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Savvy Savings for Savoury Success: Practical Strategies to Slash Restaurant Fit Out Expenses

Savvy Savings for Savory Success: Practical Strategies to Slash Restaurant Fit Out Expenses

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With decades of experience transforming retail and hospitality spaces, I’ve project managed countless shop fits spanning small cafes to flagship stores. My depth of first-hand experience has shown commercial fit out costs can make or break venues before they even open their doors. Budget blowouts on high-quality restaurant fit-outs remain an ever-present risk, especially for new restaurateurs venturing into their inaugural commercial venture. But with informed decisions, rigorous planning, and strict governance, practical ways exist to lower expenses without sacrificing durability, aesthetics, or functionality. 

With my in-depth industry expertise, I’ll share actionable tips and tricks that any restaurant, cafe, or bar owner can use during their fit out project. These strategies, applicable to intimate 15-seat establishments and expansive new restaurant builds, will help you clear the prevalent budget pitfalls I’ve encountered over the years.


How much does restaurant fit out cost?

If you’re planning a business in the hospitality industry, one of the first things you worry about is the expenses you will incur when building your restaurant, cafe, or bar. A restaurant fit-out typically costs between $1,500 and $3,000 per square metre. This cost is relative, though. The final cost of a restaurant fit-out and commercial fit outs depend greatly on the size, the complexity of design and quality, the materials, and the type of fittings and fixtures you desire. There is a big difference between a basic takeaway shop that requires minimal tables and kitchen appliances and a fine dining establishment with high-end furnishings, fixtures, and a full commercial kitchen.

What factors affect the cost of a restaurant fit out? 

Now that you have an idea of how much restaurant fit outs may cost you, it’s important to note that this amount is very subjective and dependent on a lot of other factors. These factors can increase or decrease your fit out costs. 

  • Size of the venue: The larger the venue, the more expensive the fit-out will be. This is because more square footage will fit out, and more materials will be required. We recently did a 200-square-metre cafe, and the economy of scale meant fitout costs were under $2,500 per square metre. Every extra metre of cabinets, tiling, and service adds up.
  • Scope of the project: The project’s scope refers to the amount of work needed. This includes everything from demolition and construction to flooring, furniture, and fixtures. 
  • Fittings: We always recommend clients look at standard fittings rather than imported designer items. Locally made tables, counters, and lighting that are functional and on-trend are at least 30% cheaper. I’ve seen some clients spend over $300k on fittings and furniture alone!
  • Necessary time frame: If you need your fit-out to be completed on a tight deadline, you may be charged a premium. With years of fit-out experience, we know how long each project may take, and rushing us to finish the job will cost you! 
  • Budget: This is a huge factor in setting the flow of your hospitality fit-out. The higher the budget you set, the more flexibility we have in creating the restaurant of your dreams. 
  • Amenities: Restrooms and bars certainly enhance the customer experience but require extra plumbing, tiling, and lighting, which all add to the final bill. We highly recommend keeping your amenities in line with your budget and your theme. 
  • Kitchen Appliances: For smaller cafes and simple dine-in restaurants, high-quality ovens, fridges, mixers, and washers sourced locally can deliver commercial functionality at a reasonable price. But for fine-dining restaurants, I’ve seen that restaurant owners want to import European equipment without foreseeing how it would blow out your costs exponentially!  
  • Unique vision: Your unique vision for the space will also affect the cost of your fit-out. If you have a specific vision, you may need to pay for custom materials and fixtures.

What are the most common mistakes people make when fitting out a restaurant?

After decades of managing restaurant and cafe fitouts across Melbourne, I’ve seen owners repeatedly make certain mistakes when fitting out their food businesses. These slip-ups often lead to extra costs, delays, or functionality issues that impact operations down the track. As a commercial fit out expert focused on restaurant and cafe fit-outs, I’ve learned how important good and efficient planning and decision-making are.

