Whether it’s an independent cafe or an international hotel chain, the essence of good commercial kitchen design remains the same, writes Radford Chancellor of consultant firm Radford Chancellor Ltd.
"After being involved in the catering industry for more than 20 years, I’ve worked in and seen a fair few kitchens in my time. It’s fair to say that some have been amazing, well designed, and with excellent work flow. But for every fantastic kitchen I see, there is a horrendous one too. Sadly, over the years I have seen too many kitchens that, frankly, are not fit for purpose.
Everyone in our industry should know that the kitchen is the ‘engine’ of the catering operation, whether it’s a hotel, restaurant, prison or roadside cafe. Without a well-designed and equipped kitchen any catering business will quickly run into trouble.
I am not saying that every kitchen designed and installed is a horrendous one, nor am I living in utopia thinking that end-user clients possess unlimited budgets — far from it. But I just feel people should try to imagine how their design will work in reality — almost as if they are the chef.
And my advice would be the same whether the kitchen design project is worth £20,000 or £2m.
1) Engage the stakeholders for the operation: Whenever possible, try to engage as many of the stakeholders as you can, from directors to the executive head chef. While not all chefs may know the fine detail from a health and safety, legal and environmental point of view, they will know how a kitchen works and flows.
2) Consider the service requirement: Is it plated service, a la carte, self-service or banqueting? How many covers are they looking to serve?
3) Have a look at the space available: Is the space allocated sufficient to contain the essential equipment? Time and time again, I see the front-of-house given all the space — to fit more tables in — and the kitchen given a tiny space with no storage areas, fridge space etc.
4) Try to ascertain an accurate idea of the available spend from the start: Of course, the big issue in the current climate is budget. Once you know the budget you can start to structure the design around the service requirement, at the same time aiming to satisfy food hygiene practices and complying with relevant legislation. At this stage I would also recommend a risk assessment to identify any problem areas and negate the risk of cross-contamination.
5) All designs should have good workflow patterns and insightful solutions to the building constraints. Always assess the following points:
– Delivery and Storage: Aim to allow adequate space to accommodate a goods check-in area before entering the kitchen. Whenever possible, bulk storage should be close to the goods-in area. A good design should allow adequate space for dry, chilled and frozen goods.
– Preparation: Try to position the main preparation area to ensure the correct flow pattern. Where possible, different processes should be segregated, such as raw meat and fish separated from prepared foods. If necessary, consider chilled preparation areas for high-risk food environments.
– Cooking: When selecting cooking equipment consider the requirements of the menu and the ability of the staff expected to use the equipment. Hi-tech kit such as programmable pressure bratt pans and touch screen combi-ovens are great but may not always be appropriate for the menu/service offer and staff. On the other hand, state-of-the-art equipment can provide benefits in terms of cost control, energy and labour savings.
– Service area: Architects will often underestimate the space requirement for service. Again, the service area has to reflect the style of menu and business. Where possible, locate the service point close to the final cooking process to avoid double handling.
– Wash-up area and refuse: The dishwashing operation is key to the success of any catering establishment. If such a key area fails through inefficient planning, the business cannot be expected to function effectively. Allow for a clearly defined route for dirty dishes that won’t conflict with prep and service areas. Consider the location of an outside refuse bay, well away from the kitchen entrance.
– Other items: Consider things like staff facilities, environmental matters, and non-slip floors, walls and ceilings that can easily be cleaned and maintained.
Almost all designs have to be the result of compromises, but work flow and safety should be the prime focus in the lay-out of a kitchen.
Radford Chancellor is a director of Radford Chancellor Ltd, an independent catering consultancy providing support to the hospitality industry. www.radfordchancellor.co.uk