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3 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Commercial Contractor

When prospective restaurant owners start looking for a contractor to build their new establishment, there are (more than) a few things they should consider before they sign a contract and begin their design-build process.

Based on our own experience working with restaurants and other commercial building projects, we’ve found that the owners who ask these questions often have a smoother building experience with fewer surprises during the building process.

1. What is Your Specific Restaurant Experience?

Interior of The Crooked Hammock restaurant. We were the commercial contractor for this project

The Crooked Hammock restaurant in Lewes, DE.

There are some very good commercial contractors who have never done a restaurant build, which means they’re not familiar with how one usually goes. It’s not like building an office space which involves offices, conference rooms, bathrooms, and break rooms. Restaurants also need bars, booths, kitchen equipment, special plumbing and lighting, HVAC, soda lines, and point-of-sale equipment, among other items.

Your general contractor should have experience working with all of those vendors and sub-contractors, scheduling them, and understanding that many of those installations depend on another installer finishing their work first. The GC should also know how to coordinate permits and inspections, both on their own side as well as the owner’s side. Because there are so many more moving parts than some other commercial construction projects, it really helps to have someone who has been down that road before.

2. How Well Can You Deal With a Very Involved Owner’s Group?

We’ve found that restaurant owners are more hands-on during the building process, because they’re very interested in the atmosphere and appearance. They are on site and involved on a day-to-day business more than any other project-type we’ve done. That’s because they have a vision and an idea of what they want, but sometimes it’s not completely finalized when the project starts, and it changes and grows as the building comes together.

We’ve had a few projects where the owners just got the permits and wanted us to start building, but wanted the look and feel to evolve as we worked. So as we would finish one stage, or uncover a new issue in a renovation, plans would change, walls and bars would be moved, and we would have to punt and find a solution to an unexpected problem.

Working with owners who wanted to make the building process more of an organic process has definitely been a learning experience, and it has helped us to understand what we should walk new owners through before we start, and show them how to deal with unanticipated changes.

3. Can You Permanently Staff the Project for the Duration?

Crooked Hammock Interior 02You should confirm that your contractor can permanently staff your project and will anticipate longer-than-normal working hours at the tail end of the project. What often happens — especially in the more organic projects (see #2 above) — the builders are working right up to the deadline.

As a result, there’s an awful lot of after-hours work that has to happen. That’s because you’re working around a lot of different schedules: kitchen equipment, draft beer lines and taps, refrigerators, FF&E (furniture, fixtures, and equipment), as well as unpacking and sorting all the dishes, glasses, and utensils.

So the last few weeks of a restaurant build includes your normal boots-on-the-ground construction crew trying to work around the management who is trying to staff 50 – 100 new people. They’re unpacking plates while you’re finishing up the final items on the punch list. That means your GC is going to be doing a lot of the building late at night and overnight in order to accommodate the owner’s schedule.

Bonus Question From the Contractor: Do You Have Finalized Designs?

Some owners will often show up to the project with finalized designs, decisions on options and fixtures already made, and a day-to-day schedule in place. Others just have a basic set of plans and want to see how things develop before deciding on the next phase (two of our last three restaurant builds worked this way). It’s not a problem, but it can cause some delays if the owner decides to change something in the middle of the build because it doesn’t look or feel right.

This isn’t a problem at all, but it’s important to understand that there are costs associated with those changes. When you want to move an already-built wall or bar, there are costs to tear it down and rebuild it. There are change orders to file, and sub-contractors to reschedule which can mean more delays. Spending some extra money up front to finalize the designs can help avoid all of that, and see the project finished sooner.

What questions do you have about a restaurant design-build project? Do you want to learn more about how Broadpoint Construction can help you realize your restaurant dreams? You can contact us for more information.