Unclear concept

The number one mistake I see is not having a clear concept or brand direction even before restaurant design begins. Without a defined cuisine style, aesthetic, and workflow mapped out, the process lacks direction. I ask our new clients to provide examples of menus, inspirational images, and customer expectations so we can then assess optimal layouts, decor, and functionality elements. Rushing into the build without finalising the concept often leads to unsuitable flows, wasted space, or decor that misses the mark, which can cost you an arm and a leg! 

Choosing style over quality

Another common pitfall is choosing style over substance with fancier finishes but compromising on critical functional or structural elements. I always advise investing in quality materials for key surfaces like floors and benches while potentially saving costs on easier-to-replace decorative items. You should never cut corners when it comes to electrical and wiring elements, waterproofing, and kitchen appliances fit for your restaurant. This will be better in the long run. 

Insufficient lighting

You’ve got beautiful interiors, but your restaurant looks dull and drab because you have uneven lighting, or worse, not enough lighting. Harsh glare or uneven lighting not only dampens the atmosphere but also impairs safe work practices. We install layered tasks and ambient lighting so functionality and ambience are optimised based on the time of day. Placing emphasis on artwork or installing glowing bar areas enhances mood without compromising core activities.

Poor space planning

You’re blessed to have an affordable and spacious area to build your restaurant, but everything goes wrong when you don’t plan carefully to maximise your space. Poor space planning is not unusual, especially regarding ingress and egress, storage, and kitchen workflows. Our restaurant shop fitters use 3D modelling to test the viability of layouts digitally first before constructing costly joinery or walls in unsuitable places. Rushing kitchen designs and plans is never a good idea and will cost you more later on. 

Before beginning a restaurant fit out, I encourage you to allot sufficient time and budget to make your concept come to life and build high-quality interiors that will last. A balanced harmony between form, aesthetics, and function is key to your restaurant’s successful fit-out. Plus, constant and transparent communication with your contractors can safeguard you against financial and emotional stress from the get-go.

Shop fit outs for cafe and pubs in Diamond Creek

Quick Trivia: According to Visit Victoria, there are over 3,500 restaurants in Melbourne serving up cuisines from more than 70 countries. 

The Art of Savvy Restaurant Fit Out Budgeting

After managing millions of dollars worth of restaurant and cafe fit-outs across Melbourne over the years, I’ve gathered countless cost-saving tips and tricks to help restaurant owners like yourself cut costs. Whether you’re opening a small takeaway shop or a five-star dining venue, sticking to budgets is crucial yet challenging in such a complex industry. With skyrocketing rents and kitchen equipment prices, profitable operations come down to controlling outlays from the outset. Over the years, I’ve learned that the key is to strike a balance between upholding their vision and avoiding extravagant splurges if you can.

Finalise the concept

I can’t emphasise the importance of finalising the cuisine, fit out aesthetics, and branding direction before drafting layouts and selecting finishes and furnishings. Without a definite direction, the process loses focus, resulting in potential functionality issues, wasted space, and decor that confuses your diners. We recommend that you send us photos, drawings, samples of your menu design, and a targeted customer profile so we can assess optimal flows and atmospherics to suit the theme. 

Give ample time and allowance for quotations

Restaurant owners need to take this into consideration: giving more time allowance for detailed quotes versus rushing the entire process. I remember when I was just starting, I used to submit crazy cost estimates, only to find myself getting caught out down the line. You should request quality and detailed quotes that cover breakdowns on materials, specific trades, delivery schedules, and the amount of labour needed. Owners might pay slightly higher rates from reputable companies unwilling to cut corners on paperwork, but saving grief dealing with variations makes it worthwhile.

Get your shop fitters involved early

The earlier, the better. When it comes to building restaurants and doing fit-outs, there’s no such thing as starting too early. Rather than tossing concepts over the fence late and hoping for the best, I encourage clients to involve shopfitters during the initial design phase. Our extensive experience alerts owners early to potential bumps around accessibility, building compliance, service allocation, and equipment specifications that amateur designers might overlook. Last month, a dentist employing separate architects avoided major headaches after we noticed water sources far from their hydraulic unit install zone. This could have clearly ended up in a budget-blowing disaster down the line. 

