Precision Development Scheduling, Part 3

In this series of articles about a subject that I consider vitally important to getting anything done (and done well) as an architect we’ll discuss the creating of a schedule for the development of your project. For our purposes, we’ll be focusing on development for small and medium private sector projects using design-bid-build project delivery* in the good ol’ US of A. Your specific experiences may vary with other project types, methods of project delivery, places around the globe, and how insane your project team is but generally the issues we deal with as architects in driving development scheduling are the same.

*We’ll have a couple examples of other types of project delivery in here too, but mostly design-bid-build delivery.

“Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”

Mike Tyson

There’s a barricaded storefront in my neighborhood that I walk by regularly. It’s been this way for months now, maybe even a year. Most days there’s little activity there. Someday, it will become a restaurant, which I know because the local media told me so — it’s a big story in the restaurant scene here as this restaurant will be from a popular, award-winning local chef. When you do what I do for a living, it’s especially painful to see a project like this moving at a glacial pace. Hold this thought…

For those following the restaurant industry, there’s been no shortage of reporting on the seismic shifts happening to it, such as: delivery trends robbing in-store sales, waning interest in fine dining, surplus capital causing too many restaurants, rising labor costs, et cetera. A couple of recent articles go into a ton of detail with their own takes of why things are changing (or need to change) in the business of restaurants here and here. I point out these two in particular because they sum up very complex social behaviors and economic factors impacting small operators’ restaurants especially well.

I can’t help but think about how all of this impacts architects who design restaurants — how we can help. While there are plenty of things to talk about with adapting the design of the restaurants to changing times, my thoughts and reactions to all this change first went to something a bit more technical, the development path they take from concept to grand opening, and of course now that we’re in Part 3, I thought of Precision Development Scheduling!

Two Divergent Paths

The way that big restaurant chains develop their hundreds (or thousands) of restaurants and the way that individual restauranteurs (including the small franchisees of the big chains) develop their one or two restaurants have long been diametrically opposed. The large operators have a team of professionals carefully planning and analyzing real estate, design, and construction all while cross-referencing their findings with each other and, more importantly, their organization’s financial analysts to make sure every part of the development pencils nicely in the pro forma to yield the desired ROI and earnings. Schedules and budgets are met or heads roll. Conversely, small operators opening a single restaurant will find their own way, reluctantly hiring consultants only after they’ve determined that there’s no other way through the regulatory process and/or construction obstacle they’ve encountered, and they do so in a manner that definitely prioritizes saving money over saving time. Both paths eventually lead to a restaurant opening, and while I’m a strong advocate for the formal development process we covered in Part 2 and the value that architects in particular bring, I long ago stopped arguing with small operators about their approach. I appreciate the financial limitations of opening a first restaurant on your own, and when you have so much personal capital on the line you want to be in total control of everything — that drives the DIY ethos of the small operator. I get it. But still, it could be so much faster and cheaper overall, and I think it needs to be due to the changing times and the immense challenges that confront restauranteurs trying to make a viable business. Unfortunately, the restaurant boom of the last decade has made the small operators even more determined to “just figure it out” and manage their development themselves and I think it’s costing them.

A Precision Restaurant Development schedule brings two big things to a project that the meandering DIY approach doesn’t get you: speed and a lower overall spend on the project. Getting your restaurant open faster has all sorts of obvious benefits, and spending less before you open helps preserve capital at a time when you need it to float the operations of your new eatery when customers are just starting to discover your new joint. This type of development can also help avoid or at least reduce (for those instances when your landlord drives a hard bargain) paying rent on a space that’s costing you money as a construction site rather than earning you money as a restaurant, a dreaded phenomenon known as dead rent. Here’s an example — a tale of two projects really:

We can see that time and money are flying out the window as stress levels go through the roof, much as we discussed in Part 1. It’s a damn mess.

Here, Precision Development Scheduling caps both time and money and provides planning of the entire development process from the beginning — a process that can be easily replicated for one-off development projects as covered in Part 2. We’re on a gravy train with biscuit wheels!

A lack of momentum can be deadly to a new concept trying to get open, and small operators definitely get that every day they’re not open costs them money. It takes a better understanding of the benefits of Precision Development Scheduling to appreciate that you should spend up front when things are cheap to save big later when things are crazy expensive, that’s a massively under appreciated big picture. It’s nothing to spend a couple grand on researching regulatory requirements and conditions of the premises then translating that research into a critical path plan for getting open as quickly as possible compared to losing tens of thousands of dollars on a surprise halting of a job site full of laborers for days and getting stuck with shipments of construction materials you can no longer use but still have to pay for (these two in particular happen ALL the time, but all sorts of things foul up construction). We’re talking a four-digit spend to prevent a five- or six-digit catastrophe. Rely on a great architect that practices Precision Development Scheduling to help you sort out real budget and schedule contingencies up front before you get started. Bring an experienced architect with you when shopping for land or tenant spaces, they’re your mechanic to look under the hood before you buy that used car. The cost of a person overseeing the planning of your restaurant and using their experience of having been through the process hundreds of times to drive performance easily pays for itself. We won’t even go into the better design outcomes you get from the pros, that’s a whole other article!

Small operators (especially the chef-led ones) are a stubborn lot and may not (actually, they probably definitely for sure won’t) buy any of this, but I would be remiss I didn’t bring it up given the current changes happening to this, my beloved industry.

Now What?

We’ll wrap up our thoughts on Precision Development Scheduling in Part 4. I bet you can’t wait!

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