Part of the Radisson Blu, FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar sits adjacent to the hotel's ultramodern lobby and just a skyway away from the Mall of America, a 520-store shopping facility that draws 42 million visitors annually. The first hotel directly connected to the Mall of America, the Radisson Blu serves as a refuge for people visiting the mall. The hotel also attracts guests attending meetings and other events that occur on this property.
Though this was a new build, the food and beverage design team had to work within specified parameters. For example, the Radisson Blu was built on a previously existing parking lot, and the building could not exceed 13 floors. The design team had to concentrate 90 percent of the food and beverage footprint on a single floor that also houses housekeeping, executive offices and storage. The net result is an incredibly efficient foodservice production space that employs the most modern technologies available.
The main challenge of the design was to create a serene and comfortable space given that FireLake is just a skyway away from a bustling mall. The team created this sense of calm by mimicking the comfortable Midwestern cuisine of the restaurant's menu. Reclaimed Minnesota barn wood appears on many of the restaurant's and bar's walls, beams and ceilings. Dim and varied lighting creates a calm and effortlessly changing aesthetic across all rooms of the restaurant.
The pillars supporting the 13-story structure posed a problem because the team was driven to use the largest available spaces for the 2 ballrooms. There were also restrictions that came from the swimming pool located directly above the restaurant, which required additional support. The beams in the restaurant had to be closer together to support the swimming pool, which means they now consume about one-quarter of the space in this foodservice operation. Therefore the team settled on the current configuration, which allows for a large ballroom space and efficient delivery into the hotel. The design also allows natural light to flow into the restaurant, catering spaces and staff dining room. This represents a distinguishing factor for Radisson Blu because other restaurants in the Mall of America receive little or no natural light.
The skybridge allows guests to go from space to space and creates a dramatic sense of arrival as well as a distinct separate place for dining. The hotel's first-floor lobby transitions via escalator to the second floor, which hosts the food sections. The lobby's design then flows through the gallery to transition into the guest rooms.
Efficiency drives the back-of-house layout, creating a kitchen that is one-third smaller and produces twice the volume that the restaurant's counterpart in downtown Minneapolis does. The kitchen sits adjacent to the elevators and the service hallway, the area through which the restaurant's deliveries arrive. By taking the available space that was there and allowing for the dispersal of every delivery directly to the location where the item will be used, the team saved on space and labor because staff does not need to move product more than once.
The team was challenged to create a central circulation spine to the space to accommodate traffic from the storage to the production areas, banquet areas and employee dining as well as dishes coming back from the dining room. Narrow corridors also posed a challenge for staff to travel through when transporting equipment to banquet halls. Architects achieved a working space by widening the corridors for more functionality, allowing for easier access to ballrooms from the kitchen.
During banquet service, the flow of people and food will go in multiple directions to keep traffic aisles clear and allow enough room for parking banquet carts and Queen Mary carts holding soiled dishes waiting to be scrapped and washed. Food for banquets travels upstream because the ballroom sits opposite the restaurant's dining room.
The team chose not to have a traditional service hallway that skirts all the way around the building because that would have taken away the access to light, which the design team believes "trumps everything." Therefore, the kitchen was placed next to the service elevator, which makes receiving deliveries very efficient. One hallway runs from the kitchen through the cocktail lounge and restaurant; staff use it to deliver food, therefore minimizing the impact on the guests and allowing for a beautiful space to house FireLake.
Food arrives two floors below the kitchen. Staff check the orders and deliver them to the appropriate storage areas. Unlike in many other hotels, storage and production reside on the same level, which means staff do not have to handle food twice. Cooks for each restaurant production station take only the ingredients they need from the appropriate storage area. The kitchen setup improves efficiency in labor usage as well by clearly delineating the specific prep areas: prepreparation, meat and seafood preparation, pantry/bakery and hot food production.
Executive chef Paul Lynch's office sits directly outside the storeroom so he can keep an eye on what food staff remove from storage throughout the day. This minimizes food waste by ensuring staff retrieve only the necessary food from storage. Lynch can also keep track of plates and other items taken from storage so that unnecessary china isn't used, which eliminates the need for excess dishes to be cleaned. This placement also plays a role in keeping staff happy because Lynch is able to hear conversations among the team and can pick up on their needs and challenges. Due to Lynch's tight attention to food usage, FireLake's food expenditures come in 6 percent below budget.
FE&S: Since FireLake opened, what has the customer traffic been like, and how are you meeting the project's goals, such as objectives for revenue, customer traffic and labor usage?
SC: The project's goal was to maximize seating and the guest experience as well as maximize the banquet spaces for guests while minimizing the footprint for the support functions such as executive offices, storage, managerial offices and the staff dining room. The problem was resolved by pushing the footprint for the production space to an incredibly efficient point by employing the most modern technologies available. By creating an efficient kitchen, the team is able to provide food for diners in the main dining room, the bar, as well as the multiple banquet halls in the Radisson Blu Mall of America. The kitchen is built for 350 restaurant covers a day and 60 room service orders. With a constantly buzzing restaurant from breakfast to after-dinner drinks, the team at FireLake has enjoyed incredible success in meeting the project's goals for customer traffic and, in turn, revenue and labor use.
PL: Our business levels consistently have exceeded the opening pro forma along with a strong trend of continued growth with repeat business. The restaurant exceeded the opening-year-goal revenue by over 20 percent and exceeded food and beverage profitability in the first year, heading into the second year in very good footing. We are on pace to meet and exceed the 2014 budgeted goals, both in sales and in profit. Food and beverage materialized over $12 million in annual sales for the first 12 months of operation.
FE&S: Why does this project represent the best of the best in foodservice facility design?
PL: Because FireLake delivers a truly dynamic guest experience in a very unique venue. There was no model for FireLake when the idea first came about. The team had to figure it out as they worked their way through the project. FireLake has completely raised the standards for the market. It took guts and a willingness to take a risk to say that there would be a market for a high-end project like FireLake in this setting. Not only was the restaurant able to deliver this unique guest experience, but it set new standards within the company. For example, it introduced a restaurant with a freestanding appeal adjacent to a mall and in a hotel with resounding success. With its menu of meat grilled over wood fire, fish and other Midwestern dishes, the dining experience is memorable.