A restaurant renovation is an opportunity to refocus your space and your brand. Here are our expert tips for remodeling your restaurant.
Restaurant remodeling costs money and time, so it is important that your renovations are done right. You’ll need to consider the cost restaurant remodel itself—typically $150 to $300 per square foot—as well as the cost of lost sales, and retaining staff through the build-out. If your restaurant is not yet open, a restaurant remodel can extend the length of time it takes to turn a profit.
A restaurant renovation should reinvigorate the health of your restaurant and allow for a better overall experience for staff and guests. In this article, I’ll break down the best tips you should know when remodeling your restaurant.
- Define your plans before you renovate to ensure you are making smart decisions.
- Get feedback from your staff and customers to ensure the remodel solves pain points rather than creates new ones.
- Know where to splurge and where you can afford to save. Your restaurant renovations will need to withstand high-volume use.
1. Define Your Goals for Renovation
Defining the exact reason you are doing the remodel of your restaurant is as important as the process of actually remodeling it; it helps you go about planning and ensures your renovation fits the needs of your restaurant. Other than costing time and money, a restaurant remodel can also disrupt employee schedules and guests coming into enjoy your product—so you want to be sure you’re doing it with the right reasons in mind. Your renovation should keep your business modern and relevant and enhance the guest’s experience while also making the job of your staff easier.
When defining your renovation goals, remember what your restaurant does well and acknowledge the places and equipment that work well for your staff and guests. Take care to protect those things in your remodeling plans. Understanding what works also helps you identify what is not working, and that’s where your renovations will have the most impact.
If your restaurant is not yet open and you are remodeling a previously active restaurant before opening, walk through a mock service with a couple of trusted colleagues to jump-start your remodel ideas. Once you are in the space cooking, preparing drinks, and serving—even pretending to—you’ll quickly see where you need things like drawers, electrical outlets, artwork, and more.
Another important piece of information you could get is asking the previous owner how the kitchen functioned and worked for them. The layout of a working kitchen space can vary per operator needs, and this information could give valuable insight into the reason why certain decisions were made in kitchen design.
If you’re just starting your restaurant-ownership journey, learn more tips in our guide to starting a restaurant and get our best advice to getting your business off the ground.
2. Get Feedback
A huge point of information that you can use when renovating is talking to the people who actually frequent your restaurant. This is mainly your customers and staff; understanding their insight into the space can improve your restaurant renovation plans. Customers tend not to hold back; they’ll often tell you exactly what issues they have when dining.
Maybe their tables are too scrunched together, or it is hard to hear their dinner partners only inches away. Maybe the lighting is poor, the air is stale, or the front door is extremely hard to open. Your remodel should aim to not only fix and renovate big parts of your restaurant, but it should also focus on the small—but important—experiences guests face. Another great way to ensure you answer customer feedback is by looking over your social media accounts and public review sites. If you are the new tenant in an existing restaurant space, look over the public reviews of the previous tenant’s restaurant.
Use the same mindset when talking to your staff. You should be able to know the pain points your kitchen staff may have on a daily basis, and aim to address it with them in the remodel. Your employee bathroom is old, outdated, and broken. The line is too close to prep counter space. The dishwasher is in an extremely difficult location. All of these friction points should be addressed in your remodel if possible.
Asking for feedback from your customers and staff has the added benefit of making them feel valued. That’s never a bad thing in a people-facing and people-managing business.
3. Review Your Business as a Whole
A remodel is a great time to examine how your business is performing as a whole, and build in space for new revenue streams or—literally and figuratively—remove areas that aren’t driving profit. The planned closure for a remodel offer some time offers you the time to make changes to your overall business operation without it being jarring for customers. Maybe you want to move to take-out and delivery only. Or maybe you’d like to include more dining room areas or add a private dining room for private parties. This is the time to make those changes and strengthen your business.
Taking this time as not only a time to renovate your physical space but also the concept of how you serve food is crucial. You can use this time to pivot and strengthen your business for the long term, making it relevant to a new generation of diners. Restaurant remodels remind of of author Ryan Holiday, who says you use time as either “Alive Time or Dead Time.” Do not let your remodel be a moment of just waiting and managing a physical rebuild. Use it as a way to evolve your business into the best version it can be.
4. Pick the Best Time to Remodel
The best time to do a remodel is when you are going to be losing the least amount of potential business. Of course, business will be lost in the process as you work on your physical space, so ensuring you do it at a time of the year when business is low mitigates your potential losses. The beginning of the year is often very slow for many restaurants, so this would be an ideal time for any remodeling you may have.
