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Restaurant: Possible with Plywood

Looks do matter, at least in the restaurant world. But looks aren’t everything if you're seated in a chair that's so uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter what’s on the menu. Whether patrons are dining on filet mignon, a Big Mac or cheesy tacos, the interior furnishings have to be both comfortable and functional.


Restaurant furniture is built to last through
seven-year cycles. Exotic plywood is
lightweight and inherently stable, making it the material of choice for the framing components used in demanding hospitality environments.

Some restaurant chains are taking giant leaps to keep up appearances. Take McDonald’s, for example. The fast food chain recently announced they are spending over $1 billion to revamp their 14,000 U.S. restaurants by the year 2015 in an effort to give them a more modern, cozy “grown-up” look, similar to Starbucks and Apple stores. One of the chain’s renovations is updated seating. The current industrial steel chairs are giving way to wooden chairs, colorful stools and in some cases, vinyl-covered seats that resemble leather. Some stores will have larger lounge chairs similar to the kind you might expect to find in a coffee shop. And beneath all that softer, cozier new seating lies a sturdy material in meranti/lauan (Shorea spp.) plywood.

“Most food chains remodel every seven years by design,” says Dan Shaw, procurement and sourcing manager for Facilities Concepts Inc. And Shaw would know. McDonald’s is one of their clients, along with other industry giants like Yum Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers, Pizza Hut and A&W) as well as retail and high-end one-off stores.

But FCI does more than build furniture, they also build relationships. “We work with our clients’ architects and engineers to continually improve our products so that every project meets the specified performance, budget and timeline,” says Shaw. To this end FCI offers many finishes for their standard furniture, seating and décor lines.

Creative Combos

Facilities Concepts Inc. is a turnkey commercial furniture, fixtures and décor manufacturer specializing in the multi-billion dollar food service industry. With more than 25 years of industry experience, FCI coordinates the design, production and installation of just about everything in a restaurant’s interior from the service counter on out.

Meranti/lauan plywood has become a standard workhorse material used in the construction oftables, booths, millwork and cabinetry.


In its combined 250,000 square-foot production and warehouse facility in Indiana, FCI has a wide variety of capabilities including fabricating plastic, glass and steel, as well as woodworking and powder coating. 

Meranti/lauan plywood has become a standard workhorse material that FCI uses in the construction of tables, booths, millwork and cabinetry.

“We’re always trying to improve our work,” says Shaw. “Our history of using lauan came about when other materials didn’t work for specific applications.” Shaw relates the story of when a large national chain came to FCI to help resolve an issue they had with protecting wall surfaces. By utilizing exotic lauan plywood, FCI was able to create a wall paneling material from linoleum (flooring), which has proven to be substantially more durable than traditional materials. Many national chains have adopted using a lauan-based linoleum wall surface as a standard specification and it is being used in thousands of installations.

In the restaurant environment the furniture and millwork not only has to look good, it must perform. Chairs especially, get a lot of abuse. Most materials used in seating systems such as all-plywood chair bases, double-stitched seat cushions, and water-and soil-resistant fabric treatments are chosen because they meet stringent standards for wear and longevity. “Some of the stores practically hose down their interiors and fixtures to clean them,” says Shaw. “We use lauan and plywood for the box bases of booths instead of particleboard because lauan doesn’t soak up moisture.”

Order Up Lauan

Staying abreast of restaurant design trends means staying abreast of retail trends, consumer behavior and market competition. Current statistics from the National Restaurant Association show that restaurateurs are spending more each year on interiors of their restaurants with most big franchise restaurants updating their designs every seven years.

In the restaurant environment the furniture and millwork not only has to look good, it must perform. Chairs especially, get a lot of abuse. Most materials used in seating systems such as all-plywood chair bases, double-stitched seat cushions, and water-and soil-resistant fabric treatments are chosen because they meet stringent standards for wear and longevity.

In that seven year period interiors are really put to the test. Materials in restaurant design are carefully selected to ensure that the furniture, millwork and décor last through the renovation cycle. Lauan, with its unbeatable strength-to-weight ratio, makes the perfect substrate for hanging wall treatments or to support seating components that are designed to be replaceable. “The restaurant industry is fast paced and fast changing,” says Shaw. “FCI is a fully-integrated manufacturer with just-in-time manufacturing. We work with several distributors to ensure we always have the materials we need. The material comes in, then goes out the door as product. And still our shelves are full,” says Shaw. “Our relationships with suppliers are a very important part of our success.”

Weight is also a factor when it comes to shipping product around the country for installation. “The exotic plywood is lightweight and stable too. It holds up in environments where there can be excessive heat or cold without growing or shrinking away from the surface,” says Shaw.

As restaurants strive to keep their image, and their menu fresh, they are investing in their environment. McDonald’s, which for decades has emphasized serving customers quickly then getting them out the door, is trying to take the “fast” out of fast food. Now they want customers to stick around and get comfortable. An inviting interior is part of the plan along with features such as free Wi-Fi and designer coffee drinks. Although the décor may change every seven years, one thing will stay the same: versatile, durable lauan. 

Copyright© 2011 by the International Wood Products Association. Published by Bedford Falls Communications, Inc. and circulated to an audience of 20,000 architects, designers, distributors, manufacturers, and users of imported wood products in North America.

Plywood Suppliers

American Pacific Inc.

Argo Fine Imports Inc.

Bridgewell Resources LLC

Brookside Veneers Ltd.

Canusa Wood Products

Clarke Veneers & Plywood

Columbia Forest Products

Del Valle, Kahman & Company Inc.

East Teak Fine Hardwoods, Inc. 

Hardwood Specialty Products

IKE Trading Company, Ltd.

Liberty Woods International

Interholco AG

Interwood Forest Products

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

McCorry & Company, Ltd.

Swaner Hardwood Company

Timber Products Company

TradeLeaf LLC

UCS Forest Group

Wood Brokerage International

American Hardwood Export Council

Georgia Ports Authority

Ghana Forestry Commission 

Malaysian Timber Council

Port of Port Arthur

Shorepoint Insurance Services

South Jersey Port Corporation 

U*C Coatings Corporation


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