Every day, and every evening, millions of people around the world venture outside of their home to visit one of the thousands of foodservice operations to eat a meal. Some people visit these establishments while traveling hurriedly on their way from one place to another. Others use them as a social gathering and meeting place for catching up and reconnecting. Still others opt to eat out to celebrate special occasions or entertain clients. Regardless of the motivation to dine outside of the home, the vast majority of people expect, and demand, good tasting food at reasonable prices, with friendly and hospitable customer service.
Why do most people go out to dine? That is the question I often ask friends and clients alike. Is it because of the food reputation at a particular foodservice operation? Is it for the price points of a menu concept? Is it for the atmosphere inside the establishment itself? Or is it for the wait staff and the unique characteristics each one offers? After the person responds, I reveal what I think is the #1 reason people dine out. And that is…the “experience,” which can result from one, or more, of the potential reasons listed above.
Planning the Experience
Almost every foodservice operation has a concept…a menu, décor, and operating theme that tells patrons what kind of experience they will have when they walk through the door. But how does the foodservice “experience” a customer comes away with go from someone’s initial brainstorm to reality? Well, the first step in creating the eventual reality is what we call “programming” the foodservice operation.
Put in laymen’s terms, “programming” is the process of simply defining the operation’s concept, theme, operational characteristics, and physical components so that an architect and/or interior design firm can take the written description of all of these elements and convert them to actual floor plans and construction documents. It is figuratively, and literally, a “roadmap” for the architectural team to take a person’s idea from inside their head and convert it into an actual visual drawing with concept sketches.
So how does one begin the process of programming? You have to have at least one person…the person whose idea it is to create this new foodservice operation concept. This person can also create the program itself, or he/she can work with another industry professional or consultant to create the program. In either scenario, the key is for the creator/entrepreneur to answer a number of questions designed to flush out the details of the operation and its physical components to create a visible sketch and floor plan at the end of the process.
Navigating your way through the programming process means asking your client, or yourself, numerous open-ended questions that allow the person with the idea to fill in the informational gaps without being led to any one specific answer or theme. Probing questions such as: what was its inspiration?…what is the theme for the menu?…who will be the target market for the restaurant?….what will be the service style?…how many seats will it hold?…what will the ambiance be like?…and many, many more should be asked until all the details of the operation are flushed out and discussed.
You and/or the client may also find that initial ideas morph and are refined as they are discussed in greater detail. This is a good thing and can sometimes lead to an even greater enhancement of the overall concept and program.
The Final Result
When the entire operation…front and back-of-house…has been explored, including descriptions and details as to the types of equipment required to produce the menu, an organized, written program is prepared. The architectural design team can then proceed with their role to make the vision a reality!
By: Barry Skown
Senior Associate – Portland