Ask Your Architect These 5 Questions

5 things to know before hiring a restaurant architect

Ask Your Architect These 5 Questions

TIP: Before your architect works on his plans, make sure to get a copy of the plans for the location you will be doing the build out. If it’s a shopping center, you will need the following:

  1. Get all zoning information from the landlord prior to finalizing a lease!!!
  2. The plans for the entire shopping center
  3. The plans for your specific location
  4. The number of the mall or shopping center architect
  5. All plans need to be on a CD Rom in .pdf format or AutoCAD

A good architect is sometimes hard to find! You have to interview a few and after the interview, you’ll have to decide on who will work best for you and your business model. Make sure they show you some their work, and ask them to provide references of restaurants they’ve built out. Call and ask the owners if they would meet you at their restaurant to give you a walk-through. Also, ask them would they hire the same architect to build out another store for them. Pay attention to detail. Ask the owners of the restaurant what issues did the architect run into and how many times did they have to resubmit their plans.

It’s been my experience that most plans will come back with some minor changes as long as you have an architect that is proficient and knows the laws not only state, but city and county wide. I’ve seen some architects take one bad turn after another because the architect was from another state. From my understanding California and Florida seem to be the states with the most demanding codes that sometimes don’t make sense to an architect from another state.

The reason a lot of multiunit operators use the same architect is to keep consistency in the design, so that all stores look and function the same way. This is important especially from branding; unfortunately, the architect may struggle with zoning, electric, plumbing, mechanical, and other items required out of state unfamiliar to your local architect. Although uniformity is important, getting your doors open is more important especially if your landlord is going to start charging rent.

One suggestion, use your local architect for the layout and design. This will allow you to use a local architect in the location you’re opening to review the design and layout; more importantly, the architect in that location you are opening will have a better understanding of the city, county, and state laws over your local architect.

If you’re in a big state, there may be many differences just in counties across that state. They follow the state laws, but have nuances that are particular to the county itself. For example, I opened two restaurants in Florida and each one was opened in a different county. In Miami-Dade County, hoods were not a requirement over iron skillets used to heat up thin pancake shells; however, as soon as I opened in Broward County the plans were kicked back for not having hoods placed over my “oversized waffle” irons. My architect knew the laws very well in Miami-Dade County and couldn’t understand why the next county over will require hoods since the amount of heat released did not meet the state law that would require a hood. It didn’t matter, the county required a heat hood or we were not going to open in that county. Now I was delayed another two weeks while we got new calculations done, defined the hood equipment, and found quotes to get the best deal. It just was the best deal, but the hood took away from the design of the restaurant since we had an open kitchen. Out of 30 stores built out over the U.S. there were only about 3 that actually were required to put hoods in and they were in California and Florida.

It may cost a little more, but worth getting the architect that is familiar with their state, city and county. They can take a look at the design you submit from your local architect and make recommendations immediately saving you time and money. Now we select our location, get the architectural for that location, our space to our local architect and once he is done with the design and layout, we submit it to an architect in that location where we are going to open. The local architect can do the zoning, electric, plumbing, mechanical, and other items required by the state, city and county.

When you get those plans make sure your location is zoned for a café, takeout, full restaurant, whatever you decide to open. Just make sure it’s zone correctly and there are enough parking spaces. Also, make sure this is in your lease that the landlord takes full responsibility and confirms you can open your business in that bay. I once opened a café only to be told that a takeout was all that I could open. There were not enough parking spaces. The landlord assured me it was a mistake; unfortunately, no construction could be started because my plans were not designed as a takeout. It delayed me months and halted my progress. We opened with limited seating and we spent over a year after we opened working to fix the zoning issue.

Below is the layout of a shopping plaza I opened one of my restaurants. I gave this layout to my architect prior to his design. There were many pages and this is only one page. I’m using it as example of what I look at when I get these plans. These layouts are important for your architect to review. The best example I can think of is a location I was building out. There were a few locations that I liked. The one I wanted was a good visual location, but was a long way from the electrical room. It was going to cost thousands to run wire from this room to my bay. I wasn’t crazy about the other locations and when I did the survey there was traffic, but not like the other location. I had a choice to go for the more visual location and pay more for the build out or go for a location closer to the electrical room and save thousands on the build out. This would mean I would need to work harder to get traffic to my location. I stuck with the first location and worked it out with the landlord to run the wire for me on their nickel. This was possible because the landlord knew I was ready to walk away and look for another location. I don’t allow myself to get emotionally attached. I did want to pay the extra cost, and I was not willing to give up a better visual location with more walking traffic. The landlord understood and we compromised.

When you get these files it will allow your architect to get all the correct information from the approved shopping mall plans and will also give them information on electrical, mechanical and plumbing. Without this information, you’ll incur fees on many visits your architect will have to make to the location and the plans will take longer to finish since there will be too many unknowns.
Ask your architect for a timeframe and hold them to it. Make sure it does not take more than two weeks or it may be an indication that your architect may be very busy. Make sure to ask the references supplied to you by your architect how long did it take to get the plans finished, submitted, and approved for build out. Another suggestion, use a nationally certified architect firm that has architects all over the U.S. If you have the budget and willing to pay about 25% or more it could be worth it. I’ve never used one, but I did call a few to find out their rates.

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