Restaurant Development & Design

FALL 2014

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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F A L L 2 0 1 4 • R E S T A U R A N T D E V E L O P M E N T + D E S I G N • 3 3 T o achieve a distinctive look for the new Freehouse restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, Blue Plate Restaurant Co. and its design frm, Gensler, didn't forget to look up. When patrons in the bar area of the operation's third-foor Volstead Lounge tilt their heads up, their gazes land on 50 beer keg tops affxed to the ceiling. Located in a historic former food production building, the restaurant features an industrial interior design theme that is patterned after a brewery. Design elements on each foor of the three-story eatery and lounge represent stages of the brewing process: ingredient storage, production and distribution. The ceiling's keg tops, some of which envelop light fxtures, speak to the third stage. While customers are unlikely to forget this unique ceiling treatment, such distinctive ceilings are the exception in the restaurant business. Often an afterthought, ceilings usually don't get the design respect they deserve. While not as consequential to patrons' experiences as other elements, such as chairs, tables and wall decor, ceilings nevertheless warrant serious consideration. They help set the tone aesthetically, strongly infuence acoustic ambi- ance, provide most of the lighting and can be the setting for one-of-a-kind decorative fourishes. Many factors infuence overhead design and material choic- es, including ceiling height, sound absorption/refectivity quali- ties, color, code considerations, sustainability, maintainability, lighting, overall interior design and, of course, cost. Architects balance all of these elements when designing the "ffth wall." "Aside from the foor, the ceiling is the largest surface area," says Glen Coben, president of Glen & Co. Architecture in New York. "It provides a large canvas to work on and is an amaz- ing opportunity to surprise, delight and wow guests." Height: A Key Infuencer Ceiling height helps determine design elements of the entire space and, especially, of the ceiling itself. A high ceiling can make a small space seem bigger and a big space seem enor- mous. "Some restaurateurs think the taller, the better," says Jim Lencioni, president of Aria Group Architects in Oak Park, Ill. High ceilings tend to make for a lively atmosphere, he says. Diners may start to feel uncomfortable once ceilings surpass about 24 feet, however, as the space then begins to resemble a church or mall, Lencioni notes. A lower ceiling fosters a more intimate atmosphere. Below a tall, open space, a section of drop ceiling or a foating cloud ele- ment can provide intimacy and help to organize space. "Over a bar area, people like to feel enclosed," Lencioni says, which makes a lowered ceiling a common design choice for these areas. Aria used a drop-ceiling treatment with embedded light fxtures over a section of booths at Nando's in Waugh Chapel, Md. The ceiling material, a "knotted hemp" wallcovering, and the walls, covered in frieze-textured plaster, in this part of the space do not appear in other parts of the restaurant. That's by design, as it helps distinguish the booth seating from the rest of the interior and convey a more secluded, romantic mood. Though many chains keep ceiling designs simple, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers is one brand that devotes considerable attention to the view above. The chain caters to three distinct demographic groups: families with small children, teenagers, and adults without kids. Each restaurant has distinct areas earmarked for each group. "Our ceilings are typically higher than those of our com- petitors," says Jason Rusk, Red Robin's vice president of brand transformation. Varying ceiling heights with drop ceilings and the use of distinctive decorative elements help distinguish the three areas from each other. The chain recently rolled out a new interi- or design concept at a few locations in the Norfolk, Va., area that uses more drop ceilings to delineate spaces and absorb sounds, which can be essential under high, open ceilings that readily reverberate noise. Acoustics: Can You Hear Me Now? In a media landscape where bloggers and social media sites have a large infuence on public relations, complaints can spread quickly. Excessive noise represents one of the most common gripes from restaurant patrons, Coben says. Several negative re- views on Yelp can be enough to deter many diners from choosing a restaurant, so keeping ambient sounds at a reasonable volume should be a high priority in most designs. High-end establish- ments that cater to a date-night crowd looking for an intimate experience remain keenly attuned to the space's acoustic traits. On the other hand, some restaurants want to create a vibrant and much louder atmosphere. "Chipotle is one of the hottest brands around, and they like a livelier space," says Carmen Onken, senior vice president, GLMV Architecture. Chipotle, in fact, is a perfect example of an interior designed for boosting ambient sounds. The hard materials inside the quick-service Mexican chain's sites, including metal tables and chairs, pol- ished concrete foors, and high, open ceilings, reverberate sound. Choices of fooring and furniture materials often create a need for acoustic dampening elsewhere. The advantages of Red Robin's new proto- type design kit includes Americana-themed works of pop art that are often used on portions of its ceilings.

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