When the Occidental Restaurant opened in The Oliver T. Carr Co.'s Willard office building 13 months ago, Carr officials knew that if the restaurant succeeded, a new area of business would open for them.

Now the big commercial development company, which is the general partner in Occidental, is preparing to open McPherson Grill at 1500 K Street NW, the old Southern Railway building, which it also is renovating. By 1992, the company plans to own six restaurants in its buildings around the area, said Philip R. Carr, a senior vice president of the developer.

Carr said that owning restaurants in the company's buildings is a natural extension of the services the developer already provides tenants. The company owns parking garages and provides other food services for its building tenants; one day, it may provide food services for the hotels it builds, Carr said.

The Carr restaurants are part of a growing local trend that has been showing up in other cities as commercial developers -- reaching for an advantage to serve their present tenants or attract new ones -- switch from leasing space to restaurants to owning and operating them. Going into the risky restaurant business gives developers more control and means that tenants don't have to look outside the building for places to spend expense-account luncheon dollars, these developers say.

"It's a new-generation private club, to a certain degree," said Tom McConnell, of the hotel/restaurant consulting division of Laventhol & Horwath. A fancy restaurant lends a certain ambiance to the building, McConnell said, and reflects well on the developer.

"Carr isn't building in the slums," said Duke Brannock, a real estate broker and one of the owners of Gary's restaurant, a clubby eatery in the Carr building at 1800 M Street. "When you charge $30 a square foot and higher ... the restaurant that goes in that building ain't going to be a White Tower."

Carr is not the first developer to own and operate restaurants in its buildings. The Charles E. Smith Cos., one of the major developers of Crystal City, saw the need for food services ranging from carryouts to table-cloth restaurants in its buildings, and began owning them nine years ago. And some say that developers are particularly interested in providing food services in some areas of the suburbs, where employes otherwise would have to drive to find eating places.

Hadid Development Cos. opened Maxfield's Grill in its building at 1300 N. 17th Street in Rosslyn this month and plans to open other restaurants in the next two years, according to John Sarpa, senior vice president of the company. Restaurant Managers Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Hadid, will manage other restaurants the company builds "instead of negotiating with another restaurateur and deferring a significant part of the revenues to an independent management company," Sarpa said.

Whether a developer owns or leases a restaurant space, it can be troublesome and expensive. A first-class restaurant operation today easily can cost $200 to $250 a square foot to build, according to industry sources -- a minimum of $1 million for a 5,000-square-foot restaurant. Given that expense, some developers would rather have control of the restaurant themselves.

"The costs are so great, {developers} might as well go into the business," said Chuck Lapine, a partner in the retail development firm Petrie, Bierman & Partners.

Lapine's firm and the development firm of John Georgelas & Sons are considering a partnership arrangement with a restaurateur for their City Place development in Silver Spring, Lapine said. "We may take an investment position, but we're not going into the restaurant business," he said.

Other developers agree that because restaurants are such high-risk businesses -- estimates of new-restaurant failures range from 25 to 90 percent -- and take so much expertise to run, developers who want to have restaurants virtually have to set up a restaurant division and hire professionals to manage it.

"It's not our choice to be in that business," said James W. Todd, president of Hazel-Peterson Cos. "I would not go into the restaurant business on the basis that I could do better at it than someone who's done it for years. We like to get good professionals who are full-time." Todd said the company's Fair Lakes project in Fairfax County will have three or four restaurants in the three office buildings -- all owned and operated by someone else.

But developers often have little choice other than to go into the restaurant business, according to Michael Sternberg, director of operations for the Occidental and the other Carr Co. restaurants. Too often, he said, "you rent out space to restaurants that go out of business and are left to find a new tenant."

A prime example is Western Development Corp., which was left with a gaping whole in its Washington Harbour office and retail complex in October when the Potomac restaurant, one of the complex's main attractions and a renter of more than 20,000 square feet, filed for protection under federal bankruptcy laws. The space now sits empty while the bankruptcy is played out in court.

Most developers that go into the restaurant business do it only after carefully evaluating the risks. The Carr Co. decided to go forward only after the Occidental did $4.5 million in sales in the past year, and Mohammed Hadid had restaurant experience as a partner in J. Pauls in Georgetown before he set up a restaurant division.

One advantage for developers, industry observers say, is that they can get lower interest rates on the money to finance the entire development and use the same loan package to build the restaurant.

"It's a very labor-intensive business and a risky business -- to some," Philip Carr said of the company's restaurant venture, which will be looking for a site in Carr Co.'s Ballston complex next. "But we bring the development understanding, the long-term planning, the understanding of construction costs in putting the deal together."

And, said McConnell, restaurants may even make money for careful developers. "The high-end, nice restaurants generate more income than other retail tenants," he said.

Washington developers may be following the example of their New York counterparts, who have long offered incentives to get high-quality restaurants in their buildings because of high rents.

In 1982, when the Equitable Tower was being built in midtown Manhattan, Benjamin D. Holloway, now chairman of Equitable Investment Corp., saw a need for first-class restaurants in the building. "We saw it as a need to make the market," said Jonathan D. Miller, a spokesman for the real estate investment arm of Equitable Life Assurance.

The Equitable Center has attracted three top New York restaurants -- Le Bernardin, Palio and Sam's Restaurant. But it wasn't easy. For Le Bernardin, a four-star French restaurant, Equitable spent $5 million to create the restaurant space that would attract a top-notch restaurant tenant. Equitable owns the space, for which Le Bernardin pays rent and a percentage of the profits.

The two other restaurants were lured with similar deals, according to Miller.

"Having restaurants that tenants can just come down the elevators and go to is very important," said Miller. "When they're top-quality restaurants, it's a nice amenity."