Technological advances have led to many of the traditional ‘big’ appliances such as ovens and warewashers shrinking in size, but according to catering dealers there is still a long way to go to resolve the issues associated with small kitchen space.

As many point out, compact kit only ‘works’ if it can achieve the same throughput that an establishment requires from a conventional-sized appliance — not easy when price is often the most important consideration.

“To feed any given number of customers you will need a certain volume of food, so the storage space can’t change dramatically,” points out Clive Groom, boss of Gateshead-based CNG Foodservice Equipment.

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“Quality operators with a focus on fresh produce will always need a certain amount of cooking space. Mini combis and electric tops, be they induction or not, are useful in smaller spaces. Generally, there are few bad products nowadays — just that some people select the wrong products for the job they have in mind.”

The art of delivering a small kitchen is something that most distributors will be familiar with given space is at a premium for many operators these days. But there are certain shortcuts that simply can’t be taken when trying to squeeze a kitchen infrastructure into a space that ordinarily wouldn’t suffice.

For a start, the kitchen staff’s health and safety remains of paramount importance, as does food safety. Cross-contamination — food going out and dirty plates coming in — meat preparation areas and food storage all require careful attention.

“From a design perspective, the most important factor is ensuring the correct flow,” says Philip Howard, MD of Daventry-based CDG. “So, no cross flows, risk of cross-contamination and the segregation of cooked and raw produce. Also never to be forgotten is the challenge of dishwashing — there are compact machines but you need sufficient room for sorting dirties, racking up, pot wash, cleans storage and COSHH storage.”

Russell Moxam, director at Rotherham-based Lloyd Catering Equipment, agrees that at no point can safety, whether people or food, be compromised. “Quite often, we as distributors have to convince operators that our proposals are in the best interests of safety. We have less room to work with than before as people want to maximise covers for profitability and it is amazing how some of the smaller kitchens operate — quite often more is less,” he says.

Moxam cites airports and train stations as prime examples of sites where huge volumes are produced from some of the smallest kitchens around. Some operate 24 hours a day and are known to turn over in excess of £100,000 a week. “Safety cannot be compromised as it would not be allowed by the authorities such as BAA,” adds Moxam.

“These places use a lot of stacking and holding appliances and it works for them — they tend to be more disciplined than the bigger kitchen operators who have, in some cases, too much space and equipment, as some people like to fill space with unnecessary equipment,” he says.

One of the obstacles when taking a client through a kitchen re-sizing exercise is keeping their aspirations in check.

As Karl Oldham, designer at Northamptonshire-based ABDA, notes: “The challenge when working with a limited space is often trying to manage the client’s expectations as to what can be achieved. They will often have a menu in mind and a wish list of equipment. It is our responsibility to create a kitchen that works operationally while maintaining a safe working environment. In some instances this will mean the end-user has to compromise some of their requirements.”

In many cases, distributors will need to put their foot down in order to keep expectations in check. CNG’s Groom says it aims to deliver what the customer wants and needs, but it isn’t afraid to challenge things when necessary. “In 2013 I was working on a project with a very small kitchen area shown on the architects drawing,” he says.

“When I asked the client the reason behind this, it was to squeeze in an extra four covers. I suggested that the four extra covers were irrelevant because the kitchen design was not practical or safe and therefore he actually couldn’t feed them. After some debate he accepted our second option and structured his front-of-house, menu and wine list in such a way that they now generate more revenue than had been budgeted with the four extra covers.”

Compromise is a word that crops up a lot when discussing compact kitchens. Space constraints often mean that preparation has to occur much earlier so that the kitchen is free for service — reconciliation here may involve longer or earlier starting times for the establishment or the use of areas often outside of the main cooking area for additional cold or frozen food storage. It is not uncommon for pastry sections to shrink or disappear when space is tight.

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Simon Mahony, channel business manager at Leeds-based Brakes Catering Equipment, says that when it comes to new builds, the kitchen is invariably the last area to get thought about and as a consequence what space remains is usually not enough to get the flows right or accommodate all the kit that the operator needs to deliver the menu they want.