This may not be the case for all businesses. If you are a business that is seasonal, such as a resort or a summer lake town dining destination, then any time in the offseason is perfect for you to reschedule your remodel. Taking a look at the past few years and targeting the months where your revenue and overall business performance are the lowest is the key to choosing the best time. If your remodeling is urgent, of course, prioritize. But being smart when you remodel is just as important as the remodel itself.
If you are remodeling before opening a new restaurant, remodeling during a busy season can give you some free publicity; customers dining at nearby locations will see your storefront under construction and get curious. Though you might also want to consider if you can make the existing space work through the busy season and remodel when things slow down.
5. Plan a Budget (Correctly)
It is very important to have a budget in mind when remodeling your restaurant. You should expect this number to move, of course; any time you remodel some areas of your restaurant, you’ll inevitably find other work that needs to be done. To get your budget right, rely on professionals.
Interior designers, architects, and contractors can all give you rough estimates on the work you would like done. Add all of these estimates together, then add at least 10% for contingency funds and cost overruns. You should also consult with a financial professional like your accountant to get a realistic idea of what you can afford based on your business performance and assets.
If you need to raise funds for your renovation, speaking to a small business advisor from your local Small Business Development Center can give some ideas of places to find funding. And, of course, you should speak with the loan officer and your bank to see if they offer any loan products that can help raise renovation funds. The industry average is $150–$300 per square foot. While this may seem like a lot, it is often the case that renovating an existing space is still cheaper than building from the ground up.
Use our resources in order to help find funding for your next restaurant renovation:
- How to get a small business loan
- Best personal loans for business funding
- Guide to rollover for business startups (ROBS)
- How to get a business line of credit
- How to get a Small Business Administration (SBA) microloan
- How to raise angel funding
- How to crowdfund your small business
- Best small business grants
6. Be Hands-on Through the Process
It is integral that you are hands-on during the remodeling process. You know how you want the end job to look and feel more than anyone else. It is your responsibility to voice concerns, ask questions, give feedback, and fully understand the work taking place. At the end of the day, you are a customer paying for the service. Beyond that, the work done will give you a physical environment that you will have to use for days and years to come. So, being hands-on and intentional with the time spent during a remodel is key.
It can be tempting to let the work be done while you are on the side. A lot of renovation work may be new to you, and it can definitely be overwhelming to dive in. But being there day in and out, watching and educating yourself on the process, is vital to understanding the work being done. It also gives you the opportunity to interject, request a change, or dig deeper into decisions made by contractors when they are remodeling your restaurant. If you have colleagues who have done restaurant remodels before, then it would be a great idea to have them stop by and give their insight. The more insight and information on a remodel, the better.
7. Prioritize Must-have Fixes
Any fix that needs to happen to keep your restaurant operating should take priority. Maybe the electrical wiring to your walk-in is faulty. Or the doors on your lowboy refrigerators won’t stay fully shut. Maybe the hot water does not work in hand sinks, causing a health and food safety issue. All of this should be fixed first, as it is integral to how you operate your business and manage your staff’s ability to make great products. A general timeline and plan should be made before any remodel, and there are some areas that may take precedence. But having the necessary large-ticket items fixed first is always a great idea, as they are how you operate your business in a safe and efficient way.
8. Stay on Top of Trends
There are always new pieces of technology or new design styles to enter the restaurant space. One only needs to look at the meteoric rise of Chipotle and its “build-your-own” concept to see the lasting change that has had on so many restaurants. Being aware of design trends and what consumers are looking for is vital when doing your remodel. The worst mistake a restaurant can make when remodeling is making a change that feels outdated and stale. Your renovation is there to make the space better for all who use it, so keeping on top of trends is key.
Below are some of the top restaurant design trends for 2023:
- Artistic lighting and warm ambiance
- Open kitchens/visible cooking areas
- Outdoor dining spaces
- Walk-up windows
- Rooftop dining spaces
- Eco-friendly dining spaces/energy usage
- Spacious guest waiting areas
- “Instagram-focused” areas to dine in
- Plants and other vegetation
- Modern technology features
- Touch-free hygiene
- Mobile ordering and pickup
- Pickup designated drive-thru windows
- Accent walls
- Communal dining-style tables
- Featuring local artists
- Fully integrated point-of-sale (POS) and kitchen display systems (KDS)
9. Look Out for Your Staff
If your restaurant is down for a significant amount of time, your staff will also be out of work. If you are a larger restaurant group, you may have the option to fill in their shifts at other locations while the restaurant is down. Some restaurant owners may also have the funds to offer a stipend during this time. But even simple acts such as reaching out to other business owners to help set up temporary work while the restaurant is down can speak volumes to the people working for you.
