Back-of-the-house areas, such as kitchens, don’t immediately lend themselves to pictures of grand design, but a well-designed kitchen can make or break a hotel’s foodservice operation.
The advantages of a properly set-up kitchen area are endless, according to Alec Bauer, owner and founder of Kitchen, Restaurant + Bar Specialists, a full-service kitchen and restaurant design firm based in El Cerrito, Calif., and Burlington, Vt.
“Well-designed spaces create happier employees, calmer and more efficient workspaces, fewer workplace injuries, more efficient operations and lower turnover,” Bauer said. “We look at everything from employee and staff circulation to style of service to beverage programs to menu design and equipment layout.”
Robert Polacek, partner and chief creative officer for restaurant design firm Puccini Group, said successful kitchen design always starts with understanding the space, the concept and the menu.
“In an existing kitchen remodel, it is always the same: Can we produce the menu in the existing kitchen? If not, what changes are needed?” he said.
After those questions are answered, there are a certain set of basics that are also necessary in order to produce an operational kitchen, Polacek said.
“These include, but are not limited to, a cook line, scullery and a variety of food storage opportunities,” he said. “These pieces require a certain amount of space and adjacency. Once these fundamental areas have been addressed, the remaining pieces should then be filled in.”
Another consideration is the type of culinary team that is in place or is anticipated, according to Russ Pizzuto, a project manager and kitchen consultant for Wilson Associates’ specialty F&B studio, Blueplate Studios.
He said that it has been customary in the U.S. for a cook line to be against a wall with the pick-up counter parallel to it. But many kitchens are converting to a more European style, he said, in which the pick-up counter is perpendicular to the cook line.
The Holiday Inn Express brand, which is part of InterContinental Hotels Group, recently debuted a new prototype called Formula Blue. The brand’s kitchen set-up was only tweaked, with a slight expansion in the back-of-the-house area in new-build properties to allow for more countertop workspace and storage.
“We already had a very strong Express Start breakfast bar with no operational concerns, so there was no reason to make significant changes,” said Jennifer Gribble, VP, Holiday Inn Express. “The back of house was designed to support a very specific F&B offering. Balancing the number of hot and cold offerings effectively allows a hotel to serve a high volume of guests efficiently without putting stress on one part of the kitchen or a single piece of equipment.”
Ten tips for success
Each kitchen design project is a learning experience, and experts Alec Bauer (Kitchen, Restaurant & Bar Specialists), Shelia Turner and Robert Polacek (Puccini Group), Russ Pizzuto (Blueplate Studios) and Jennifer Gribble (Holiday Inn Express) offer the following tips to keep in mind:
1 Listen to the client’s needs, conduct detailed interviews and take notes.
2 If it’s a renovation, do a thorough inspection of the premises for height clearances, obstacles and new equipment access.
3 Make sure the chef reviews the plans.
4 Tailor the space around the menu and concept.
5 Be sure to check the plumbing; it’s better to do the work before you begin construction on the kitchen.
6 Create a space that allows for the organized storage of product, which is vital to effective inventory and efficiency.
7 Research new products and innovations; the industry is constantly introducing new technologies that can increase menu variety and throughput without increasing kitchen footprint or significantly impacting the operations model.
8 Assess needs and plan for growth, even if you don’t build out 100 percent. Allocating space and utility bandwidth (gas, power) to grow might be a very small premium during construction compared to a large-scale renovation later.
9 Always redo the floor for longevity and cost-savings purposes. If the floor has to be fixed after the opening, the cost and disruption can be debilitating.
10 Consider aesthetics and curb appeal. How does the kitchen look from the front?
The right kitchen equipment is key
One of the most important aspects of kitchen design is what equipment to include in the space. An exact list depends on the menu, but there are features that are common no matter what the restaurant serves.
“We look for labor efficiency, time-saving potential, reliability and energy efficiency,” said Shelia Turner, VP of restaurant operations for Puccini Group.
Kitchen equipment must be durable, according to Russ Pizzuto, a project manager and kitchen consultant for Wilson Associates’ specialty F&B studio, Blueplate Studios.
In addition, if it’s an expo kitchen, quality and design of equipment on display are extremely important considerations, according to Robert Polacek, partner and chief creative officer for restaurant design firm Puccini Group.
Jennifer Gribble, VP, Holiday Inn Express, said the brand concentrates on storage and efficiency in the kitchen.
“When selecting equipment for Holiday Inn Express hotels, the No. 1 consideration is that the kitchen layout and refrigerators and freezers provide enough storage for the products offered as part of our Express Start breakfast, while allowing for ample work space for our breakfast attendants,” Gribble said.
Equipment also is an area for energy efficiency efforts. “We specify all Energy Star-rated equipment whenever possible in addition to using more complicated but energy-efficient remote refrigeration systems,” said Alec Bauer, owner of Kitchen, Restaurant + Bar Specialists. “Thereby dropping heating and cooling costs and saving energy.”
Many hotels don’t consider energy efficiency when building kitchens, but it’s the right thing to do, Turner said.
“It is particularly important to consider for renovation projects when working with old or outdated systems,” she said.
Pizzuto agreed that not all hotels are on the energy-efficiency bandwagon.
“There are clients that insist on using certain brands and models that do not carry Energy Star,” he said. “Like automobiles, there are heavy-duty, highly efficient units and gas guzzlers that are not constructed as well. You get what you pay for.”
The lifespan of kitchen equipment varies depending on the item, according to Bauer.
“These days, a high-end, heavy-duty range line can be expected to last 10 to 12 years if well maintained,” he said. “At the lower end of the spectrum, however, I am seeing units that will burn out and/or require service calls on a consistent basis.”