The Month in Buildings: October, November, December 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly occurring series, we look at pictures and drawings of buildings from the wonderful world of tumblr.

Gawd is in the deets…


Inverted cones…

Window wrappers…

Boolean unions…

Places to poop…

Atom smashers…

Being Steven Holl before Steven Holl…


The Month in Buildings: September, 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly occurring series, we look at pictures and drawings of buildings from the wonderful world of tumblr.


Rounding Corners…


Commitment to an Idea…

Hanging Out…

The Upside Down Approach to Restaurant Design

A little while ago I wrote this thread on Twitter about how chefs with a dream need to approach design and construction of their first restaurant (or one of their first few, for that matter). I was triggered by a story in the local news about yet another chef teaming up with a firm that has a long history of shaming chefs into spending more money than they should (or even have) on elaborate, crazy expensive designs with almost no project management to steer those designs to reality on schedule and on budget.

Now I’m triggered to expand on my Twitter thread by a tweet from Carl Quintanilla about restaurant chains gaining while independents are losing during this pandemic-induced recession. Not to digress (too much), but what it’s really about regardless of whether we’re talking chains or independents is places that serve amazing food (or even just so-so food) and make it effortless to get delivered or picked up curbside will kick ass right now, no matter if they’re big or small. For example, independent fine dining will suffer if they turn their nose up at this notion of delivery/takeout. Or big chain fast/casual will suffer if they don’t quickly pivot to a tightly integrated delivery experiences with phone apps and fast, reliable service. Almost everyone will suffer this winter, so we need to float restaurants during these months of shitty weather with bailouts too. Just give the people what they want…in a pandemic without any bullshit: restaurant food without the whole going into the restaurant part of it. Anyhoo…

…All of this adds to the pressure of a chef opening a one-off restaurant. Elsewhere, I’ve written about the disciplined approach to restaurant development that’s needed by independent operators, but my Twitter thread reflects what might be a better way of saying essentially the same thing. So let’s dig into the details of that now!

First Thing: The Space You’re Going Into Costs More Than Just the Rent

Setting aside the number one most important rule of real estate (location), the space you’re renting for your restaurant needs to be able to accommodate a restaurant. That’s potentially easier if it’s already been a restaurant in the past, even if the last tenant wasn’t a restaurant. I say potentially because it needs to have the infrastructure in place (presently or at a time in the past) specific to YOUR restaurant — and that infrastructure is driven by your menu, so your architect can help figure out what you’ll need based on what you’re serving. If you’re cooking at all, then like 99% of what fucks up your budget if you pick a space that doesn’t lend itself to restaurants is cooking exhaust — getting all the grease-laden smoke from cooking to the outside. This kind of exhaust is super expensive to design, construct, and maintain, so the shorter the duct going from the cooking appliances to the outside, the better off your budget will be. Spaces that don’t lend themselves to short, straightforward runs of grease exhaust duct get insanely expensive real quick. Another space-related money trap is who’s below your tenant space. If it’s anyone other than dirt and worms, it gets spendy to put in underfloor plumbing and make sure your very wet kitchen doesn’t leak into the neighbors below.

There’s all sorts of things about a space that can make it cheap and easy to build out or expensive and difficult. It’s not sexy, and it gets in the way when all you want to do is start putting your dreams “on paper” with your architect, but having your architect perform a thorough assessment of the premises is like having a mechanic look over a used car that you want to buy before you pull out your wallet. So do this before signing a lease if you can, that way you can talk the landlord down on rent or get other concessions based on what your architect discovers. The architect will also do a regulatory assessment to understand all the red tape that you’ll need to cut through to get this restaurant to the finish line — research that saves you a ton of time down the line when a contractor is engaged and the big bucks are getting spent on the job site. All of this research is the most important (if not glamorous) step in the entire development process. Do it!

Second Thing: Everything You Don’t Want to Talk/Think About is Most Important

More unsexy stuff: plumbing, HVAC, and electrical. Restaurants have gobs of this stuff (only hospitals have more and we all know how expensive they are). Almost your entire budget will be gobbled up by the guts of your restaurant. Cold, hard fact right there. This is another place where if you aren’t careful about how your restaurant gets laid out in the space you could screw your budget up before construction even starts. The most important money-saving moves you can make with expensive plumbing, HVAC, and electrical will be related to the initial design of the restaurant. Never let the contractor design this stuff for you, because not only does that disconnect expensive stuff from a design process that could save money, but very few contractors have the foresight to understand the consequences of their own on-site design decisions, which will have them coming back to you for more moolah after they’ve realized their design choices aren’t going to fit the budget and/or schedule. You always want these systems engineered up front while the restaurant is being designed by your architect. That’s smart spending.

