Here’s a Checklist of Things to Consider Before Putting Up a RestaurantAugust 10, 2014
To those thinking about venturing into the world of restaurants, it seems to be an easy investment these days in the burgeoning industry. Now, a restaurant looks like a sure thing because “Everyone needs to eat” or “It’s all about location” anyway. Bonus points if you have a knack for design or a fondness for hipster lettering.
At the same time, however, even restaurants with good food have closed shop, and for every one who dared, few could comfortably call the venture smooth-sailing, or even a success. What else does one have to consider aside from location, food, and design? Well, everything else.
Let’s hear it from those who have struggled and realized their restaurants from concept to reality, and who push on from day to day.
The Restaurateur: Abba Napa, co-owner of the Moment Group
On Green-Lighting a Concept
I go by gut. I consider perfect or appropriate space, the passion to see it through, and the skills and the talent of a team that is a match and shares the vision. Otherwise, the idea just remains in your head and what becomes a reality is very far off from what you had imagined. I don’t think I’ve ever had them all in one go!
On Finding the Right Partners
Restaurants consume you, so having partners and collaborators that see the world through the same rose-colored spectacles is really important. Like-minded philosophies are called for because creating restaurants is so personal, yet so collaborative at the same time. You have to believe in the same things otherwise it’ll be tough to enjoy, much less get through, the creative process.
I am superbly fortunate that the people I work with, am partners with, and collaborate with are supremely cool. They’re people I respect and admire and who I happily share nightcaps and meals with, and that makes work not seem like work at all.
Advice for Budding Restaurateurs
Think hard and ask yourself first whether what you actually enjoy is extending hospitality or receiving it.
I think a difference between people who love food and wine, and restaurateurs is that it isn’t enough for restaurateurs to be epicurean. You have to get joy out of making other people feel good. So if feeding people isn’t heartwarming nor gratifying to you personally and if deriving a high from giving people a good time through service doesn’t sound like your kind of fun, then it’ll be tough to trudge on when you find yourself in the many unglamorous moments that the restaurateur’s life will bring upon you.
The Chef and Owner: Him Uy de Baron, Chef and Owner of Nomama
On the Concept Stage
I study the market, what the current trend locally is and why it’s working. I also scope up trends from international markets like Singapore, and of course the States. I get a few ideas from there and let it percolate by talking to people about it, and getting their input. My frame of mind is to try to be ahead of the curve and have something different and exciting but still familiar and approachable.
I have investors, and when I pitch, I pitch for them to trust me to execute the concept. They live or die with me (well hopefully no one dies). I take the responsibility of running the whole thing while being totally transparent. If they have concerns and ideas we discuss it, and I consider it if it belongs to the long term goal of the brand.
On the Menu
I balance the creative, new and exciting with the familiar Pinoy go-to’s. Before, I wanted to just be creative and make my own riffs on everything but I soon discovered that it won’t work that way. You need to be flexible to be able to reach a wider market. You need to throw in more stuff that people won’t hesitate to order. I’d say the ratio now is somewhere 70 /30, 70 percent familiar and 30 experimental and unique. For example, one of the ramens we make that is so untraditional is the Thai Green Curry Ramen. I love it when people tell me it’s their favorite.
Competitor check is key. You don’t want to be dictated, but you need to consider how much the majority are selling their food for, because this becomes the norm for the majority.
Advice for Budding Restaurateurs
Don’t do it! It’s hella tough, but if you still want to do it, take your time building your concept. Let it grow and open it for editing, and assess your strengths and weaknesses. Get people who are good at your weaknesses, people who are competent and trustworthy that you can build [a restaurant] with. Location is such an important factor now more than ever. People don’t want to drive an hour out to dine, you need to catch them where they’re at. So make sure your concept fits the area and community you want to grow in.
The Consultant: JJ Yulo, Founder of Pinoy Eats World
What He Does
It depends on what they need me for. Sometimes they’re considering entering the business, sometimes they call me to revamp their menu. With the menu, sometimes, they just run out of ideas and they want to make it a little more current.
The Most Overlooked Part in Putting up a Restaurant
Honestly, just an observation of mine, it’s the concept. You have to have an extra strong concept. If you don’t have that extra something—I call it libog—people will see it and you won’t succeed.
For example, I really think Sarsa did something right. I think they have really good food, the prices are right for Manila, it’s fair and you get a lot of food. It’s food that you and I know, but they didn’t spin it too much to alienate people.
Think about your service philosophy. The best restaurants have servers who are proud to serve, and to have served at that restaurant. It should be something that people look into to be more competitive.
The brand identity and look of your restaurant is also important, it’s something you should think about. It’s not just tables, put some effort into the details. People want to be transported and have an entirely different experience when they dine out.
