Although it is natural to put a tremendous amount of thought into the interior design of your restaurant’s dining area, it is equally important to invest in the design of the kitchen. A well-designed kitchen can have a positive effect on your staff; on the food preparation; and on the end results. Conversely, a badly designed kitchen can have a disastrous effect on all of the above, and more.
The Restaurant Kitchen: The Heart of the Matter
The kitchen is the heart of your restaurant; the beating, pulsing core. It is where the food is prepared, cooked, and plated: where your menu comes to life. It is also where the dirty dishes are brought; where food is stored; and where all the utensils, dishes, and cooking equipment are housed. It contains industrial-grade equipment that must withstand a restaurant’s busy and arduous schedule.
Therefore, the design and layout of a restaurant kitchen is of the utmost importance. It should allow food to flow seamlessly from the preparation area to the wait staff, and it should feature different stations in the kitchen to ensure that the kitchen runs smoothly.
Ergonomics of Restaurant Kitchen Design
The science of ergonomics is the study of people working efficiently inside a given workspace. In a commercial kitchen, an ergonomic design will minimize the risk of injuries to the staff and, at the same time, streamline the workflow for increased productivity with less effort. It can minimize the movement of the kitchen staff while they are working, thus saving energy and avoiding friction. Ergonomics can save time, and it reduces the risks associated with accidents in the kitchen. Since restaurant kitchens are often confined, they force chefs and other personnel to stand for long periods in almost static motion, potentially causing discomfort and pain. For this reason, it is important that restaurant ergonomics are considered while the kitchen design is still on paper.
Health and Safety Standards in Restaurant Kitchen Design
Arguably, the most important feature of kitchen design is its adherence to health and safety standards. Anyone who designs commercial kitchens must keep the guidelines of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in mind at all times. OSHA enforces regulations for workplace health and safety in many industries, including standards for restaurants. To ensure compliance with these standards, an official from a local OSHA office may visit and inspect a restaurant. If he finds a violation, the restaurant can be fined and the unsafe condition must be corrected by a specific deadline.
If you are unsure whether your restaurant kitchen design is safe, ask for an OSHA inspector to come and advise you. If you address health and safety issues according to OSHA guidelines, you will avoid problems later on with the authorities, AND you will show your staff that you care about their wellbeing.
Energy Efficiency: Key to Good Restaurant Kitchen Design
Kitchen design directly affects energy consumption. Restaurants are extremely energy intensive and most commercial kitchen appliances, in particular, use vast amounts of energy. When you buy new equipment for your restaurant, look beyond the sticker price. Ongoing costs of utilities and maintenance greatly outweigh the initial purchase price of a piece of equipment, so buying and installing energy-efficient equipment can trim thousands of dollars from your annual utility bills.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put out an Energy Star Guide for Restaurant Kitchens that helps restaurant owners design their kitchen in a way that will use energy efficiently. This can improve profitability, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve natural resources; the guide also helps you identify ways to save energy and water in your restaurant, and, in turn, to save money and boost profits.
The Importance of Restaurant Kitchen Size
The size of a restaurant’s kitchen should be proportional to the size of its dining area. Different types of restaurants, however, have different needs, but there is a rule of thumb regarding the ratio of kitchen size to dining capacity: for every seat in the restaurant it is necessary to provide at least five square feet of kitchen space. This means that a 60-seat restaurant, for example, calls for a 300-square-foot kitchen.
The type of food and food service also plays a role in determining the size of a restaurant kitchen. Fine food restaurants, for instance, should have two to three times the kitchen space required in cafeteria-style restaurants. Fast-service or cafeteria-style establishments usually have smaller kitchens and larger dining areas, as seating more diners compensates for lower prices.
The Elements of Restaurant Kitchen Design
A restaurant kitchen is used for many purposes, aside from food preparation, and all these elements must be taken into consideration in the design phase.
Ware Washing Area
The ware washing section of a commercial kitchen includes sinks, dishwashers, and dish tables. This section is a high priority because without efficient dish turnover there will be no clean dishes to serve your food on. Large three-compartment sinks are necessary for washing utensils, while dishwashers can quickly clean pots, plates and other serving dishes to keep the kitchen running at full speed. This section should ideally be located near the kitchen entrance so servers can quickly drop off dirty dishes; it should also be near the storage area so chefs can quickly find clean dishes.
The storage area can be split into three parts: non-food storage, dry storage, and cold storage. The non-food storage area can be split further into a section for disposable products, a section for cleaning supplies, and a section for the clean dishes from your ware washing area. To avoid contamination, cleaning and sanitation chemicals should never be stored above food, food equipment, utensils, dishes, or disposables, like plastic cups and cutlery.
Cold storage is where you keep anything that needs to be refrigerated or frozen, while dry storage includes all nonperishables and other consumables. The dry-storage area might also contain a receiving area for inventory shipments, shortening the distance that new stock has to travel through your restaurant.
Food Preparation Area
The food preparation area should contain sinks for washing produce, as well as cutting areas and mixing areas. Typically, the food preparation area is split into a section for processing raw foods (for example, breaking down cuts of beef,) and a section for sorting foods into batches (such as chopping vegetables and mixing salad dressings). Placing this section near your storage area allows cooks to efficiently access ingredients and raw food in order to move them on to the cooking area quickly.
The cooking area is the key to a kitchen’s efficiency and flow. This is where you will have ranges, ovens, fryers, griddles, and other cooking equipment, according to your restaurant’s food style. Like the food-preparation area, the meal-cooking area can be broken down into smaller sections like a baking station, grilling station, and frying station. Because meals are finished here, the meal-cooking area should be near the front of the kitchen, next to the service area.
The service area is the final section of a commercial kitchen; this is where the serving staff will pick up meal orders to take to their waiting customers. If you have a self-serve or buffet-style restaurant, this is where food will be displayed in warmers for customers to assemble their own plates. This area should be located at the front of the kitchen, just after the cooking area, to shorten the time and distance between completed meals and the customers themselves.
Good Kitchen Design Means a Happier Staff… and Better Results
If you consider all of the above – particularly ergonomics and workflow – when designing your restaurant’s kitchen, there will be a much better chance that your staff will enjoy their work. This will undoubtedly be reflected in the quality of the food and service in your restaurant. A well-designed kitchen that takes every aspect of food preparation – from storage to cooking – into consideration will produce better results, further contributing to your restaurant’s success.