None of this has anything to do with finishes or layout function. An experienced restaurant architect will be able to juggle all the expensive guts while considering finishes and layout function in a way that preserves your budget by planning in great detail up front while things are cheap to do “on paper” so to speak, rather than figuring it out on the fly while you have a dozen or more laborers on site charging you thousands per day even when they have to sit around waiting for a decision to be made. This leads us to the next thing…

Third Thing: Applying Detailed Planning and Thought to Bare Minimum Documentation

Just like everything else, you need to be smart with how you spend your money on architecture and engineering services. We’ve discussed having your architect perform thorough assessments of the premises and regulatory conditions, and this is where you want to concentrate your professional services dollars because these services are all about uncovering as many of the potential money pits and schedule bombs as possible up front so that the rest of the project can be delivered with these hazards in mind and without excuses later on that blow up budget and/or schedule.

But you still need some documentation to go and get a permit and health department plan approval. This is where your architect can develop a bare minimum set of drawings to get you through these pre-construction entitlements. All of the important knowledge gained from the assessments can inform a simple, spartan architectural floor plan, reflected ceiling plan, and room finish schedule. The engineers will add a plumbing plan, HVAC plan, and a power and lighting plan with necessary schedules. That room finish schedule and reflected ceiling plan will include bare minimum finishes for the kitchen and restrooms to appease the health department, with all other finishes to be determined later. Spatially, the architect can still layout an interesting front-of-house in anticipation of finishes. Light fixtures can also be placed based on some desired level of illumination and then left to be specified later. Basically, the last thing that will happen on your restaurant project from a design perspective will be selection of finishes, furniture, and light fixtures because we’ll back into what you can afford for those things after two big milestones: 1.) signing a contract with a GC; and 2.) getting through the rough-in stage of construction. Getting through framing and utility rough-ins is a critical stage of restaurant construction because if there are any more unpleasant surprises to be uncovered once construction starts, they’ll likely all of been found (and more importantly, paid for) by this time. Then, and only then, do you have a sense of what kind of money you’ll have left over for all the fun stuff you envisioned when you first had the idea to open your own restaurant.

A quick note on what happens in between finishing those bare minimum construction documents and starting construction. You’ll go and secure your permits and approvals yourself and you’ll do that feeling well-informed thanks to that regulatory assessment your architect did a while back. At the same time the permitting is happening you’ll want to bid out your project to GCs. Talk to your architect about the pros and cons of having them involved in your bidding process. It all depends on your comfort level and willingness to not bend on the contract after your GC is underway with construction. Sometimes it’s best to have your architect go over bids with a fine tooth comb and make sure there are no omissions or other surprises while also qualifying the GCs. Other times, it’s better to have the owner play “dumb but firm” and if a GC comes back after contract execution saying they didn’t include something that owner can force their hand — it all depends on who you are and how willing you are to be firm.

Fourth Thing: Everything Else That Wasn’t Important Earlier in the Development Process

What the bare minimum construction documentation does is embed all the intelligence gained from detailed research into a quick and cheap set of documentation that can be quickly permitted and built. In a worst case scenario, you use up your entire budget just getting to the point in development of having a built out space with a raw dining room, but you’ll have an operating restaurant — even if you have to start delivery only or fill the dining room with card tables and folding chairs sitting on bare concrete like a garage, this joint will be up and running and able to generate revenue — let your great food and hospitality speak for itself.

But it’s more likely you’ll have a little bit to spend on finishes and furnishings. In exchange for a meal or three at your new joint, your architect would be happy to steer you towards selections that are appropriate to whatever’s left of your budget and schedule at this point. The best part is that this is all stuff you can likely order direct and even install yourself if you have to in order to save time and money. Because your architect planned everything so carefully up to this point, you’ll get good results with their guidance to get you over the finish line too.

