Thursday, September 27, 2012 / 11:55 AM
Ask George : Why do restaurants put paper in their windows during construction and prior to opening? Byron K, St. Louis
That depends on whom you ask.
Ask a general contractor and he might tell you it’s to keep wandering eyes from wandering inside, as power tools are worth serious money on the resale market. One contractor confessed that it works the other way as well: a papered window keeps a worker’s eyes from being distracted outside, by all the pretty passers-by.
Ask a municipality and you'll learn that “papering the windows is not a requirement but rather a strong suggestion,” according to Tom Niemeier, President of SPACE Architecture + Design, a company responsible for many local restaurant renovations. “It serves two purposes,” he said. “It’s both a theft deterrent and it shields all that's unsightly.”
Ask a restaurant owner or tenant and you get more answers. Some want to maintain the element of suspense until the space is spiffed and spit-shined...at which point the paper gets ripped down en masse, akin to unwrapping a giant gift. Others want the privacy that a papered-up window affords. Vendors and salesmen who “just happened to be in the area” (to say nothing of nosy Dining Editors sniffing out the next scoop) often barge in without appointment and disrupt whatever the owner/manager had otherwise planned for that day.
Chris Sommers, co-owner of the six Pi Pizzeria stores, got so bothered by interruptions on previous projects that when he was building out the Pi 2 Go space in Chesterfield, he devised an elaborate smokescreen just to throw off intruders. He created a fictitious entity—Armadillo Joe’s Tex-Mex & Taxidermy—complete with color logo (at left), and placed it in the papered-up window, which led the curious to a website complete with Western-themed music. Ian Froeb, the RFT’s restaurant critic, noted that “half the new restaurants in town don't bother throwing up a site even half as rudimentary as Armadillo Joe's!” The ruse was successful and Sommers revealed the spoof just days before Pi 2 Go’s opening.
Veteran restaurateur Charlie Downs added still more insight. “Originally this was done by retailers—and much more elaborately—to create interest in what was coming,“ he said, adding, “in some cases shielding non-union labor from union eyes.” Mike Johnson, his longtime restaurant partner, added a whimsical element to this exercise when he “papered” the windows of the then under-construction Sugarfire Smokehouse (at right) with a leftover bolt of blue gingham plastic tablecloth material left behind by Dickey’s BBQ, the former tenant. His reason? "Just trying to create a little interest," he said.
Gerard Craft took yet a different approach, pulling the paper from the windows of both Pastaria and Niche weeks (and in the case of Niche, months) before opening. Craft believes in getting potential customers involved early—as early as possible—so that when the restaurant finally does open, diners already feel like they’re a part of it, like they’ve accompanied him on the journey. Social media plays a huge part in this process as well. He told us as much in a Q&A in last month’s SLM. In the case of Niche, Claytonites got to monitor the progress of Peat Wollaeger’s magnificent mural (below left).
Another way to draw attention is to make the window dressing as whimsical as possible, as seen with this vinyl decal in an under-construction retail shop in Lisbon, Portugal (below right).
The takeaway? Make the front facade work for you during your restaurant's construction—in whatever way you see fit—and don't be content with a window full of white or brown shipping paper. Save that material for the tabletops...
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