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Landscape Maintenance from Soup to Nuts

by Brent Johnson

In the "dog eat dog" food service industry (pardon the expression) one of the keys to success is the ability to create an atmosphere that entices people. The aroma of freshly baked bread can turn heads, but can a pleasing landscape lure people into a restaurant?

Restaurant landscapes are designed to illicit a behavioral response that unlocks basic instincts such as thirst and hunger. Akin to Pavlov's salivating dogs who responded to the sound of a dinner bell, the key to these activators is commonly associated with memory, taste, texture, and smell. Restaurateurs have experimented with these subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle mood initiators to manipulate feeding behavior.

McDonald's investigation of human behavior, for example, led them to the discovery of a color scheme that both attracts customers to enter their restaurants, and then repels them once they have purchased their food order, facilitating the need to move customers rapidly in and out of the store. Interior lighting is another common device that is used to create a sense of intimacy and security. Many designers have discovered that mirrors are an effective way of entertaining customers. People like looking at themselves, and a well-positioned mirror allows people to inconspicuously observe others as well.

Landscape Contractors have also found ways of attracting customers by creating environments that arouse the senses. The following article provides examples of some of the most successful restaurant landscapes and some of the techniques that contractors use to maintain them.

Mimi's Cafe

 John Hapgood's eclectic assortment of flowers, trees, and shrubs form a varied landscape that is difficult to classify using traditional catagories, but creates a high impact environment that is unmistakable.

From a design standpoint, Mimi's is an eclectic assortment of American-nouvelle cuisine, French country interior decoration, and English gardens. For twenty years John Hapgood has been creating landscapes for the restaurant chain, and his signature gardens have become a well-recognized trademark of the Mimi's dining experience.

As patrons regularly line up outside the restaurant for Sunday brunch, they are treated to an amazing variety of flowers and trees. A pragmatist at heart, Hapgood's design aesthetic can probably be articulated by two simple questions: 1. Does it look good? and 2. Does it grow well in the environment? In fact, his attitude toward treating plant disease is summed up by his motto, "The best prevention is not planting in the first place." For example, he used to plant blue grass, but he found that during the late summer when it gets humid, rust would begin to form on the lawn. Rather than dosing the turf with chemicals, his solution was to replace the blue grass with fescue, which seems to tolerate the warmer climate much better. In another instance, when some of his crew were suffering from allergic reactions to the sycamore trees, he simply pulled them out, choosing instead to replace them with a variety of California pepper, liquid amber, pear, and plum trees.

In terms of variety, Hapgood employs a very high concentration of color. There may be a dozen different species within one square meter. In fact, at the Mimi's in the City of Industry he has planted over 21 different species of rose. The complexity of keeping everything in bloom with this kind of variety keeps his three-man crew constantly working, handling up to 30 stores a week. He estimates that the expense of maintaining each landscape is between $250 and $500 per month with variations depending upon tree trimming, which may cost as much as $600.

The busiest season for Hapgood and his crew is just before Mother's Day. As the single most important business day of the year for the restaurant industry, Hapgood has to make sure that he has made all of his color changes from winter to spring. This is the time when the highest volume of customers will be visiting the property so Hapgood pulls out all the stops with an explosion of color.

One of the unique challenges that is specific to the restaurant environment is the problem of dealing with pests. Because smell is an important attractor Hapgood has to be careful about the kind of pesticides that he uses. Many pesticides give off an acrid odor that could offend customers, particularly if they're sitting outside on the terrace. For this reason, Hapgood uses Maverick, which is odorless, as well as paraffin and oil soap. He has found that oil soap kills up to 99% of the sucking insects like spider mites.

 Mimi's Cafe is teeming with an amazing variety of plant life. In this space of approximately 2x2' we identified ten different species including: Buxus japonica, Helianthus, Hemerocallis, Phormium 'Dark Light', Celosia 'New Look", Digitalis, Iberis sempervirens, Iresine herbstii, Salvia splendens, and Senecio cineraria.

Another problem that Hapgood contends with is theft. Beyond the occasional picked blossom, Hapgood has had entire flower pots stolen from the property. This has caused him to bolt many of the planters to the ground, which makes maintenance more difficult, but the expense of continued replacement leaves him little choice.

McCormick & Schmick's

McCormick & Schmick's is an upscale seafood restaurant and brewery that caters primarily to the lunchtime business crowd. Because these restaurants are typically located in downtown business centers and office buildings, landscaping is an especially difficult challenge. In an environment where building facades tend to be uniform glass and steel, restaurants have to establish an identity through landscape.

Ray Bolles of the landscape maintenance firm A Growing Concern, is employed by the property management company C.B. Richard Ellis, to maintain the Equity office building at 2000 Main Street in Irvine, California, which includes the McCormick & Schmick's restaurant. Bolles describes the landscape concept there as square and formal. As a meeting place for professionals, the appearance of the outer facade is intended to impress customers with its dual role as a place for negotiating business deals, and also as a place to relax after a stressful day.