In Conclusion: Don’t Fall for the Trap

The trap is anyone: architect, contractor, investor, whoever — that focuses you on the daydreamy part of your restaurant (think: sexy dining rooms with stainless- and copper-clad exhibition cooking lines roaring away in the background) rather than the harsh reality that this shit is expensive; and no, we’re not talking about the contract quality imported furniture (though that’s expensive too). The most important thing when you’re starting out is to get open fast so you can get cooking so you can get revenue so you can stay open. Don’t screw up the opportunity before you serve that first meal because of poor choices in the development process. Let an experienced restaurant architect help you avoid the pitfalls.

Everything in the process outlined here can be done quickly and inexpensively. Remember: the less you have to spend, the more carefully you have to consider and plan out each design decision up front.

The Month in Buildings: August, 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly occurring series, we look at pictures and drawings of buildings from the wonderful world of tumblr.


When DoD projects become art…

Mechanical engineer goals…

Same energy as Spruce Tree Centre (St. Paul reference)…




Wisdom From the Restroom

I want to take a moment to address the small, humble single-occupant public restroom. Two of these “single-holers” as they are lovingly referred to out on the job site are standard fare for smaller spaces with low occupant loads like offices, retail shops, and restaurants. Architects who regularly design these kinds of small uses are quite adept at making their single-occupant restrooms spatially efficient while making sure they still comply with accessibility codes (especially the clear space requirements within those accessibility codes). You’ll still get the occasional client bemoaning “all that space” in those restrooms and how it costs them space elsewhere. You’ll still reassure them it’s as tight as it can be in there, and you might even demonstrate that by showing the clear space requirements of the accessibility codes as dashed lines or shaded polygons. We’re thirty years into the ADA’s Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and this kind of universal design is just something we do now, it’s the default. That’s a beautiful thing.

The reason that ADAAG in particular has largely been a success in altering our built world is that building codes have adopted the ADAAG either verbatim, through incorporation of adopted standards referenced by it, or by using it as the takeoff point for their own accessibility guidelines that meet/exceed those of ADAAG. When law makes its way into building codes it becomes something easily enforced by building officials in their plan reviews and subsequent inspections. Building codes also directly drive architectural knowledge and practice, so whatever’s in them becomes integrated into architectural design. Even the tradespeople building these “single-holers” tend to memorize some of the basic accessibility requirements when they start showing up in inspection reports.

It’s a welcome change that we’re starting to recognize the shortcomings of having gender-based restrooms. The low-hanging fruit of positive change in this area of design is the single-occupant restroom. Why the hell do we even separate these kinds of facilities into men’s and women’s anyway? What difference does it make? If anything, it’s less convenient every time one of these restrooms is occupied and you’re doing the bulging bladder boogie, but the available one doesn’t match your gender or identity. Lots of building operators are already doing away with gender-based single-occupant restrooms, which is great, it’s the start of a movement. But to make it universal like we did with accessible design, we do need legislation to push forward a common sense change that actually benefits everybody, but also makes a positive difference in the lives of people who identify outside of the gender binary.

This brings me back to that whole integration thing between the law and building codes. I’ve now seen multiple instances of well-meaning municipalities pushing through gender neutral single-occupant restroom ordinances, but not updating their building codes to reflect that. A gender-neutral restroom policy will be in the municipal code alongside stuff like licensing requirements for barbers, noise ordinances, and garbage collection rules instead of being in the building code. It probably needs to be in both places, so that existing businesses retroactively comply too. But as it’s set up, many (most?) architects, especially those who aren’t based in the municipality, but get hired to do work there, will miss it. This leaves enforcement in the hands of citizens instead of plan reviewers and inspectors. Major fail.

Push your local lawmakers to get a gender-neutral single-occupant restroom ordinance on the books AND update the building code accordingly. OR, if your jurisdiction already has such an ordinance, make sure it makes the jump into the building code too. AND, just start defaulting to making those two single-occupant restrooms gender neutral in your room schedules from now on. Thanks, I’m stepping down from the soap box now.

The Month in Buildings: July, 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly (and sometimes late) occurring series, I bring you the best of architecture pics and drawings from the wonderful world of tumblr.

