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You can’t live with ’em…

Want to build a new restaurant, or refresh a tired looking one? You’re going to need an architector designer and, of course, a builder. Prepare for pain.

About a year ago, as I sat in my Dover Street restaurant I decided it needed a facelift. Not the Elizabeth Taylor kind, mind you, more the Oil of Ulay type of treatment. In other words, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

With perfect timing, a well-known firm of architects whose work I admire called to see if I was in need of their services. Although I had been faithful to my own guy for the past 10 years, I enjoy a good flirtation. So, with a tingle of excitement I went to see them.

To stop them from getting carried away, I explained straightaway that there was no prospect of me setting up a new restaurant for at least another year. But I wondered whether, in the meantime, just as a way of us getting to know each other better, they could help me tart up Smollensky’s Balloon.

Unconvincingly, they said, “Sure”, and promised to call me to set up a meeting. I never heard from them again. Will I call them when I’m ready to spend another £1.5m on my next venture? I doubt it.

With wounded pride I ran back into the arms of my old standby, knowing full well that my previousfrustrations with him would inevitably resurface. And they did.

But it got me thinking just how much frustration these professions can cause for us humble restaurateurs. Check out my list of what’s wrong with them and compare it with your own.

Architects/designers first:

lThey are not interested in, and often reject, small jobs, as the above experience illustrates.

lThey haven’t a clue what things cost. Ask them to design a restaurant for £1m and they’ll feign surprise when builders quote nearly double that for their designs.

lThey never pay for their mistakes, but expect you to pick up the bill.

lThey offer little or nothing in the way of after-sales service. They tend to walk away after handover and then three years later, despite diligent housekeeping, the restaurateur finds his place suddenly looking tired, stale and in need of major surgery.

lTheir designs are often impractical. They put light fittings in places where you need scaffolding just to change a bulb, brass fittings where they can’t be reached for polishing, fragile artefacts in areas where they are guaranteed to be broken, and they create dirt traps everywhere.

lThey refuse to take responsibility for their designs. If something functions poorly or not at all they are quick to blame the builder, the electrician or the air conditioning contractor. Yet we have to live with (and, yes, pay for) their mistakes for the next 20 years.

lThose who have original design ideas (unlike the majority who come up with variations on a theme) too often create “designer restaurants”. They forget that most people feel more comfortable in restaurants where the designer is not the focus of attention.

This piece is also about builders, so here is my pithy view of them. As far as I am concerned, they can all rot in hell for eternity, and that wouldn’t even begin to make up for the nightmare they put us restaurateurs through. Am I right?

Of course, they will try to defend themselves from my vitriol by pointing out that they are only as good as their clients. Quite true! Yet, as clients go, I know I’m pretty good, so heaven have pity on those who are not so good.

Sadly, though, like it or not, we need these people. But, for the sake of restaurateurs everywhere, I do wish they would take the work they do for us a lot more seriously. o

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