• 2018/11/13

Modern is a moving target. In this era

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  When considering the design on a modern limited-service restaurant kitchen, there’s one axiom that holds true:  of heightened food-safety expectations, increased demand for quality cuisine, rising labor costs and rental rates, improved technology, and the growing use of pickup and delivery options, today’s kitchen will need to be built with tomorrow in mind.

  “The only thing we know about the future is we don’t know about the future,” says Juan Martinez, a principal at profitality, a Miami-based industrial engineering consulting firm. “Brands need to embrace continuous improvement.”

  Change comes increasingly quickly nowadays. Take delivery, for example. Mainly offered by the pizza and Chinese food businesses just a few years ago, it suddenly has become an integral part of many quick-service and fast-casual operations, applying added pressure to the kitchens.

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  “Everybody is going through a seismic shift in terms of designing space,” says Matt Harding, director of culinary for Columbus, Ohio–based piada Italian Street Food. “In just the last three years, as we track delivery, it has exploded.”

  For some companies, the ability to adapt quickly may mean having extra space built into the kitchen; for others, it could be having equipment, technology, and ergonomics that can be updated easily and cost-effectively. These and other factors require a design plan.

  While it seems easy to view the kitchen as a stand-alone entity that may not have much to do with operating the front of the house or other segments of a restaurant, it needs to be seen in terms of the whole business and the direction it is going.

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  “No. 1 is taking this holistic approach of the kitchen and menu along with the customer experience,” says Robert Seely, director of operations and planning for WD partners, a major restaurant design firm. “I can get a kitchen to fit in a tight box, but if the client wants a more open environment allowing customers to view the food being prepped, that’s something different. We need to understand what the engagement piece is and the value of it.”

  There are plenty of priorities to consider in designing a kitchen, Martinez says. “Quality and food safety are non-negotiables,” he says. “Food safety is the most non-negotiable, but quality is close behind.” The downside of food-safety issues is obvious. Not only can these result in legal issues, but they also create a severe negative perception problem for a restaurant. Quality, meanwhile, is a differentiator for an operator that helps shape consumer perception of their brand.

  There are, of course, cost factors that come into play in kitchen design. Capital costs refer to the one-time expenditures for construction or buying equipment, and ongoing costs allude to ongoing spending, including labor, food, and utilities. Not surprisingly, it is easier for larger, more established companies to invest in new equipment than smaller ones.

  “Concepts should be willing to invest in initial capital costs,” Martinez says, but that is a hard sell for smaller players.

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  Labor should also play a significant role in kitchen design. Seely says it’s important for companies to be more efficient with labor to help drive down workforce costs. Even cutting the time of half a person a day through equipment efficiencies can mean huge cost savings for both large and small companies.

  Updated equipment can certainly help with labor, especially devices that are easy for staff to use and maintain—all the way down to keeping the equipment clean.

  “Think of the fryer and how hard it is to change the oil,” says Charlie Souhrada, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs for the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers. “No one wants to do that, so how can we make that as simple and self-contained as possible?”

  In addition to making chores simpler, new technology can make work less stressful, both physically and mentally—a plus for workforce retention. Some newer equipment not only cooks more consistently and efficiently, but also features buttons with icons of the menu items being cooked—avoiding language barriers—and allows for remote diagnostics.

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