You don’t see a lot of seafoam green these days…


Lots of gray things…

Lonely and Abandoned Places…

Red Room…

Fun with Design Budget Austerity

Here’s the design challenge: You’ll use the exact same palette of building materials that everyone else working on a design in this particular building typology is using. Your only variables are the color/pattern selections you make for these materials and the way you work with the materials in the space.

The building type is a restaurant, and this challenge explains why so many restaurant concepts in the fast food and fast casual market segments look similar (if not identical). It’s primarily driven by money (shocking, I know), because no matter where a given restaurant chain is at relative to their average unit volume (AUV, or revenue generated per location on an annual basis), the calculus used to determine the amount of money to invest in a new location essentially backs the design and construction teams into a budget number that’s identical to the number reached by every other concept with the same AUV. That AUV is the determining factor of the investment amount. From there, you get a lot of follow-the-leader in terms of design cues, which exacerbates the sameness of it all, so do try to avoid the cliches with your design proposal…if you can.

I find it a welcome challenge to work within these confines and sometimes wonder what architects and firms accustomed to much larger budgets would do with these kinds of constraints.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the material palettes relative to AUV so you can think about how you’d use them for our challenge — remember, everything is a design opportunity…

Note: Though everything I’ve discussed thus far affects exteriors too, we’ll focus on interiors for this exercise. I’m excluding the kitchen and restrooms to really zero in on the dining rooms. Also excluded are construction methods to help us focus on finishes. Know that these exclusions do vary by AUV too, and I may cover them in another article.

💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $700K

  • Flooring = Vinyl (sheet, tile, and/or plank) or Quarry Tile
  • Wall Base = Vinyl or Quarry Tile
  • Walls = Paint
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting made from Plastic Paneling or Vinyl Wall Covering
  • Ceiling = Lay-in Gypsum Acoustical Ceiling Panel in Steel “T” Grid, up to 20% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $2.50/square-foot

💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $1M

all finishes from $700K range available plus…

  • Flooring = Polished Concrete, Porcelain Tile, Epoxy
  • Wall Base = Metal, Porcelain Tile, Wood
  • Walls = Wood Planks or Ceramic Tile
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting from Metal, Wood, Porcelain Tile
  • Ceiling = Exposed Structure, Architectural Lay-In Ceiling Panels in Atypical Sizes with Steel Reveal Grid, up to 50% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $5.50/square-foot

💰💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $2M

Who cares! It’s so luxurious that it’s not a challenge to be different and cool.

The Labor Factor

No matter what the budget, labor is of course a major factor to be considered by the designer. There’s often a desire to express these limited material palettes in unconventional ways as a means of differentiating a design; but that too is limited, particularly at the lowest budget tier where labor is the driving force behind the selection of particular materials. So keeping the installations inline with industry standards is key. Sorry.

Global Economic Forces Will Screw Up Everything

Stuff like labor disputes, natural disasters, global pandemics (ahem), recessions, trade disputes, and corporate bankruptcies can screw up supply chains for all projects, but wreak a unique havoc on chains as they look to maintain consistency of cost, lead time, and appearance. So designing a backup plan for your look is mandatory in this challenge, since you can guarantee you’ll have to alter something in your material palette as soon as you debut your masterpiece. These are the forces that further limit the available materials too, so even if you find a unique material not listed here that fits the price point, it has to be widely available with reasonable lead times from a stable supplier with a good reputation since you’ll be going back to them over and over for more orders over time.

You’ve Got the Kit, Design Your Space

We’ll skip them for the purposes of this challenge, but there’s even more variables that can impact these budgets. For example, the amount a concept chooses to spend on equipment, food, and labor can take a restaurant with a higher AUV and shift its budget for building materials into one from a lower AUV (or vise versa). Another variable is material quantities — commit to a big enough order and expensive materials suddenly get more affordable. I tried my best to be very middle-of-the-road here. So go forth and see if you’ve got what it takes to stand out despite the constraints. Tough challenge, right?

Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at how Smartsheet can serve as a tool to help organize and disseminate design criteria for companies doing rollout development of their concept. We discussed how vitally important it is for the design criteria being referenced by external consultants like architects and engineers to be current and accurate.

In Part 2 we’ll cover how to build a pipeline of current and accurate design criteria between Smartsheet and the BIM authoring tool used by the architects and engineers. This pipeline of information is the automated magic that makes this workflow superior to everything that came before.

