Stephen Ayers

Designing a kitchen: Important thoughts from the hoteliers’ angle

While I am not a kitchen designer by profession but rather a hotelier, my career path has led me through the food and beverage side of hotels. Added to this I have opened quite a few hotels in my time, and have also assisted a large company in the food and beverage concepts, consulting, menus and kitchen design for new hotels.

It was in this capacity that I worked closely and alongside the professional designers and learned of the innumerable components that go into creating a fully functioning and efficient kitchen. However, what I would like to comment on and point out here are the points that must be considered from the ‘work’ aspect in a newly designed kitchen.

Let us suppose that the professionals have taken care of all the legal and health aspects of the design, and so we will consider what is important for the kitchen brigade. The legal and health aspects are the HVAC systems, the flooring, walls, fire, minimum kitchen areas for the required outlets and more.

Firstly it is my belief that every kitchen that is designed must be done so with the full participation and input of food and beverage hotel professionals. In many instances because I was there I was able to save hundreds and thousands of dollars in superfluous equipment that would have been left idle in the kitchen.

The equipment planned was done so on an honest basis by the planners but was something that I knew from experience would not be used on a regular basis. I was able to keep the design and investment within the budget afforded. Planners are professionals and know of the latest equipment and gadgets, but they often do not know the regular habits of kitchen personnel, and that is where hotel food and beverage people fit into the design and planning.

Every kitchen must be designed with the best ergonomics in mind. This must deliver both the best flow with regards to health and hygiene, but also with efficient flow and minimum traffic flow by the brigade. From the delivery ramp to the storage areas, and from there to the preparation, cooking and service areas, every space has to be thought out carefully.

The ‘in’ flow must not be crossed by the ‘out’ flow of garbage, empties and other debris from the kitchens. There are many machines that help with this that were not available in the past and that make life that much easier for the cooks and more importantly the kitchen stewards. Each preparation area should be minimally distant from that particular storage area for efficient and timely access for the cooks. As an example, the butcher shop should be adjacent to the meat refrigerator and so on. This means that the bank of refrigerators should be planned adjacent to their main users.

The main compressor for the refrigerators should be planned with a backup that will not allow for spoilage and interruptions in production. Ideally, restaurants should be designed close to the production and service areas of the kitchen so as to give service personnel quick and efficient access to the output counters in the kitchen.

Many kitchens today operate with satellite (small output kitchens) kitchens that are supplied with semi-finished products and have only to be completed and plated for service. This is particularly true of the large hotels where it is impossible to design all the restaurants close to the main production kitchens. There are also different production methods that have been around for quite a while (cook chill, sous vide and others) that allow for efficient service and lower staffing while being regenerated far from the main kitchens but alongside the banqueting halls.

When contemplating equipment it should be noted that for restaurants it is best to allow for maximum flexibility in terms of production of various kinds of food. While most restaurants decide on a particular menu for a while (or season), it is good to give the chef the possibility of producing different food from different cultures so that he/she can show maximum creativity. Nowadays the food ‘fashion’ scene changes rapidly and this will take that into account.

Another aspect of kitchen design actually belongs to the restaurant design, and deals with service facilitation. The buffet design, if there is one, must be thought out from the point of view of space required both for hot and cold items, but also from the resupply angle. Adequate space must be allocated for service equipment such as plates, soup bowls, glasses and other equipment necessary for the buffet service. This will eliminate the problem of ‘no plates’ that one often encounters in hotels that have not given thought to these potential service problems.

Also of great significance is the number and design of the service stations allocated in the restaurants and banquet halls. They must be sufficient in size and design to allow for smooth service for each meal or event, allow for the table clearing as well as resupply of all service utensils that may be required.

There are so many different items that must be covered in kitchen and restaurant design, and I am sure that I have not covered every point. However, I believe that the above does present the main and vitally important aspects of kitchen design that will go a long way to reducing friction points, increase efficiency and lower costs in the long run. I cannot stress the importance of the fact that a good kitchen design is the outcome of teamwork that includes professionals from the hotels along with the designers themselves.

This article first appeared in the February issue of Hotel Owner

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