Top 10 Preliminary Factors For Restaurant Design

Restaurant design provides opportunities to welcome, inspire, and engage guests and create high-performance culinary work spaces for owners and staff.  In addition to aesthetics, restaurant design involves many design and cost considerations which will impact decisions from the earliest project stages. Planning for these unique elements up front can streamline the design and construction process, and help architects to deliver the best possible design for their clients. Whether designing an intimate café or expansive cafeteria, the architect should consider these ten critical factors at the front end of design.

  1. Impact Fee: Typically, a jurisdiction’s Water & Sewer Department will assess a one-time, up-front charge commonly referred to as an “impact fee.” When a space changes occupancy or use, the City assesses the water usage in ERU’s (Equivalent Residential Units) and charges an impact fee related to the anticipated water use of the new occupancy. The architect should advise the client to budget for this expense, which can be as much as $50K in some instances. Site selection is key for this consideration, as an existing space that was previously used as a restaurant will result in a much lower impact fee.
  2. Grease Interceptor: All commercial kitchen and bar sink wastewater and floor drains must be directed through a grease interceptor (GI). The GI can be gravity or hydromechanical and is sized based on volume of water (i.e., the capacity of the sinks connected to it). The plumbing engineer will calculate the required GI size; however, the architect should be aware of the size, type and location for coordination with the plans. Often, the renovation of an existing restaurant involves replacing an undersized GI or installing a new one. The GI will need to be serviced monthly and needs to remain accessible. Often GIs are located in the floor of the kitchen or outside if possible (gravity GIs are large concrete vaults that require a lot of space.) Grease-laden waste lines require a fall to the line to prevent grease from accumulating; therefore, whenever possible the GI should be located proximate to the equipment and drains it is serving.
  3. Health Department: Regulations vary by jurisdiction, but typically Health Department approval requires a separate application mostly completed by the client/ operator, which includes plans and a completed questionnaire regarding specifics of operations. Architectural considerations for this approval include readily washable wall and ceiling finishes, cove bases, indirect plumbing connections, proximity of hand sinks, splash guards at hand sinks, separation of mop sinks from clean dish areas, and no toilet rooms located directly off of a food prep area. If the project is complicated, it may be worth hiring a specialized consultant to facilitate the approval.
  4. Exhaust Hood: All cooking equipment is required to be located under an exhaust hood, with a minimum of 6” overlap at each end. The hood removes and discharges grease-laden air to the exterior. The ideal path for the exhaust duct is straight up, with limited distance (an in-line fan can be used where necessary.) Bends in the duct should be avoided, as cleanouts are required at each bend. Typically, the exhaust discharge must be located a minimum distance (10’) from any property line. In low-ceiling applications, a special low-profile hood can be used in lieu of a standard hood. Depending on the type of dishwashing machine used, a steam-capture hood may be required at the dish area as well.
  5. Types of Refrigeration: The most desirable type of refrigeration is a walk-in cooler and freezer. The client may have preferences for a combined unit (i.e., walk through the cooler to get to the freezer), or separate units, and may even want separate units for produce, meat, or beer. The International Building Code does not exempt walk-in coolers from the minimum 32” clear door requirement, although walk-in doors come in standard sizes that are much smaller (for smaller/ narrower cooler configurations where space is limited). The architect should specify a 36” door where possible, or confirm with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) that a smaller door is acceptable. Walk-ins also may be 5- or 6-sided and may or may not include a ramped floor, which is also sometimes a client preference. Some clients prefer to continue the kitchen flooring material directly into the walk-in. Where walk-ins are not practicable due to ceiling height or other space limitations, traditional reach-in refrigeration can be an acceptable substitution.
  6. Draft Beer: While on the subject of walk-ins… if a restaurant plans to serve draft beer, it is important to find out whether the owner intends to use kegs remotely located in a walk-in cooler, or use a direct-draw kegerator, which houses the kegs inside of an under-counter bar refrigerator. If a walk-in is used, consider the distance the beer lines need to travel to reach the dispensers, and the size of the lines if a variety of different beers will be offered. If the distance is a concern, a glycol system may be required to keep the beer cold on its travel. Where possible, a keg cooler can be located directly next to the bar with the draft beer dispensing directly through the wall.
