I recently started at ai3 where we have a reputation for quality restaurant design, and even though I have practiced architecture for over seven years , I have never designed a restaurant. I hoped to spend time observing restaurant operations and how the staff interacts with the clients and the architecture. Chris Hall, one of the owners of Local three, was kind enough to allow me to shadow his staff for 3 days. Below is my first experience:
After spending several nights observing the team at Local three, I can't help but be reminded of my time in the service as an aircraft mechanic. All the key ingredients are the same: quality, physical and mental agility, and the ability to work under pressure. Whether you are keying a jet up for a mission or putting together meals for a table of six, you have to have a team of professionals that move on instinct. There simply isn't enough time to explain to everyone how to do the job.
As I heard over and over from Chris,
"Local three is not a place where you just earn a check, it is a place where the staff is perfecting their craft."
My first lesson I will share with you is that the Host is the key to a restaurant's success. He or she is your first impression of the restaurant. If you receive a rude greeting or are told that your reservation wasn't entered into the system, your first visit might well be your last.
I also did not realize that the hostess is in constant motion, moving seamlessly between the kitchen and their station. A good host will always have an eye on the kitchen, because unless they know the load the kitchen is under, they cannot gauge the flow for seating the guests. If the host seats a table before the kitchen and the servers can handle them, then it might lead to that feeling we have all had where we wonder if the server forgot about us. Worst still is when the kitchen is behind, and it results in more tables having to wait longer for their food. If you have ever wondered why you can't be seated right away when you show up to a restaurant, the flow is the reason.
As Chris Hall said, "It's all about flow, it will make or break a restaurant."
As a guest, you become a participant in the flow and your experience is contextual, setting the tone for the rest of the night. So if you start off with a bad experience with the Host, than you can bet that your poor experience will make its way through the room. On the other hand, if the Host is on top of their game, you and the restaurant are going to have a successful night.
How will our designs impact first impressions?
How do we make the Host's job easier?
How can our designs create successful flow?
How do we make sure we have open sight lines?