Do I Need to Hire an Architect for My Restaurant Project?

Of course you do!  Did I mention I’m an architect?  It might seem like a simple question, but it isn’t necessarily depending on the nature of the project.  If you’re constructing a new free-standing building or doing a fit-up in a new shell space the answer is “almost certainly”.  See, I even had to qualify the simple answer.

If you’re taking over an existing facility and making only cosmetic changes you probably won’t need an architect.  But if you plan to do things like adding lighting, receptacles, air conditioning, etc. you may need to hire an electrical/mechanical engineer to do the necessary design work and drawings needed for permits.

So even if you’re only making minor changes to an existing restaurant, before you sign the lease I’d highly recommend you pay an architect for an hour or two of his/her time to look at the facility and identify anything that you may have to bring up to code.  We’ve had clients that didn’t think they needed any more than a health department permit, but when the health dept. did their walk-thru they identified code violations and turned them over to the inspections dept.  Better you know about the landmines before you sign the lease.  (Read my blog on fire sprinkler systems for a really big landmine.)

Likewise, if you’re considering two or more different locations an architect will be able to point out the pros and cons of each space.  Two seemingly identical spaces can be quite different in the eyes of the building codes resulting in significantly different fit-up costs.

And don’t take the landlord’s or real estate agent’s word for anything that pertains to building codes, zoning ordinances or health dept. regulations.  We have a client right now who was assured by the real estate agent that he was in a parking-exempt zone.  I questioned our client on this twice and strongly recommended he get it in writing.  Now that we’re 75% complete with the construction drawings it turns out he does need off-street parking after all.  The mad scramble is on to find enough parking to rent to keep the project alive.

In the vast majority of cases you’ll want to hire an architect even if it’s not required by the inspections department.  You need someone who knows the codes that apply to restaurants, the health dept. regulations in your county, and all of the subtleties that can make the difference between a frustrating and satisfying experience.  And unless time and money are no object, hire someone with lots of experience.  I’ve been at this for over 20 years now and I still learn something new on almost every project.  And just to keep us on our toes, they change the building codes every few years!

No doubt you can hire a young architect just starting out for significantly less than an old grey beard like me, but those savings can vanish easily as the result of innocent mistakes.  The percentage of the architect’s and engineer’s fee relative to the total cost of your project is relatively small.  A 3% savings on their fees by using a less experienced firm can easily cost you double digit percentages.  A past client of ours learned this the hard way.  He hired us for the first of a multiple store franchise agreement.  Thinking he’d learned everything there was to know on the first one, he went to a less expensive firm for the second, a decision that probably cost him 4 times the amount he saved.  And guess what?  He came back to use for store #3. When you consider what you’ll be paying in rent, the little bit more an experienced restaurant architect will charge should more than pay for itself.

Likewise, an experienced architect will have a relationship with not only the code and health officials in the area, but will also have a number of contractors, equipment suppliers and vendors in the area that will do a good job for you.  And perhaps more importantly he/she knows who to avoid!

And we haven’t even talked about aesthetics yet.  An experienced restaurant architect will be able to help you select finishes, furniture and fixtures that enhance your customers experience and give you a durable, low maintenance facility.

So whether you’re starting from scratch or taking over a facility it’s well worth it to consult with an experienced architect early on in the process.



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One Response to “Do I Need to Hire an Architect for My Restaurant Project?”

  1. I do agree with you on this. Many people tend to avoid professional service when they deem the project to be small. I have done a similar article on my blog – http://architecturekenya.com/2010/08/11/choosing-an-architect-for-your-%e2%80%98small%e2%80%99-project-by-martin-tairo/

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