 This high visibility location in the center of Irvine's prosperous downtown business section requires weekly pruning and hand detailing in order to maintain its brilliant colors. The organic curves and clean lines of the flower beds are intended as a complement to the formality of the glass and steel environment. Reflections from the water fountains and the color beds are magnified by the large panoramic windows, which bring the life and movement of the outdoors within the restaurant's interior.

Bolles achieves this dual functionality by planting clean rows of flowers that are hand detailed and lace pruned once a week to ensure sharp, crisp arcs of brilliant color. These flowers are also changed quarterly to optimize color at the peak of growing season. Raphiolepsis and lilies as well as Camellia sasangua provide rich hues of purple, red, and orange. The color is contained by honeysuckle and a Lagerstroemia hedge around the patio area. Australian plant ferns are used to decorate the interior of the patio, and guerilla hair cedar mix mulch lends a deep red tone to the planters. Marathon II dwarf borders the perimeter of the flowers and is maintained with Exmark walk behind mowers as well as 21" Snapper and Toro brand mowers. Bolles uses trimmers and edgers manufactured by Kawasaki.

One of the challenges of watering potted plants at this site is that there are slip and fall issues that must be considered. Bolles tries to water early in the day to avoid exposing customers to wet pavement.

A related issue that concerns Bolles is the type of fertilizer he uses near walkways. He stays away from iron-based fertilizer because it stains concrete as well as making surfaces slippery. Instead, he prefers to use 15-15-15 or 10-10-10 from Lesco. He is very careful about using 9-9-9, but when applied in moderation he finds it an effective supplement in his arsenal of lawn care products.

On The Border

The On The Border restaurant located in Tustin, California, is a southwestern style Mexican restaurant that stands apart from its mostly tropical surroundings. Like a desert in the middle of an oasis, On The Border makes a bold statement.

For John Germer of Westbrooke Landscaping, this restaurant requires the lowest level of maintenance of all his commercial contracts, costing a mere $200 a month to maintain.

All of the normal care of the landscape is done by hand. Weeding and cultivating can be accomplished by a crew of four, working a half day twice a month.

Because most of the vegetation consists of bamboo, succulents, and cactus, minimal irrigation is required. In addition, these plantings also have a further advantage. They seem to have a natural resistance to pests and disease. This unforeseen benefit of using arid landscaping has also allowed Germer to cut back on his use of fertilizers and pesticides. Aside from a few color pockets that are kept alive by Rain Bird 1806 pop-ups and fixed-head sprinklers on risers, this landscape is as uncomplicated and efficient as you're going to see. And yet, the visual impact of moving through this environment is equivalent to some of the most expensive landscapes that money can afford.

 In addition to their natural drought resistance, the succulents, bamboo, and cactus used by Westbrook Landscaping had the unanticipated benefit of providing natural pest resistance.

One of the unusual behavioral characteristics that Germer has noticed about people and their relationship to landscapes is that they seem to be very respectful of flowers. Even though they may walk across the lawn or trample through the hedges, people tend to stay clear of his flower pockets. Germer has used this knowledge to his advantage by using flowers to guide and move people through the landscape, particularly around the entranceways and in areas where people congregate.

Monterey Bay Cannery

Ruben Green of Lasting Impressions, is in charge of maintaining the landscape for Monterey Bay Cannery. This rustic establishment recalls the rugged beauty of the Pacific Northwest with tall pines, large boulders, and broad canopies. There is even a small patch of sand that resembles a beach headland.

According to Green, the maintenance of the sand requires the most frequent attention as people walk through it, tracking sand into the restaurant, and discarding their cigarettes and other refuse. The sand can't be permitted to get too soft where people might lose their footing. Special care must also be taken to ensure that all of the footpaths are kept free from sand and water because of the restaurant's proximity to Leisure World, a large retirement community in Laguna Woods, California, where slip and fall issues are a primary concern.

In order to avoid over watering near walkways, Green has devised a drip system that directs the water to the roots of the plants and trees. Green's irrigation system is a significant improvement on the original system, which sprayed of the entire landscape indiscrimately. This system both conserves water and limits the amount of standing water that can cause soil erosion problems.

Green has a crew of two men who manicure the landscape on a weekly basis. The crew arrives in the early morning so that watering and pesticide application can be done before the lunch crowd starts to show up. Green uses Malathion to eliminate the white flies, which have been a particular nuisance in Orange County this year, as well as oil soaps and snail bait. He also uses Orthene to control the pests on the Lantana, which announce the entrance to the restaurant with bright orange and yellow blossoms. Pruning of the large pines, sycamore, and plum trees takes place in the fall and winter. These have to be kept under control because the branches encroach on the parking areas. Green estimates that the approximate cost for maintaining this landscape is $250 per month.

The next time you begin a major project, take time to notice landscapes in highly trafficked areas such as your favorite restaurant, and pay particular attention to the way these landscape elements affect your dining experience. The contractors who have developed and maintained these sites are experts, whose talents have been refined in high profile environments for many years. LCM

 By selecting mature deciduous trees, large boulders, and sandy beaches, the Monterey Bay Cannery recreates a likeness of the Pacific Northwest.


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