Excerpt from Restaurant Development + Design:

While it might seem like common sense, detailed up-front planning and communication among all key team members very often simply doesn’t happen.

“By far, the single biggest key to saving time is everything that happens before construction starts. That’s where these games are won and lost,” says Randy Shelly, vice president of Shawmut Design and Construction’s hospitality division. “If the contractor is involved with the designer and the owner in doing things like budgeting off of various schematics early, that informs the owner as to where the cost is before the design is finalized so that what’s developed and approves is realistic and on budget.”

Instead, Shelly says, what often happens is the operators hire an architect, design the restaurant and get three contractors to price it—and all three come in over budget. “By that point, they’re not starting the project when they think they will because they’re headed into redesign and value engineering to bring costs down,” he explains. “You can easily burn 8 to 12 weeks while that process happens. If you’ve got three months free rent, you’ve just eaten that up. It’s the number one cause of project delays, and I can tell you that 100 percent of the restaurants that we have bid that way in the past two years have been over budget and gone back into redesign. Architects are designing, buy they’re not sure what it’s going to cost; you can’t know the true costs until you get prices from the contractor. By engaging a contractor early, from the first schematic drawings, you can adjust the design as you go, and when you’re done, the price from the contractor is going to be on budget.”

An additional benefit of getting contractors on board early, Shelly notes, is their ability to identify and preorder long-lead time items. Whether specialized storefront systems, custom lighting or elevators, such elements can take almost as long to get approvals on, order, manufacture and deliver as it takes to build the entire restaurant. “If you’re not approving and releasing the orders for long-lead items at the start of the project, they’re not going to be there when you need them,” he says.

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