain open during renovations?
When Tony Koehler, owner of Boulevard Pizza in Sparks, Nevada, was ready to replace his retro-looking menu board, he mapped everything out, which resulted in a well-executed finished product and saved him money.
Koehler tapped employees with graphic design and photography talents to come up with the new menu boards. “We outsourced only the printing of the menu files to a local print shop, whom we traded the work for a few pizzas,” he says. The Boulevard team spent nearly 50 hours total on the project that included building the backing boards, affixing the printed menus to the boards, framing to the walls, and installing ceiling mounted light fixtures.
Boulevard’s new menu board cost $325. Moreover, Koehler says, the change is photo-rich, draws attention to higher margin menu items and emphasizes descriptions over price. He says his customers now have a better impression of the pizzeria.
What a customers see
Walking through your dining room everyday means you may not notice its flaws. Restaurant interior designer Deborah Ward suggests that you select a person you trust who will be honest with you to evaluate your dining room. Create a checklist that focuses on the following areas:
Floors: Are they worn to the point of replacement? Are there rips, stains, or cracks and can those be repaired? If carpet is in place, does it look dirty or have an odor?
Ceilings: Are there stained, broken or missing tiles? Are all light fixtures working and have the correct wattage bulb in them? Do the fixtures look dated?
Walls: Is the paint discolored or faded? Are there dings in the wall that require plaster? Is the art on the walls dated? Does the color palette and art best represent your restaurant? Would adding visual blockage to undesirable sightline enhance the dining experience? Does your menu board represent your current offering effectively?
Furniture: Are chairs or tables wobbly or broken? Is the upholstery in dire need of replacement? Can furniture be reconfigured for better dining room flow? If so, will it require moving light fixtures?
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
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