Graham Witham owns and operates Reliable Shopfitting, a venue outfitter based in Girraween, NSW.
Over the years, Graham has worked in hundreds of venues turning their dreams into reality. In this time, he's seen a lot of amazing designs - and a lot of failures, too! We spoke to him about how to nail the perfect hospitality space, and what to avoid.
Graham's first point was that there is no 'one size fits all solution' when it comes to venue design.
Graham Witham - Owner of Reliable Shopfitting
"It's hard to single out anything as a no-no across the board," says Graham. "Something that works really well for one business, might be a disaster for another."
For this reason, Graham says to always have your design customised to the space you're working in.
But there are seven crucial tips that he encourages all business owners to remember when designing their venue.
1. Core Holes
If opening in a shopping centre or other multi-story building, be warned of core holes required for sinks, basins, toilets, or anything else requiring drainage. They are super expensive and can blow out your costs exponentially without much negotiation from your leasing agent. If you can, says Graham, try and share core holes with other businesses on parallel floors.
Make sure you check in with your local council about how many toilets will be required for your venue. There is a direct correlation between the number of tables and chairs, and required number of toilets. Be warned - council WILL knock you back if you don't meet these numbers.
3. Clearance Spaces
The official clearance space required around bars, walkways, and doorways is exactly 1m. Smaller shops will always try and shave off a small amount to 750 or 800cm, says Graham, but even by such a tiny amount the council will not clear your designs.
In order to save massive cooling costs (and the environment!) many shopping districts have strict wattage restrictions. Graham says your lightbulbs cannot exceed 21 to 18.5 watts per sqm.
5. Wheelchair Access
Whilst many people will remember wheelchair access ramps outside, to the bathrooms, and clearance around tables; they will forget to leave sufficient space next to the POS area. Graham says that these counters must be low and recessed back to give wheelchair users plenty of space to move in to pay.
6. POS Positioning
Lastly, watch where you put your point-of-sale (POS) unit - it will be your busiest point in the venue at times and needs to be positioned carefully.
"Putting the cash counter at the front of the entrance doesn't work," says Graham. "If you have a small shop, then the queue lines up and customers can't get in or out, and people just won't bother trying to get through."
7. Sort Out Your Budget First
But before you can even approach your design plans, Graham notes that it is far more important to have your budget sorted out first.
Why? Because if you give your budget after the plans are drawn up and you don't have enough cash, then it's back to the drawing board - costing you time, and potentially incurring massive penalties from the rental agents.
"You need to know your budget from the start," says Graham. "Otherwise, it's working backwards trying to meet their budget, and then working against the rental agents. That's the chain reactions from the first day, when a client has no idea of the budget."
Graham highly recommends the Silver Chef option for the ability to be clear on your financials from the get go. He says that having to work out your budget with Silver Chef before commencing building is a sensible way to keep your project - and all those involved - within budget.
So, has the hospitality industry's approach to design changed over the course of his career?
"Yeah, definitely!" says Graham.
"Five years ago, the average budget for a 70sqm restaurant was around $200k. Now, with people wanting to take photos of their food and the venue, people are spending more. They want the place to look just as good, or better, than the food. I would say it's doubled - most people would spend around $400k."
Graham encourages anyone looking to design or renovate a hospitality venue to enlist the help of an experienced designer to avoid silly mistakes. "They know what they're doing!"
(02) 9769 1350
1/79 Mandoon Rd, Girraween, NSW
If you want to know more about how you can ensure your venue's fitout is going to maximise business, download the Silver Chef eBook, How to avoid the pitfalls of poor venue design and fit out, here.