Consultants Corner
The Key Ingredient to Renovation: Programming
By Ivan Weiss, Executive Vice President at elite¦studio e

As a design/build firm one of our largest challenges is that our clientele are typically not primarily responsible for renovations. This is a function that gets “thrown on top of the pile.” The result is a need to have us, as the experts, lead the process. For many aspects of a renovation, this is fine. We can manage the design of the details, the coordination between contractors, timing of equipment deliveries, and the installation itself.

However, from a design perspective we need the input of the people that live in the space daily. This process, Programming, is the key ingredient to a successful renovation.  All too often, tight deadlines and pressures to put pen to paper force the programming phase to be skipped or accelerated.  This phase is what sets a project on the right foot to success or dooms it to failure.
Programming is the all-important exercise of gaining the understanding of the core goals and requirements of the project. Are we aiming to increase sales, improve flow, balance the usage of various culinary stations, or make a cosmetic improvement? How can we support these goals with real target benchmarks and specific examples? Most importantly, what are the consumers telling us? Both users of the current operation and non-users. If they are not utilizing the café, why? How do we address their needs to capture them?
Through programming we analyze sales mixes, surveys and questionnaires, as well as physical observation of a typical day from a consumer perspective.  We are able to gain a tremendous amount of insight just by watching a meal period and speaking to a few customers about their dislikes and likes. This input turns into things we must improve on post renovation and things we would like to improve.
Programming is a very unique phase in that it must remain an active ingredient throughout the duration of a renovation. At the completion of design development we can put our design elements behind us as they have been incorporated into the plans. We can focus on construction details such as providing power and plumbing to the right components.  

This cannot be done with programming. As the project evolves we constantly recheck our programming phase to ensure we are addressing the core values and goals of the project.  Are we meeting those needs?  With every budget challenge we face, are we cutting and redesigning in the right areas. We may all love that fantastic light fixture, but if a core element of the renovation is customer throughput and sales generation at the deli, have we addressed that first?
On your next project give special attention to the Programming phase. Establish a written concept for what needs to be achieved and what is a must have for the project.  Along the way, reflect on that and ensure that where you started is still where you are heading. There is no project that will yield a success without a clear direction from the start, the Programming phase!
*This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Food & Hospitality At Work