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The Importance of Evaluating A Property's Slab Condition For Food Service Buildouts

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

Having a solid business plan is crucial in any enterprise, and Foodservice is no exception. Location, or more specifically, the demographic parameters of a given location, is obviously a key consideration when selecting a property for a restaurant. If the demographics are right for your business model, and you have a site, and the capital to build new from the ground up, you have a pretty good shot at controlling costs and outcomes. But if you have to find an existing building, you then must plan a remodel, and there is more to it than meets the eye.

In this article, we will cover some fundamentals you need to know to properly plan your next food service buildout.

Why slab condition matters

One of the things commonly overlooked is the condition of the slab and/or existing floor coverings. Why is this important? Well, for starters, it is one element of your building which is nearly impossible to change later without shutting down your business. You can change tables, chairs, paint colors, signage, lighting, and many other things without the need to close down. But this is not usually the case with flooring. That alone should put it in a spot of high priority.

When you are looking at an existing property, you are trying to visualize what you will need to do with walls, plumbing, electrical, and yes, flooring. And It is tempting, to a layperson, to assume that since "any flooring can be changed," all you have to consider is the average cost of "that type" of flooring. Unfortunately this stops short of reality in remodels. A more complete and accurate statement would be "any flooring can be changed, if budget has no hard limits." Scary, right?

Remodeling for restaurants can be downright scary. Eliminate the unknowns. Surprises are for birthdays, not buildouts.

Are you aware that everything that has ever been on your concrete slab will leave some type of impression? Ceramic tile and VCT will leave tile patterns that will show you if you choose to do polished concrete or stained concrete. Due to the water vapor transmission and curing over years of time, even a heavy grind will not remediate ghosted tile patterns.

Everything that has ever been on your concrete slab will leave some type of impression.

Our particular field of expertise is in polished concrete and resinous flooring. Are you aware that epoxy flooring can experience catastrophic failure as a result of moisture vapor emissions from the slab itself? The principles here apply to most other types of flooring as well. Let's delve into just a few examples.

The photo above is one classic example. A 40-year old building with ceramic tile on the floor. The owner wanted to change the flooring to polished concrete. So the ceramic tile was removed. But wait...there was no concrete underneath! It had been an exterior patio at one time, and was a brick paver floor set in a mortar bed. Ooops! Now what?!

Well, the "what" translates to dollars. Can you still get a concrete floor? Sure, If your budget can handle pouring a new concrete slab now.

Expert evaluation and execution can turn a disastrous slab into a perfect commercial kitchen epoxy floor (like this one) with no unexpected costs.

How to plan for existing concrete slabs

Find experts you can rely on

If you are a general contractor, you probably already have your "go-to" people for the various trades required for a build-out. If not, then that's the first thing you need to do. These are the contractors who have the expertise you need and the character required to give you honest evaluations.

Your "go-to" guy is the one you can call and say, "Hey bud, I'm looking at buying another location. Could you come by and check out this floor for me, please?"

I have been that person for numerous food service clients for years. I am making at least a couple of those site visits every week. A well-qualified, team-oriented contractor will be happy to provide this service to you as a courtesy.

Take the time to investigate the condition of your slab

And not just the existing carpet. What is under there could require $50k-$100k of remediation. And that could change your mind on what the building is you. No different than having an electrician evaluate the condition of panels and wiring so you have some idea of what the extent of costs may be to get things back to code.

The best time to find out what it is going to take is before you purchase or lease. It just might be that there is another building in the same area that would be hundreds of thousands of dollars less to rehab. Or that a new build might make more sense.

Either way, expertise is where the value is. An expert can save you thousands and thousands of dollars, and potentially shave days and weeks off of your build-out time, but you will never get the value of that expertise unless there is direct line of communication between that expert contractor and you, your general contractor, and/or your designer.

During a pre-purchase or pre-lease evaluation, our clients really benefit from getting best-case/worst-case "ballpark" estimates from our company. This is important because this is the point at which you are having to float numbers past banks and investors. And those numbers need to be as realistic as possible, so that no-one gets caught by surprises near the end of your project.

Insist on a pre-construction team meeting

Nowhere is the importance of communication more vital than just before construction begins. Yet, I am regularly surprised at how many food service projects begin without one. You have a team of "go-to" experts at your disposal and they are all looking forward to doing your project. If you do not currently do this, you will be pleasantly surprised at how many problems get solved in that one one to two hour session before they even arise.

This is a golden opportunity to establish direct lines of productive communication between owner, designer, general contractor, financier, and all associated tradesmen. The value is hard to put a number on. Just make it part of your routine.

A pre-construction mock up allowed contractor, designer, and owner to verify that polishing this 20-year old slab would result in a fantastic concrete floor at a cost lower than ceramic tile.

We're ready for takeoff. What now?

Now that you have your team in place and a clearly-defined plan for the build, the one thing you can do to wreck that plan is to create conditions where communication between contractor and customer are difficult or slow. But, communication is also the one area in which you can virtually guarantee a smooth ride to exactly what you want.

Properly identifying the condition of your existing slab is vital in every remodel project, but is of particular importance when aesthetic consistency, durability, maintenance, health or safety concerns are key considerations. With the right amount of planning, and the expertise of your "go-to" people, even a major tear-out and remodel can achieve excellent results.


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