COVID aside, one of the most challenging yet fulfilling project categories for the Old Forge team to take on in a construction engagement are restaurant builds. Now that establishments are reopening with changed protocols, I looked at some of my restaurant facility predictions from 2018 and had an interesting reflection on how trends may shape up given what we know now.

2018 Prediction: Instead of the previous inclination toward communal tables, more owners are seeking “chef’s tables,” providing a front row visibility of the kitchen for special guests. This can include special menus and preparations from the head chef.

2020 Variant: In favor of distancing, more intimate groups will be catered in restaurant designs regardless of trends toward a VIP experience. Chef’s tables present a nice setting for engagement, however will need to integrate a glass barrier to prevent germ spread (especially on food to be consumed). I’ve recently seen chefs offering virtual cooking lessons, where businesses are safely providing ingredients and wine pairings for customers to cook dishes in their own home with a video conference instruction.

2018 Prediction: Another element of food/drink “showcases” is seen through more attention toward mixology. Bar spaces are being used in more interactive ways and require increased visibility (often from a 360-degree perspective with circular structures surrounding bartender staff).

2020 Variant: Bars will be a challenging environment with high-touch surfaces in close quarters. Capacity limitations will become important to obey. Structures promoting the showcase of bar staff are still within reason, however there should be appropriate distances catered to suit staff movement patterns. Holistic sanitation methodologies are increasingly relevant, as enveloped viruses (such as the Coronavirus) can survive for extended periods on surfaces. For restaurants in particular, mobile disinfectant programs are a good option, as they coat the surface with natural solutions and provide protection for up to 90 days.

2018 Prediction: Within QSR (quick-service restaurant) construction projects, the addition of drive thru lanes has been showing some striking statistics towards enhancement of daily sales volume. From our experience in managing the addition of a drive-thru to existing establishments, corporations typically anticipate a 55-60% increase in sales volume from drive-thru additions within the Northeast US market based on consumer demand for the accessibility.

2020 Variant: This is applicable more than ever. With solely drive thru capability for many restaurants during “stay at home” orders, this was a means of survival for restaurant facilities. Where possible, restauranteurs are aiming toward this as a priority.

From Old Forge Builders’ perspective, after 37 years, you see a lot of challenges that prepare you to be better equipped in the future. From a project management angle, we’ve really firmed up our controls for change management, schedule definition and team integration. This means owners should anticipate someone who should guide a project, not wait for a push. When a GC takes the time to make sure scope and quality levels are where they need to be at all times, there is a trust that owners know their project is in good hands. This is where Old Forge thrives for their restaurant clients—whether a fast-food, casual sit-down, or high-end experience.