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The Constant Question – Do We Need to Go CUSTOM?
The Constant Question – Do We Need to Go CUSTOM?

“How will you detail the foodservice counters to make them look amazing, sleek…. designer fabulous?  Do we need to go CUSTOM?”  This is probably one of the most asked questions I receive when working on a project…. followed up with “of course, how do we stay within budget?”

We all know that sometimes, there just isn’t the opportunity to go custom.  When there are budgetary restrictions, we’re going to call for standard details by way of millwork and materials to ensure the budget is in check and the client is happy at the end of the day.

BUT…. When a project calls for going CUSTOM…the devil is in the details when it comes to creating a spectacular design.  So how do you decide on the design and construction?

It’s All Relative

What draws you to a particular venue’s counter when you see an open kitchen or a food court?  Is it only about the type of food offered?  Or the buzz around that station?  Or do the color, finishes, size, shape of the counter, overhead signage, and register placement catch your eye?

Well, it all plays into how we, the foodservice consultant, work with architects and interior designers to help create the overall effect and atmosphere that our client wants to present.

Take, for example, a food hall with limited frontage.  Let’s imagine the project team wants to incorporate overhead details/structure, lights, and neon signage to draw in the customer.  How do we design them to be cohesive with the overall design?  We can certainly use custom stainless construction of the base counter and upper support structures to support the weight and infrastructures.  Any material can be applied to the face to keep the desired aesthetic, the body can be made for any storage configuration needed, drains can easily be hidden, and a wiring chase built-in so everything is concealed.  Having a custom stainless chassis with the applied finishes and details of choice will also allow for a much easier, and less costly, installation.  The counter can be built off-site, simply placed, joined as needed and presto – you’re almost ready to open.  It all comes down to intended use, daily abuse, and budget.

But what if they want the counter to be the star of the show with a curved shape, sweeping lines and dimensional changes….and there’s a hard budget that you’re working with to make this happen?  In this scenario, it might truly be best to have it built by a millworker as there are more options in materials to achieve the shapes.  A more dimensional counter entails finer detailing and installation considerations.

Suppose the ask from the client is to design from the front counter to the back support counter and a full chef’s counter in the kitchen that might have the cooking suite combined with it.   This is an essential and significant part of your client’s budget, overall design, and flow to the kitchen itself.  Does this client need special equipment to achieve the final menu product – a tandori oven, for example?  Special supporting needs (exhaust hoods, floor troughs, extra large clearances)? Does it require a large number of sauces that have to be fresh prepared everyday? Do we need to consider refrigeration and heating/holding aspects?  There are so many questions and details to make sure we have it covered to make the most of the money and provide the best solutions at the end of the day.  So, where do we start?

First, Ask Questions

The first step is to determine some basic information that will help define expectations to answer the “go custom or not” question.

  • Who is your client and amount of time you have to serve them –are they fast casual diners? Take out only? White table cloth diners?
  • Volume of guests anticipated?
  • Desired aesthetic to the space?
    • Durability of materials will come into play here
    • Overall shape of servery, food hall, front counter
  • Budget and project time frame?
    • Budget will help decide which direction to go at this point

Next, we drill down even further to establish whether millwork or custom stainless will be best for your project.   Keep in mind, the more specific the answers, the more seamless the project will be.  The chart below provides you with items that should be addressed to ensure a successful outcome.

Consider It Time Well Spent

While it feels like there are so many factors to consider for just one portion of a project, understanding these detailed and logistical elements upfront is time well spent.  Bottom line, when deciding to go custom or not, the devil really is in the details.  At the end of the day, either option chosen will work as long as it accomplishes the pre-determined expectations and building/construction constraints…and of course, stays within budget, ensuring a happy client who will call you again.

By:  Lisa Paige-Pretorius, Project Manager | Charlotte

Photo credit | Hannah Neild Photography
Courtesy of Bandwidth Culinary Partner | Constellation Culinary Group

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