  7. ADA Bar Counter: While accessibility must always be a design consideration, it is easy to overlook incorporating accessible counter space at a bar. The architect should make accessible provisions for either a service counter or dining surface, depending on the interpretation of the AHJ. Either a forward or a parallel approach can be provided. For a forward approach, both knee and toe space will be required, which can be tricky to integrate into a bar design. One successful approach our office has designed is to lower an entire section of the bar, rather than just at the required 1-2 spaces, to create visual interest and make the experience more inclusive. Please note that typical bar equipment, however, will not fit under a lowered counter.
  8. Working Space Behind Bar and Hot Line: Typical bar design includes a front counter for patrons and a back bar for under-counter refrigeration, draft beer, liquor display, etc. The architect must allocate sufficient space behind the bar to accommodate the bartenders, depending on how many will be working, but too much space can be inefficient and require the bartender to take too many steps to complete a task. Take into consideration the equipment depth, as equipment typically protrudes beyond the edge of the front counter due to the knee space provided for the patrons. Back bar equipment is available in standard depth (30”) or back-bar depth (24”), depending on preference. As a rule of thumb, bartenders should be allocated around 4’-0” working space between equipment. This rule of thumb also applies to the kitchen hot line. 4’-0” to 4’-6” should be adequate working space between the back cooking equipment and the front expediting equipment, taking into consideration that the cooking equipment will likely be 8” or more from the back wall for gas connections, etc.
  9. Server Traffic Flow: The Front of House (FOH) space includes all public areas such as the entrance, dining areas, bar, and toilets while the Back of House (BOH) includes staff-only areas such as the kitchen, dishwashing area, and office. For the restaurant layout, server circulation is a key consideration and the design should minimize cross-traffic between servers and patrons or between servers and kitchen staff. Are the toilets located in an area that the servers are crossing to and from the kitchen? Is the dish drop near the entrance to the kitchen for easy drop-off, or does the server have to traverse the kitchen to reach the drop? Where are the servers picking up drinks from the bar? Where are the servers making sodas, teas, etc.? Efficient server traffic might have the servers enter the kitchen through an “in” door, drop off dishes, wash hands, then pick up food to deliver and exit the kitchen through an “out” door.
  10. Types of Seating: “Can we have a booth?” We all have seating preferences when it comes to eating out. Offering different types of seating helps maximize the available space and create a dynamic interior environment. Banquette seating offers maximum flexibility, with the ability to accommodate a 2-top as easily as an 8-top just by pushing tables together, as well as accommodating ADA requirements. Loose tables can also offer that flexibility; however, too many loose tables can lose their place as they get pushed together and pulled apart. Booths are an excellent use of space when aisle clearances are limited, keeping in mind that code requires 19” clearance for any chair at a table, plus the required aisle width for egress.

Each of these elements will impact the design and construction process and, ultimately, the function of the restaurant. Carefully considering these key restaurant design factors from the earliest stages of conceptual design will help eliminate costly surprises, minimize unforeseen issues during construction, and guide the architect in delivering a thoughtfully designed

About Brenda

Architect and Project Manager Brenda K. Pearson, AIA, LEED AP, brings over 10 years of design expertise to LS3P’s Savannah office. Brenda’s extensive experience in restaurant and hospitality projects is visible throughout the city. Her in-depth knowledge and meticulous attention to detail throughout the design process are an invaluable asset to her project teams. From overseeing project progression to coordinating information, preparing construction documents, and navigating code reviews, Brenda delivers consistent results for successful projects and satisfied clients.

With a diverse skill set and varied interests, Brenda earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the College of Charleston, and a Master of Architecture from Savannah College of Art & Design. She was recognized as an LS3P Associate in 2017.