While you may be losing out on funds from customers, staff members are losing out on their ability to make money and care for themselves and their loved ones. It is imperative that you do everything you can to assist with lessening the impact and burden a large remodel may have on your staff, especially if you want them back when the doors reopen.
Find more tips in our guide to restaurant management basics.
10. Let Customers Know You Are Back!
Finally, the remodel is done, and you are ready to reopen. Making an event out of your reopening is a great way to drum up business and excitement and also acts as a way to get more buzz and attention surrounding your restaurant. Do not set a date until you know for sure you are ready to be open again, as contract work can have delays more often than not. Use your social media channels to not only highlight that you are re-opening but also to show off the work done to make your restaurant better.
Maybe you are remodeling your kitchen space to have a sleek new look with better functionality. Showing off videos of food being made in the new space will show your dedication to the craft and making better food. Or highlight new features you may have installed, such as local art from artists in the area or better lighting. Showing off all of this on a grand re-opening night or weekend is the best way to get customers back through your doors. Be generous in inviting them back, and prove to them why the remodel and the time away were needed.
If you need more inspiration for your grand re-opening, check out our list of grand opening ideas for small businesses.
Common Mistakes to Avoid During a Remodel
Restaurant renovations are complex projects with a lot of moving parts. It can feel like you are juggling an impossible number of details. These are some key pitfalls that I commonly see during a restaurant build-out.
Not Defining Goals
Understanding why you are remodeling is key. It is our first tip, and it is also the biggest mistake operators make when remodeling. Going into a remodel without a plan or goals can be very impactful in a negative way to your business. You can lose money and customer trust and just hurt your business.
Not Getting Feedback From Staff
A remodel should create better working conditions for your staff. You do not want the end result of a remodel to hinder your production or lessen your employees’ safety and ability to cook great food. Talking to staff and getting feedback on what will make a remodel a success in their eyes is a great way to ensure the work, time, and money put into this next evolution is one that makes sense for the people cooking within the space.
Using Cheap Materials
You should not cut costs in your remodel when it comes to the materials you are building with. Investing in quality materials and building out a solid restaurant is one that will serve you for years to come. Cheap materials will break down easier and can even be a safety hazard, costing you more money and time and potentially a much sooner renovation. Spend money on the best materials you can afford to ensure the remodel works for you and lasts for a long time.
Not Using Reputable Contractors
Doing research on those who can help remodel your restaurant is a huge step in this process. Reach out to other restaurant owners in the area and get recommendations for contractors who are reputable and will do a quality job in your renovations. Hiring the wrong people can lead to devastating effects and poor quality, botching a remodel and costing you a lot of money in the process. Use contractors that offer a fair price and ones that have stellar reputations.
Not Thinking Through the Layout
If you are remodeling your kitchen space, ensuring the new layout makes sense is vital. Run it by your staff, other colleagues, and professionals you have hired in order to ensure it makes sense. For example, you do not want a prep station close next to a dishwasher that can spray food and other debris into your food, contaminating your work. In the dining room, offering an inviting dining area that speaks to your concept and delivers an excellent eating experience is also key. So ensuring you think through the layout the end result of the remodels, and speaking with designers in the food space is also key.
Learn more expert tips in our guide to designing a restaurant floor plan.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
These are some of the most common questions we get about restaurant remodeling. Expand the sections below.
Remodeling a restaurant, on average, can cost anywhere from $150–$300 per square foot, depending largely on the extent of the remodel, the materials used, and how much work needs to be done in the restaurant itself. Other factors include your area and, if any, extensive gutting and rebuilding of certain features of your business needs to be done. It is highly dependent on your overall needs, so consulting with a professional on costs and expected prices on the work you need done is recommended.
Sometimes, remodeling can be done for an entire business. Many other times, restaurant owners will target key spaces to remodel. Below is a list of the areas you should consider when planning a remodel:
- Restaurant equipment
- Reconstruction of restaurant foundation
- Furnishings and other material swaps
- Utility work (HVAC, gas, electric, etc.)
- Exhaust system
- Fire suppressant system
- Parking and access to the building
- Dining room
- Technology upgrades and updates
There can be many costs to a restaurant remodel. This largely depends on the size of the remodel, but below is a list of some of the major costs you can expect when remodeling a restaurant:
- Labor costs
- Material costs
- Permits costs
- Contractor costs
- Interior designer costs
- Cost of lost business during the remodel
A restaurant remodel can be a time to jump-start your business and evolve it into a greater next chapter. Remodels allow you to enhance both working conditions and dining conditions while fine-tuning your business’s offerings in the process. There is a lot that goes into a remodel, and many ways for it to go wrong or not live up to the cost you put in. Use the tips above in order to have a successful remodel that you can be proud of for years to come.