Maintaining – Thoughts on a Restaurant Renovation

So you want to own a restaurant?

I’ve heard many times during my career about the desire of many individuals to own a bar and/or restaurant.  “I’d love to have a restaurant when I retire!  My family could help run it, it would be so much fun!”  Wish I had a nickel for every time I heard something similar, I could retire.

Perhaps it’s the glamorous profession that is put forth on Cable TV these days, often painting the food and beverage industry as somewhat easy and ‘oversimplifying’ the endeavor.  The reality is one of very long hours, often frequent turnover, and a steely eye scrutiny from everyone, your owner, superiors, guests, and the state.

The most overlooked aspect of our business is maintenance; upkeep of equipment and facility.  The budget for upkeep is commonly overlooked.  You only have to look at several shows on the television that speak to redoing or warming over a restaurant’s interior.  That’s the superficial stuff, what about the equipment?  What about the stuff we take for granted like plumbing and electrical?  The stuff you don’t see is where the budget should be spent, the bones of the place.

At Webster’s Prime, we are going through such a maintenance concern.  We’ve replaced our antiquated walk in cooler with a brand new walk in cooler/freezer combo that runs more efficiently, uses less electricity, and is proving to make our job much easier.  We have been approved to install a new dishwasher, the unit has been ordered and is being shipped.  While doing these two projects, another concern came up.  All of you who have tackled personal home improvements can insert your own comments here, the expenses always go up when you start peeling back the layers!

We found we needed to upgrade our hood venting system.  No big deal I thought, pull out the old and insert the new.  I was most worried about the capital budget process, how was I going to pay for it and who would give me bids on such a thing?  Turns out these were the least of my worries.  I should explain.

Unlike your basic hood range at home which can be vented or unvented, the hood system at Webster’s involves a roof mounted system and tons of duct work.  Of course, the duct work runs right across our dining room above the ceiling.  With our ceiling being drywall, I now know the reason most restaurants have suspended drop tile ceilings or have no ceiling at all, leaving everything visible.  The contractors will have to rip down the ceiling, do the vent work, apply new dry wall, tape, mud, paint….you’ve all seen those shows on the home networks I’m sure.  Only problem is, they’re not ‘crashing’ our restaurant and it won’t all be done in 3 days no matter how many friends we bring!

Nate, Alana, and I had to break the news to staff as well, a two week window from April 2nd to April 16th where our restaurant will be limited to working out of the kitchen at Burdick’s for Breakfast (our very gracious neighbor in the Radisson).  We’ll have to close the dining room and kitchen in Webster’s for the construction.  We’ll keep our Tasting Room open, but that leaves very few shifts for our staff.  It was hard to tell them, they work very hard, are exceptional at their craft of servicing guests, and have bills to pay.  Many are college students who count on Webster’s as their sole income.  Being in the Radisson, we’ve reached out to other outlets and will have some available cross training, but not enough I’m afraid.

We hope our guests will enjoy our finished project, problem is our restaurant isn’t being remodeled, we’re not being ‘made over’, we’re just maintaining.  Sure the ceiling will have a shiny coat of paint and guests will see that, being more efficient with electricity and the use of water, guests won’t notice.  Nor will our guests see the countless hour’s staff will put in moving things and cleaning things and taking loads to the dumpster, etc. all the normal things you do with any home improvement project.

So the next time someone comments about wanting to own a restaurant, I’ll put on my smug face and wish them well in the endeavor.  Maybe pass along my card if they might have any questions or need a consultant.  The easiest part might be the cooking and food, the hardest…right now I’d have to say maintenance!

Stefan Johnson
Food and Beverage Operations Manager

Stefan Johson Pic

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