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‘Fast-Fine Dining' Brings High-End Food To The Masses


With pizza dough that rises over three days and soft-serve ice cream made with buffalo milk, Flour + Water Pizzeria in San Francisco may sound like the height of artisanal food luxury. But it is actually a clever offshoot of one of chef Thomas McNaughton’s high-end restaurants, Flour + Water, and part of a growing trend of restaurateurs opening “fast-fine” eateries: smaller versions of their original establishments that offer the same type of high-quality food while keeping operating costs low.  

Bay Area restaurant owners are turning to this smaller-format model in response to rising labor costs, staff shortages and a desire to connect with a wider audience. The challenge they face now is preserving the ambience, design and taste of a fine dining restaurant while making it efficient and cost-effective.

“The experience of eating at these fast-fine spots should connect you to the feel of the original brand, but offer an extra layer of accessibility and convenience,” Studio KDA principal Keith Morris said. 

Flour + Water Pizzeria

In July 2018, San Francisco’s minimum wage rose to $15 an hour, joining Berkeley, Mountain View and other California cities. Rising labor costs, paired with an ongoing staff shortage in the area have inspired local restaurateurs to think of creative ways to spend less without sacrificing quality. 

When the owners of Comal, a highly successful Mexican restaurant in downtown Berkeley, decided to open Comal Next Door, they created a smaller lunch and dinner menu that would be more cost-effective to prepare. 

Comal Next Door uses the same ingredients that can be found in dishes from its higher-end parent restaurant, but it offers smaller portions and customizable bowls and burritos, as opposed to the roasted whole chickens and 22-ounce rib-eye steaks that can be found at Comal. 

Next, the owners brought in design firm Studio KDA, which also designed the original Comal, to help them create a relaxed space that would appeal to the diverse, fast-paced lunch and dinner crowd. Diners order at the counter and sit at a communal table or sidewalk seat. 

“They have an intuitive online ordering app that addresses every dietary restriction seamlessly, creating a true personalized experience,” Studio KDA principal Marites Abueg said. “A robust online delivery business accounts for a healthy percentage of the total revenue.” 

Many restaurants have fine-tuned their take-out business to do well in S.F.

At the Studio KDA-designed Flour + Water Pizzeria, the oversized, $8 pizza slices are actually about half of a 13-inch pizza, making them perfect for lunch or an affordable dinner for one. They are also available right from a dedicated to-go counter to keep customers flowing through.

These fine-casual restaurants can build popular followings by placing a premium on customer experience. This means focusing on the things that are most important to diners — aside from excellent food — including speed, personal attention and atmosphere. 

“Unlike at Flour + Water, there is no advance planning needed to come dine at Flour + Water Pizzeria,” Abueg said. “There are no reservations, all of the tables are on a first-come, first-serve basis. If there’s a wait, hosts offer to text diners when their table is ready so they can enjoy the neighborhood.” 

Creating a concept that is conducive to volume is key. Simplified menu offerings and fast service can maximize table turns, keeping wait times low while ensuring each diner feels appreciated. 


Studio KDA also strives to make sure the interiors of these offshoots align with the style and tone of their counterparts when it comes to details like furniture and lighting. This is why Flour + Water Pizzeria features an acacia wood bar counter, hand-plastered walls, sap-walnut tables and custom brass light fixtures that evoke the handcrafted feel of the food.

To combat staff shortages, some restaurants are abandoning traditional service models in favor of more high-tech options. At Eatsa, another Studio KDA-designed project in San Francisco’s Financial District, front-of-house staff have been eliminated. Instead, guests order healthy salad and protein bowls through tablets before retrieving them from automated windows that flash their names. 

“While this fast-fine trend was born out of the need to keep costs down, the overall goal has always been to bring the chef and/or owner’s vision to a larger population,” Abueg said. “It’s all about offering great food and a beautiful atmosphere to a wider, more diverse audience.” 

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Studio KDA. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.