The Kapnos Taverna_(Image by Jim Cuddy and Mathew Lynch)

Kapnos Taverna, Arlington, Virginia: Hospitality Construction Services and Bethesda-based architecture and design firm Streetsense employed a simple and comfortable palette of colors and materials throughout the restaurant. Eclectic lighting fixtures, terracotta tile, live herbs and plants, and custom millwork panels create an urban, Mediterranean atmosphere for guests. In the bar area, ebony-stained, distressed wood dresses the bar front while charred wood lines the back bar. To further create the natural atmosphere, a steel framed vertical herb garden hangs in the main dining room. (Image by Jim Cuddy and Mathew Lynch)

Rob Mescolotto, founder and owner of Hospitality Construction Services, answers some questions about restaurant construction trends, the challenges of building them, and tells how his company differentiates itself in the busy hospitality sector.

What restaurant design trends are owners looking for?

Right now, we are seeing a lot of different requests come through because of the shift in restaurant trends. Instead of communal tables, owners are requesting chef’s tables. When it comes to building materials, we are seeing a movement towards heart pine and specialty wood flooring combined with unique millwork elements that fill in the property, like a sake cabinet. Incorporating refrigerated elements such as a sushi case is also a trend we are noticing, as well as implementing living walls.

The bar scene within a restaurant is also changing as owners have begun to implement and create more mixology programs. Since this calls for people to use the bar in different ways, we are fulfilling different requests for this specific area within a restaurant.

What are the three biggest challenges of restaurant construction and why?

First and foremost is coordination— the amount of mechanical, electrical and plumbing associated with a restaurant usually make up about 50 percent of the budget. These elements take up large and vast areas within the walls and ceilings, and our goal is to make these pieces vanish so it isn’t visible to the customer enjoying a meal.

The second challenge is the idea of making sure all key components within the property are warrant-able to the property and, that they meet the requirements associated with each individual use. What I’m referring to is the idea that the requirements for a dish washing room are different than the requirements for an open kitchen, and even more so than the upholstery that sits underneath the patron. All these elements need to work together in terms of durability, function, and how they will be utilized by guests.

Lastly, and most importantly, is making sure the contractor, owner and architect are in sync well in advance at the time of signing the lease for the restaurant space.

This sounds like a simple concept, but more often than not, owners are moving forward with brokers who are pushing their own agenda in order to try to close the deal. It’s not uncommon for owners to be brought into a property that doesn’t have the core elements necessary to make it a restaurant. Things like having exhaust assemblies for going to the roof, proper water line size, and even sprinkler systems are not the broker’s focus when trying to close a deal. By involving an architect or contractor in the process from the very beginning, you’ll be able to prevent yourself from making these mistakes.

What kind of things have you done to differentiate your business from others that focus in the same market?

Our company is dedicated to the restaurateur. General conditions and fees are dedicated to us becoming a member of the ownership team, in such that when I’m hired for a project, I’m on the owner’s payroll. With that said, we are very open in regards to our subcontractors, making sure that the subcontractors and the owners are meeting with each other from the beginning of the construction process. By doing this, we can provide increased savings and optimum value engineering.

Value engineering is also an area in which we differentiate ourselves from others in the industry. While we can save money, we want to preserve the design intent. This means we find creative ways to switch out products, like substituting a hard pine for a stained Cyprus, which looks almost identical to the dream product. By doing this we can save over $50,000.

Additionally, with regards to our company, one of the main focuses we have is making sure all of the owners and staff are involved in the process. It’s important to us to make sure that the kitchen is set up for the chef, rather than meeting the general manager’s criteria, or even the owner’s criteria in some cases.

We are always looking to implement minor ideas that do not cost the owners extra money, while still making a property functional. It’s simple things like putting in a drain assembly near the coffee station so people can pour the excess coffee into a drain rather than a garbage bag. Providing this service means the owner doesn’t have to spend additional money for a beautiful space that is functional for both restaurant staff and its guests.