Be meticulous when comparing quotes from different builders

Before starting on your fit-out and once you’ve got your design concept down, getting quotes from different builders and shop fitters is a must. Analyse each detail against your plans, material schedules, and finishes. Be aware of fit out companies that underquote figures. You can expect they’ll be charging more and more in the process. One client provided a supposedly turnkey restaurant quote, leaving out essentials like provisional sums, fees, appliances, and air conditioning, amounting to nearly $250k! This is why, at Shopfitters Melbourne, we ensure you understand every detail of the costs involved, from designing to finishing, before you commit to the project. By doing this, you can avoid unexpected charges and make sure your budget fits.

Do your fit-out during lean months

As a seasoned hospitality specialist conducting projects from as small as cafes to 250-seat restaurant overhauls, I’ve seen firsthand the effects prolonged shutdowns have on owners anxious over having their doors closed. While some loss of trade is inevitable, strategic timing minimising closure impact helps ease cashflow crunches during fit-outs. For venues with predictable annual peaks and troughs, scheduling demolition and intensive work for quieter months ensures fewer lost covers and staff wages. If it’s possible to establish a pop-up restaurant or create a temporary food truck to cushion your losses, do it! Keeping owners financially afloat throughout the process avoids budget-busting blows and can cover emergencies when needed. 

Look for high-quality, alternative, and locally-sourced materials

One great way to cut down on restaurant fit-out costs is to find suitable alternative materials and furnishings. It’s not impossible to find locally made and locally sourced items whose quality is comparable to imported ones. I’ve saved clients upwards of $40k by substituting engineered stone benchtops like Smartstone for Carrara marble in commercial kitchens, enhancing scratch resistance, and stain-proofing practically for heavy use. My product library, built over hundreds of fit-out projects, allows me to pull budget-friendly rabbits out of hats without diners noticing the aesthetic differences.

World-class restaurants, cafes, and bars can be built without splurging every cent of your budget. With careful planning, early involvement of builders and fit-out experts, detailed cost comparisons, supplier canvassing, and locally sourcing materials and finishing, you can keep your commercial fit-out costs under control.

Restaurant Fitout FAQ

Completing a successful restaurant fit-out depends heavily on working with reputable vendors you can trust.

When evaluating prospective restaurant fit-out vendors, look for established companies with a strong portfolio of hospitality projects. Enquire about their processes, safety records, and policies as a priority before comparing quotes. Schedule on-site meetings to verify not just their capabilities but also their professionalism in person.

Choosing your fitout vendors is crucial because restaurant fit-outs are complex projects requiring precision and blend aesthetics, practical functionality, and strict regulations. So leverage word-of-mouth testimonials, reputable listings, and stringent qualification criteria for your peace of mind. 

Embarking on a restaurant fit-out can be an exciting yet daunting task, especially when budget constraints come into play. While professional expertise is often invaluable, incorporating DIY projects into your fit-out strategy can significantly reduce costs without compromising quality or style. Some resources you can use are as follows:

  • Join online communities and shop fit out portals 
  • Browse social media accounts and read blogs on commercial fit-outs
  • Visit DIY Home improvement websites and stores 
  • Get ideas from repurposing and upcycling blogs
  • Sign up for classes, workshops, conferences, and design expos

Restaurant fit outs are pivotal in shaping the dining experience, transforming spaces into vibrant culinary artistry and social interaction hubs. As consumer preferences and industry trends continue to shift, the landscape of restaurant fit-outs is undergoing an exciting transformation, incorporating innovative design elements and catering to diverse tastes. Here are some of the upcoming trends in restaurant design: 

  • Bringing the outdoors indoors
  • Create an accent wall that reflects your restaurant
  • Restaurant design that promotes communal dining
  • Invest in modern and classy lighting fixtures 
  • Incorporating ‘walk-up windows’ instead of drive-thru. 
  • Install social media-worthy pieces to draw in customers 
  • Draw attention to the ceiling and/or floors

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