Got Reservations?

by Katie Lee

If you have reservations about restaurant renovations, read this.

By Ron Wilhite

I’ve been a licensed contractor for over 30 years and the construction and renovation business as a whole gets a pretty bad rap. We’ve seen some veteran restaurant executives cringe at the idea of having to implement a renovation on a busy location, let alone a nationwide renovation on hundreds of locations

This is where we like to shine, offering untraditional empathy to our clients during some very stressful times. Our goal is to execute the same service every time, no matter how difficult the task. We also predominantly perform our work after hours and our clients typically do not shut down. Bundled with a certified group of very skilled and reliable contractor service partners, our unique and fresh approach to renovation is becoming very popular with some rather respected brands. We have a great opportunity to share a recent case study for a rebranding project with Ruby Tuesday that will essentially change the way they rebrand their stores moving forward.

Ruby Tuesday RFS Orlando After2With 660 locations within the United States, and fairly new to Ruby Tuesday, the company’s vice president of design, construction and facilities, Edmond Bordelon, was faced with the unique challenge to direct the brand transformation of Ruby Tuesday’s interiors/exteriors within a very short window of time and an even tighter budget.

Traditionally, large retail chains will take anywhere from 18 to 24 months to engage various focus groups for all kinds of research with the hopes of gathering enough gross negatives from a small selection of patrons across the United States. But the industry today doesn’t really allow that much time and we had another strategy in mind: reverse engineering by instantaneous designing in real time, and then reading the actual results in sales and guest count increases.

Many of our large brand clients do partner with traditional big picture branding consultants that paint a beautiful rendering of what a fresh and up-to-date retail experience should look like. This is a necessary and strategic phase in our overall strategy that engages consumers and leaves a positive and lasting impression to build overall retention and a new following for a new generation.

However, applying a strategic, brand-centric renovation plan to create new retail space designs based off national focus groups doesn’t always deliver the immediate and/or accurate result they look for at Ruby Tuesday. Bordelon and his team decided to focus on an Orlando, Florida, location that was in desperate need of interior and exterior renovations. As we conducted real-time renovations each and every day over the period of a year, the restaurant remained open for business the entire time.

“According to Bordelon and the Ruby Tuesday’s financial reports, the results of this live renovation model was a satisfying increase in sales and guest counts for the first 6 months immediately after the completion.”

This real-time renovation with real guests and daily input allowed Ruby Tuesday to track and report everything from brand value perceptions to deciding on the proper colors, materials, signage and LED lighting outside the building. These direct consumer insights over traditional focus groups allowed Ruby Tuesday to track everything and even more importantly the bottom line for their financial reporting department.

We have been nicknamed the building forensics department by our friends at Ruby Tuesday because we really do think outside the box and propose many different ways to provide solutions. It’s not all design or construction issues either; from water intrusion through exterior lighting to mold remediation from vinyl-based wallpaper, we are constantly providing reverse engineering solutions to come up with that final magic list of the top 20 items (awnings, carpet, lighting, signage, etc.) that will be incorporated as the key furnishings that make the brand transformation not only look nice, but become highly functioning as well.

Ruby Tuesday RFS Orlando Garden Bar AfterIn conclusion, a remodel can definitely enhance your restaurant’s image and transform your space to maximize sales and brand equity. But before investing gobs of money into a redesign, consider some guidelines and make an educated decision:

Stay Ahead of the Curve

If you think your restaurant looks out-of-date, it likely is and you are behind the eight ball. Always be evaluating the brand equity and the interaction with patrons.

What Are Your Objectives?

Are you trying to freshen up your decor or to rebrand yourself? Are you retaining your basic blueprint, or do you want to add revenue-generating space, like more seats, a bar or a private dining room?

Define Your Restaurant’s Brand Platform

What is the ultimate perception you want people to think of when describing your brand/theme? Establish a brand platform that identifies what you are in business to do, why you are different and the basic value-added propositions that make your restaurant stand out from the competition.

Know What’s Hot and What’s Not!

Do you know what’s trending and what’s out? Have your restaurants started to attract new generations or are you stuck with one slice of the marketspace? If you haven’t renovated in years, you may need a complete revamp as opposed to some light renovations.

Listen to the People

Traditionalists tend to take too long with this phase, in our opinion, and this is where we are different. If you already know you are not ahead of the curve and are not familiar with trends, it’s time to renovate. Consider a live renovation model that allows the restaurant to remain open through the entire process.

Research Your Partners

Get referrals from trusted sources, read case studies in industry trade publications, and interview architects, designers and consultants who are experienced in dealing with the unique challenges of restaurant rebrands and renovations.

 Ron Wilhite is CEO of RFS, Inc. As a licensed building contractor for over 30 years, Wilhite is a career facilities contractor well versed in the peculiar needs of the multiple-location restaurant and retail facilities manager. In 2003, Wilhite founded RFS, Inc. to specialize in facility maintenance and repair services with a highly accomplished team of professionals.

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