Apart from the food, the ambience is a decisive factor whether we feel comfortable in a restaurant. It is pleasing for guests when the design creates an environment going along with the dishes. Designing and managing F&B projects is one of the core competences of VIRTUARCH. We talked to Therdsiddhi Hoprasartsuk-Pellaumail, Managing Director – Architect of the VIRTUARCH office in Thailand. He is an expert in F&B being responsible for over 20 F&B projects last year.

The F&B industry is one of VIRTUARCH’s expertise. What is your service here?

Actually, we have a very broad spectrum: We design and manage F&B projects from world famous food chain brands to individually owned restaurants. We deal with high-end dining and fast food, canteens, food courts and cafés. With more competition, the stores must be facelifted every four to five years to go with the trend. Therefore, renovations are also a big part of our tasks. For each of the given requirements we create individual solutions. Thanks to our holistic approach we also provide what we call a “look book” or “corporate guideline” for restaurant chains. For Nara Thai, a premium brand for example, we designed a functional and efficient kitchen layout, that will be implemented in all of their restaurants. When the kitchen staff is trained in one branch, it can easily work in other branches because of the same working environment. The staff can immediately start working. This is highly efficient. The front house, the dining area of the Nara Thai brand however, has to look different in each of the restaurants. We take care of this.

Nara Thai Cuisine @ One Nimman, Chiangmai, Thailand

You mentioned kitchen. This is also part of your design work?

Yes, a very important part, actually. When planning restaurants, we differentiate between front of the house, the actual dining area, and back of the house, the kitchen. We start our planning with the kitchen. We need to check where the water and power supply and drainage is located, where goods can be delivered, where the waste can be disposed of, etc. Then we continue to think about the layout of the dining area. Kitchens are like a small factory. We need to optimize the workflow to ensure high productivity.

Hom Duan @ Samyan Mitrtown, Bangkok, Thailand

What is your approach when designing a restaurant?

As mentioned before, the VIRTUARCH design and engineering team follows a holistic approach. What does this mean regarding F&B? Before starting to design, we need to have a comprehensive knowledge: The rental fees, which equipment is needed and how much does it cost, what is the energy consumption, what is the cost of the staff, where is the location of the restaurant, what is the profile of the customers, what is on the menu, which price range do they have … The list is very long. We need to know everything to come up with a solution that matches the real requirements of the restaurant identity. We are consultants, and we need to tell our customers what is working well.

The Coffee Club @ Avani Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos

In order to understand the business processes, we often spend a couple of days in the restaurant, in the front and in the back of the house: We work in the kitchen to experience the actual workflow. We watch the staff’s behavior and the communication with the guests. We really need to gain a deep understanding of the whole operation. This is our approach. I deeply believe that you cannot design an excellent F&B store without thinking like a chef, a bartender or a waiter. It is no coincidence that several of our F&B designers and project managers have a food background. One of our senior project managers owns a Pad Thai stall and one of our designers has an online bakery, to give you two examples. They all share their love for food and decide to be a designer to fulfill their passion in another way.

WOK MASTER @ Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong, China

La Drinkeria @ Patong, Phuket, Thailand

What are the main challenges you have to master?

One challenge is profitability and comfort at the same time. In golden locations, the spaces are limited and expensive. As a consequence, on the one hand, the back of the house design, kitchen, storage room, staff room, needs to be optimized to be highly effective. The equipment needs to be reachable for using, cleaning and for maintenance. On the other hand, the front of the house should be inviting, but also cost-optimized. The income of a restaurant is linked to the number of available seats and its visibility. We cannot afford to lose square meters. The tables must be arranged in a way that the owner can serve as many guests as possible without giving them the feeling of being squeezed in somehow.

Nara Thai Cuisine @ Siam Paragon, Bangkok, Thailand

Another challenge is the extremely tight timeline we are given. Normally, we have three to four months to complete a whole project including design, permitting, tendering and construction. The good locations are rare, and the rent is high, putting pressure on the timeline. Since most of the locations are in a shopping mall or busy business district street, the construction periods are also critical. As a project manager, we need to plan the workflow onsite very precisely, since we can only work between five to six hours a day, which is actually at night. For renovation, it is even more challenging, since the restaurants are often not closed during the renovation. Therefore, we need to make sure that the sites are clean and ready at opening hour.

Overall, we need to understand the core of the task in depth, find the best individual solution and implement our ideas fast. That is what makes us good at designing and managing F&B projects in my opinion.

Nara Thai Cuisine @ Central Village, Samutprakarn, Thailand

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