You’ll recall from Part 1 that we loaded up sheets with specifications in a schedule format where each row represented an individual fixture, furnishing, or piece of equipment. BIM content corresponding to each row was attached to that row. Smartsheet’s push notifications let external consultants and vendors know that changes have been made and are ready for download and export. With this functionality in mind, we’ll establish the information pipeline to the BIM. In the example of this workflow, we’ll use the architect as the external consultant and Archicad as the BIM authoring tool, but the workflow is essentially the same for other consultants and other BIM authoring tools.

The Workflow

Step 1: Notifications & Downloads

Once the organization makes changes (including additions and/or deletions) on a given schedule sheet, the architect receives an email notification highlighting the change from Smartsheet. The architect then opens the sheet and goes to the changes (if desired, the company can even have Smartsheet highlight the changed cells in the sheet itself for ease of identification) to download the new BIM content if applicable. If the change is to the specifications, the architect exports an XLS file of the schedule from Smartsheet as well.

In this example, we see a simple schedule entry with an Archicad Object attachment to download
Next, we can export the Smartsheet schedule to an XLS file, now we have model geometry and scheduling data for our Archicad PLN

Step 2: Updating the BIM with Changed BIM Content

The architect will add the BIM content to the library for their BIM, retiring old content if applicable. The updated library is reloaded and the new content gets verified in the BIM, including aligning the new content’s ID and classification with the corresponding schedule in the BIM. Next, the architect can then begin updating the scheduled specifications for this new BIM content.

Here, the architect brings the new Object into their PLN file and prepares it for receiving scheduling data automatically

Step 3: Updating the BIM with Changed Specifications

The architect imports the data from XLS file from Smartsheet into the BIM to update the properties of the BIM content with the changed scheduling information. Schedules in the BIM then automatically update with the changes, with no manual data entry required

This image shows the XLS file’s data being imported by Archicad to automatically update the corresponding Object and schedule in the BIM
Here’s the schedule in Archicad, all matched up with the original from Smartsheet and ready for CDs

This workflow is the same whether the architect is updating their template or a live project. The three step process can be completed in just a few minutes as well.

Another great feature of this workflow is that the company can allow the vendors who provide the stuff in the Smartsheet schedules to update those schedules and their attachments directly which effectively extends the information pipeline from the architect directly to the source of the information, further reducing opportunities for errors and omissions.

All Done!

Let’s be brutally honest here, no one likes doing prototypical updates — it’s boring af — so the more of it that we can leave to technology like we see in this workflow, the better off we all are. Having it be more accurate and timely is an added bonus. Distribution of a chain company’s design criteria is just one use of this workflow, so I’m hopeful that as more jump on board with it, we can begin leveraging Smartsheet APIs to have the workflow be even more automated than what’s shown here — like a plug-in for the BIM authoring tool that grabs all the content and data straight from Smartsheet. Bring it on!

Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 1

For companies doing rollout development of their concepts, a big part of making sure buildings and spaces get designed right is making sure all of their external consultants are working off the latest and greatest design criteria. Having been on both sides of this important knowledge transfer, I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than ever to do this well thanks to technology.

I love this topic. It’s all about implementation. You can have the coolest design with the best content for your architects and engineers, but if you can’t organize all that information in a way that makes it easy for those outside of your organization to use, you lost.

To make sure we don’t take an L, we’re leveraging information-driven design workflows to take the design criteria for a concept from the organization’s design department out to their consulting architects and engineers. The heart of this workflow will be Smartsheet, a web-based database centered around powerful interactive spreadsheets.

Step 1: Organize the Content into Schedules

The first step is for the company doing the rollout development to organize their BIM content (Families, Objects, whatever you want to call them) into categories related to how that content would be scheduled in construction documents. Depending on the content, you’ll want to organize it by vendor, procurement or installation responsibilities, purpose, or something else. This exercise should allow you to identify common scheduling characteristics (manufacturer, model, finish, utility connection types, etc.) which will become the columns of the schedule chart. The rows of the schedule chart will be each individual piece of content. Now you’ll know how many schedules you need, what’s in each schedule, and how each schedule charts out its information.