Advice for Budding Restaurateurs
Really think about it. Just because you have a wad of cash doesn’t mean you can do it. Travel, eat things out of your comfort zone, learn, do research. Don’t just dive into this stuff.
It’s a very rewarding business but it’s not for everybody. It’s really tough, and you have social media where people air their complaints a lot, they don’t realize how tough it is. I feel for the restaurateurs, I really do. It’s always a gamble. Even if you have all the right ingredients, there’s a possibility that you won’t make it anyway.
The Architect: Buchay Mercado, Architect of AVI
What She Does
I graduated last October from the Philippine School of Interior Design. I’m currently working under RMDA Architects, a design firm, and at the same time I’m reviewing to earn my license as a registered Interior Designer. Avi is my first restaurant project together with one of my batchmates from PSID.
With Avi, the clients came to me with a concept they had in mind. They showed me an organized presentation of their basic menu, pegs, and even finishes and seating that they preferred. It was actually very cute (for a lack of a better term) to see young men gush over their ideas! From that point, I knew what they were looking for and that I wanted to do this project. Sometimes you’re just lucky to click in that way and have immediate “flow of ideas.”
I pulled in my partner-in-crime in my restaurant design class, Dia, and told her it would be a good idea to do this project together. Since we worked together in the past, we knew our style and our workflow. From the initial meeting with the owners, Dean Dulay & Kevin Jingco (Kevin is also the chef of Avi), Dia and I used their pegs as a springboard but we also suggested our own pegs and ideas.
I was very blessed that during the schematic phase of the design process (Schematic phase is where you come up with rough sketches and ideas that aren’t set in stone yet) I was travelling to Bangkok at the time and got very inspired. It’s important for designers to travel or to gain life experiences because we can draw our inspiration from them.
Designing a restaurant is very technical. Functionality and form will always come first. As a designer, you program a space and create flow that would be conducive for the environment. This is why our clients decided to also get a kitchen designer. These designers are almost always suppliers as well. Based on their menu, they custom-make your kitchen to suit your needs.
There’s also budget! Unfortunately money doesn’t grow on trees, so you have to be strict with your budget. As designers, we had to compromise on a lot of our ideas, but again, just because you are limited in this aspect doesn’t mean you can’t come up with budget-friendly solutions.And of course, time frame. Approval of your schematic design can range from a week to a month, or even more – depending on the clients and designers. It’s like a ping-pong basically.
Aside from this, we agreed to also bring in other players to the table such as our mechanical engineer and sub-contractors.As the designer, you’re the game master and you build your team of other professionals. What people don’t realize is that design is very collaborative type of job. We need engineers, architects, contractors, and for bigger projects, project managers, who all bring something to the table.
Most of the time, conflicts arise due to budget and time! Always take into account that suppliers don’t deliver on time, so give an allowance already. Compromise, compromise, compromise and put it in writing! Any changes made in the design during construction should always be signed and approved by authorities. Pick your fights well because most of the times it’s just miscommunication. As a designer, you have to learn to let go of some part of the design if the client can’t really afford it, so stick to the basic non-negotiable aspects. Always have a plan B, C, D because Murphy’s Law exists!
Sometimes though you have to be stern, and tell your client that if you remove so and so it will tantamount to this. Let him know about the situation and never keep him in the dark especially when you are at fault. Be accountable for your mistakes and take the necessary steps to correct them.
After all at the end of the day, it’s not your restaurant. You’re here to make your client happy, and your client’s goal is to make his customers happy and to earn (or get his investment back. lol), so be a mediator in that process.
The Most Overlooked Detail in Designing for a Restaurant
Think of how branding integrates into the concept, from logo placement to the coasters and even the take-out packages and uniforms of the staff. It’s best to work hand in hand with a graphic designer from the first stage, cause you can even incorporate the graphics with the design itself.
Having said the abovementioned idea, you can think of other creative ways to create a holistic dining experience for your customers. Each person has five senses and you should maximize this! You have to think of the functionality and the aesthetics of materials, because how you use it will affect all these senses.
Also consider the flow & flexibility of space, from the size of the tables, its placement, and how to rearrange the space when you have bigger groups of people. This will definitely affect service. You have to anticipate where people will want to sit, and give your clients and customers options. Also, Where do you place your waiter’s stations? Where do you place your extra plates and glasses or water? How does this affect the effectively of the service? These are the technicalities that you need to sit down and think hard about. Consult with people who are more knowledgeable and who have first hand experience.
Also, storage. You have to maximize your space without compromising the seating capacity. Where do you place your plates? Definitely not in the kitchen where it can be chaotic for the kitchen staff and chef. Where do you place your cleaning supplies? Where do you place stocks?
So, research before building! It’s much harder to adjust when things are already up, so while it’s on paper keep at it until you come up with the best solution that all parties are happy with.