The front-of-house is a vital aspect of restaurant planning, whether it’s a buffet-style breakfast room, or a three-meal-a-day, upscale restaurant. While kitchen design may not have the artistic license of the front-of-house of a restaurant, it is an equally important consideration behind the scenes.

The kitchen is the heart and soul of foodservice operations. It’s the hub for food preparation and cooking, receiving, storage and dishwashing. As such, it has to be efficient, comfortable and safe to work in — and most importantly, artfully laid out to maximize floor space.

There are several conflicting forces at work when it comes to kitchen design, says Ian Jameson, senior associate with Cini-Little Foodservice Design Consultants in Toronto. “There’s the person bankrolling the budget, the chef who has to use it and the facilities guy who has to maintain it. The person responsible for capital costs may have a different idea of what goes into the kitchen than the one who has to use it.”

The issues they will all agree on is the need for space and efficiency. “It used to be kitchens were the size of football fields,” Jameson says. “You don’t have that luxury anymore; you have to be efficient from a spatial and labour point of view.” Space is a concern across the spectrum, from the smallest of breakfast pantries to large-format kitchens servicing hundreds of guests at any given sitting. Here’s a look at how some operators make the most of what they have.

GOOD DESIGN IN SMALL PACKAGES
“Every square foot that goes into food preparation and storage eats at a property’s revenue-per-square-foot, so the biggest driver in terms of design is maximizing space,” says Brendan Gibney, senior director of Franchise Services, for Choice Hotels in Mississauga. Having come from a larger hotel environment, he says design needs at a limited-service are much less demanding, given that kitchens are more akin to pantries. “Unlike a large hotel that has loading docks and different areas for storage, a pantry is the place where everything is stored and prepared,” he explains.

A Choice Hotel pantry is typically approximately 250 sq. ft. — most of which is taken up by the freezer/refrigeration system and cabinetry. Other must-haves for the space include a convection oven and hand-wash sink. If the property prefers using china and silverware over disposable items, then the space must include a dishwasher or three compartment-sink. Last, but not least, is a commercial coffee-brewing set-up.

Technology has helped operations squeeze more into less, Gibney says. “We can execute cooking in a much smaller space than 15 years ago. That being said, a significant portion of space is around storage versus actual cooking. Much of that is under the counter.” The buffet area itself must be equally efficient to ensure consumers get through the lines efficiently, he adds. “Things like the coffee and pancake/waffle machines should be separate.”

Gibney says budget for a typical pantry space renovation averages $10,000 to $15,000 for equipment. In a new build, costs can be as much as $30,000, which includes cabinetry, plumbing and electrical.

THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
Rob Hood is the corporate Food and Beverage manager for Atlific Hotels in Toronto. The company operates more than 60 hotels across the country. “To a certain extent, there are design guidelines,” he says. “For instance, a select-service brand is based on a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ – a schematic diagram that indicates certain components that need to be there.” Full-service kitchens are a “very different story,” he adds. “A kitchen producing food is not a revenue-generating centre like the front of the house. That’s why it is important to maximize space.”

On the mid-size front, the days of separate banquet and event kitchens are gone, Hood explains. “All production — from the restaurant to catering — is now being completed in one central area, so efficiency is key.”

His first rule of thumb is buying the best quality commercial product available to ensure a lengthy life. Another is investing in multi-purpose equipment. “In the old days you would buy a convection oven and steamer. Now that technology is integrated into one unit to produce a smaller footprint.”

Another useful technology is self-venting oven systems. “The most complicated and expensive thing to work out is the extraction systems,” Hood says. “That cost alone puts a dent in any major development project. Self-venting makes it easier to scope out plumbing because the unit can be moved.”

Also gone are the days of large basement storage rooms (with the exception of large catering and event properties). The solution is to increase deliveries to three days a week compared to one to reduce storage needs. Where an open kitchen or a live-cook service is preferred, equipment needs to be both functional and sleek, Hood says. “For live cooking, equipment needs to almost disappear when not in immediate view — such as thermal cooktops that match counters. Some look like pieces of furniture that can be moved and placed against the wall like a side table once they’re turned off.”

He estimates that a small banquet event kitchen could cost $20,000 for basic heat, refrigeration, dishwashing and equipment storage. “For larger projects — such as the Westin Montreal’s kitchens — equipment alone can cost up to $1 million.”

A LARGER PERSPECTIVE
The Fairmont Empress in Victoria launched its new Q Restaurant and Bar in June 2016, which was part of a major restoration project for the property. Executive chef Morgan Wilson says while the footprint didn’t change as they were working inside a heritage property, “other than the floor, everything is new.”

The basic layout was preserved with the exception of the cold area, where they decided to improve efficiency from a service standpoint. “We made the line more efficient for cooks to work on and get dishes up quicker, while limiting the need to move around,” Wilson says.

One investment for achieving that was the refrigerated drawer and roll-top units for keeping prep items cold at the stations. “We also put two stacking Rational ovens on the line,” he says. All equipment on the line — including the fridges — is on wheels to allow for easy removal and cleaning. There’s also a flight-deck pizza oven and a new Cinelli-Aspera pastry oven in the bakery kitchen.

The biggest investment was a new Capture Jet hood ventilation system, which Wilson estimates accounted for approximately half of the $1.5-million kitchen renovation budget. One of the biggest design changes involved doubling the size of the pass space, as well as improving lighting, he adds. “The pass was one of the biggest changes — the old space slowed down the process.”

He also worked with a fire-suppression company to put flexible hoses on the nozzles attached to the salamanders, allowing staff to quickly and easily disconnect and reconnect gas hoses when moving them for cleaning.

Wall coverings are FRP (fibre-reinforced plastic) panels that are cut to size. “They’re washable and really easy to maintain,” Wilson says. “The walls are very white, which helps reflect the light. When combined with the improved ventilation, the overall work environment has improved dramatically. We’ve even been able to put in an air conditioner, which is a big luxury in a kitchen.”

Volume 29, Number 1
Written by Denise Deveau

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