Step 2: Build the Schedules

Next, we’ll begin building the schedules from Step 1 in Smartsheet. Each schedule will be its own sheet. The sheets can be organized within Smartsheet into folders which will come in handy for assigning access privileges later on. First, set up columns based on the scheduling characteristics determined in Step 1 then begin adding each piece of content in the rows.

Your vendors can help populate these schedules accurately with current information if you want to give them access to the sheets. This is key to making all of the information accurate, especially once everything is up and running as we’ll see later on.

The individual files for the BIM content as well as any product data get attached to the row in the schedule to which they belong. Smartsheet has version tracking so if the BIM content needs to be updated later on just upload a new file with the same filename to preserve history. This version tracking also applies to the contents of the cells in the schedule. Having a history to look back on is super helpful to both the organization and the external consultants once everything has been up and running for a while.

A completed schedule might look something like this…

This is what schedules look like in Smartsheet

Step 3: Grant Access

Once completed and populated with the initial content, each schedule will also leverage Smartsheet’s push notifications. You’ll set up the sheets to push notify everyone who needs to be made aware each time there’s a change made. Those people will get automated emails from Smartsheet highlighting the changes so they can take action and update their BIMs, and in turn the documentation created from those BIMs.

To make notifications work, you’ll first step up all of the users who need access to the sheets of schedules and BIM content. These are your external consultants and vendors. People can have read and/or write access to the sheets depending on who they are and what their needs may be. You can further organize users into groups based on their companies and/or level of access to make it easier to assign people and update them later on as people come and go from these external companies. As you set up users, Smartsheet pushes out email invitations to get set up in your company’s Smartsheet workspace.

Step 4: Set Up Sheets for Other Design Criteria

Smartsheet is useful for other types of design criteria that aren’t necessarily schedule-based. For example, prototypical details for construction documents can be disseminated through sheets with version-tracking and push notifications as well. Here’s an example of that…

You can organize prototypical detail content in Smartsheet too

Another type sheet you can make is instructional, where you explain to external consultants how to handle the design criteria. Here’s an example of an instructional sheet explaining distribution of deliverables created from the design criteria. Again, push notifications allow people to be made aware of changes in an automated fashion.

Using Smartsheet to explain distribution requirements for design deliverables

These non-schedule sheets won’t interact with the consultants’ BIM authoring tools in the ways we’ll cover in Part 2, but they are still a great way to leverage technology to distribute design criteria.

End Users Download & Create

With everything up and running in Smartsheet, your external consultants can visit the sheets to begin downloading BIM content, product data, and exporting sheets. In Part 2, we’ll look at how these downloads and exports from Smartsheet drive information in the BIM and eliminate the coordination headaches common to every other method of distributing design criteria.

The Restaurant Dining Room Design Dilemma – Part 2

In Part 1 I explained why I think using restaurant dining rooms for their intended purpose during a pandemic is a bad idea. For restaurant operators stuck without a dining room full of customers, making up for all of that lost revenue is an unbelievably tough challenge. Some restaurants just won’t be able to find an alternate revenue stream. Others will eke out a meager existence on reduced revenues from take-out and delivery.

The idea we’ll look at today requires an investment of capital up front to make it a reality, and I know that’s not going to be a good fit for every operator out there, but for those with access to capital, or who can team up with others in the business to pull together funding on a partnership, this might be worth considering.

💡I’ve Got an Idea…

Food kiosks of the kind you find at malls, airports, and campuses make a good hack for our purposes here because they’re like tiny kitchens for churning out food and/or beverages. Sometimes the items being served are prepared in a commissary and shipped to the kiosk to be finished and served, while other times very simple meals can be prepared entirely within the kiosk. Kiosks are designed to be safe and sanitary food prep areas that drop into larger spaces which may or may not have been originally intended to be safe and sanitary food prep spaces.

I think an emptied out dining room makes a great host for one or more food kiosks. The alterations needed for the kiosk can be done while the existing kitchen is still up and running. These kiosks can expand an existing menu or take off in entirely new directions with different cuisines and offerings for customers. The kiosks could be rented out to chefs for doing pop-up take-out or delivery shops, or even act as in-house ghost kitchens for delivery concepts that exist only online (and only during the pandemic). For spaces that can accommodate more than one kiosk, there’s even the possibility of dressing up the kiosks with branding and creating miniature food halls where customers could schedule a visit (to control distancing) and peruse the different offerings at each kiosk. The restaurant’s existing kitchen keeps pumping out food too, or it could shift to act as a commissary for the kiosk(s).

The existing kitchen can also handle ware washing for the kiosk(s), or, depending on the food and/or beverage that the kiosks would be churning out, act as additional storage space.

I think that the dining room offers an opportunity to provide storage space too with rolling shelving units and refrigerator units. If the local health officials require it, a smaller, empty kiosk could be provided to house the added storage and provide sanitary surrounding surfaces for the stored goods.

Keeping it Cheap

Obviously, this needs to be quick and cheap to ROI for a restaurant that’s lost some/all of its revenue. As discussed in Part 1, we should be looking at a minimum of two years in this setup. Here’s how I see it working on the cheap:

  • Plan, Plan, Plan: The less money you have to spend, the more carefully you must plan. The restauranteur and architect get together to map out what fits in the dining room and what kinds of food and beverage that would support. This planning informs the scope of work for the dining room (what needs to be moved, changed, etc.). Placement of the kiosk(s) in the dining room has significant impact on their final cost (see utilities section below). Also, everything that goes into this effort needs to be able to fit through the front door, so no large equipment or parts either.
  • Get Your AHJ to Work with You: This is the one time in recent history that building and health officials are going to be extra flexible and understanding, which is a great incentive to meet with them early and often about your kiosk ideas and use their flexibility to make these temporary arrangements an affordable reality for your restaurant.
  • (Very) Selective Demolition: It’s time to pull crap out of the dining room so we can start making it into a revenue generator.
    • Freestanding furniture is easy, just move it out. It can come back when the pandemic is over.
    • Fixed furniture and low walls can be removed by a finish carpenter or even a GC’s laborer quick and easy. It took can go right back where it was after all this is done.
    • Hanging light fixtures can be taken down with their wiring capped so that they can go back up when the dining room is a dining room again.
  • Do You Want a Pickup Window? These can be a good way to make pickup easy for the general public and the delivery services. It also helps reduce the number of people in your space, which can reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Restaurants with storefront systems can easily modify an existing pane with an operable window for not too much moolah. If the restaurant has a vestibule, that could be repurposed during business hours as a sort of pickup window too. A third option is to tack on a temporary vestibule of aluminum and canvas outside of the front door and handle pickups there.
  • Get Utilities Ready: Part of planning your kiosk concept needs to be keeping its equipment lineup as simple as possible. Not only does this save money on the cost of the equipment, but it saves on modifying your existing utilities (water, sewer, natural gas, electricity, and telecom). Keep the focus on small, countertop appliances that run on 120V electricity if you can.
    • Electricity is quick and easy to extend into the dining room overhead (you may even be able to use an abandoned light fixture’s junction box in some cases.
    • The most challenging part for the utilities is going to be hand sink coverage for your kiosk(s). In some layouts, it may be possible to share a nearby hand sink with the existing kitchen. But when you have to add one, be smart about placement (this alone should drive placement of the kiosk to help save money). Water can be brought in overhead easily. The sewer will likely need to be trenched in the floor (unless there’s a floor below the restaurant) from a nearby sewer line to the kiosk — this is why it’s important to place the kiosk in the dining room based on proximity to the existing sewer line. Patching floor finishes (tile, carpet, etc.) can be dealt with now if budget permits or later when the dining room goes back to normal.
  • Bring in the Kiosk(s): Depending on where you are in the country, it may be cheaper to build the kiosk on site or it may cost less to have it prefabricated in a millwork shop and then brought onto the site, so investigate early in your planning for the cheapest option. Another consideration is whether it’s cheaper for the kiosk to have its own ceiling supported by posts in the kiosk walls or to suspend a ceiling over it from the existing dining room’s ceiling. The kiosk will need its own floor, which can be simple plywood decking with foodservice-grade sheet vinyl flooring adhered to the top. If you brace the kiosk’s side walls properly, you’ll need minimal anchorage into the existing floor. If you’re not going the food hall route mentioned above, the kiosk construction can be really simple and cheap, it doesn’t have to be anything pretty, this is about adding foodservice preparation areas to expand menu offerings.

There’s my two cents on rejiggering restaurant dining rooms during the pandemic. If people are interested, I’ll model this solution in a mocked up dining room so we can visualize the madness.