With tight spaces, storage generally tends to pose the biggest problem. “It is a real challenge to provide enough storage for the products that are required to deliver that day’s menu and so we usually end up looking for other areas in which to locate chilled or frozen storage,” says Mahony. “When space is tight, working areas are reduced and this causes issues with preparation. Where possible we try to design areas so they can be multi-functional: areas used for prep out of main service times then become pick-up or build areas during service.”

Marios Poumpouris, managing director at London-based Chiller Box, says that work it has done for grab-and-go customers and office boardroom catering demonstrates just how much cooking power can be served up from a minimal equipment footprint.

“There have been half a dozen projects in the past year or so where we have run almost a whole kitchen on just a combi oven and a couple of countertop induction units,” he says. “We have done quite a few kitchens now that are pretty much based on those and nothing else because they can naturally cope with quite a lot. With most of these things you need a combi oven because of the versatility and the volume that a combi oven can cope with. In some cases there has also been small fryer and salamander and some refrigeration storage in another store room for back-up. ”

The growing availability of slimline refrigeration units has been a welcome development for designers and dealers desperate to find that extra 50mm or 100mm of space. But adequate extraction in small areas is a must as units can get very hot, very quickly, warns Mahony. “As a result, bottom-mounted plant on refrigeration should be considered as they take air in from floor level where it’s coolest. Extraction systems can be designed with treated, cooled replacement air to give a better working environment.”

CNG’s Groom concurs that the provision of services and the correct volume of ventilation are among the more difficult problems encountered when planning and installing kitchens in compact spaces. “Creating adequate work space and storage for produce and utensils are other major issues, although the latter can often be overcome by careful design of the fabrication and thinking in depth of how you approach the vertical elevations,” he comments. “The biggest challenge is always how to create the correct level of separation of sections, such as the prep from wash-up, as well as the correct work flow paths to avoid cross-contamination.”

Dealers are finding that many operators want to offer a varied menu, so as well as the actual lay-out, equipment that can offer a degree of flexibility, such as combination ovens or high speed microwaves, remain an obvious attraction.

“One of the key principals when designing a small kitchen is to utilise every square foot of space available,” says ABDA’s Karl Oldham. “For example, smart storage, multi- functional workspaces — such as using bowl covers on sinks to create more prep space — and versatile kit that enables the client to cook a varied menu from a single appliance.”

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Poumpouris at Chiller Box expects the trend for compact kitchens to drive further innovation.

“We have had that big upswing of street food and we are now talking to people about things like pods that they want to be putting in railways stations and shopping centres. Again, the space is limited, so manufacturers are going to have to respond to the market place and answer the call for equipment to provide multiple functionality in smaller, more confined spaces.”

Additionally, though, it is also up to the dealer to guide the caterer on the operational changes they can make to further support any gains made in equipment and lay-out.

“One of our clients has implemented an early shift for prep and cooking of all baked items, so that this element of the menu offering is dealt with prior to the time the majority of the team arrive at work,” notes CDG’s Howard. “We continue to be amazed at what caterers are able to achieve from a compact kitchen. The key is to get the balance right between back and front of house — there should be synergy between both.”

View from the kitchen designer’s chair

Nicola Pedrette, designer at Gloucester-based Target Design Studio, which is part of Target Catering Equipment, considers the principles that designers need to follow when designing a ‘compact’ kitchen.

“When designing a ‘compact’ kitchen there are obvious mandatory principles you must comply with in a commercial kitchen, however it is the designer’s skill and ingenuity coupled with experience and ability to look at the bigger picture that will really make the difference when designing solutions for clients.

“Taking a detailed brief from the client will allow designers to offer advice on possible options which the client may not have considered in the earlier stages. These may be new services, technologies or techniques, and will therefore make the most of the designer’s product knowledge and experience combined with innovative thinking. Everything from the type of food produce likely to be used to the disposal of food waste plays a part in the design of a ‘compact’ kitchen.

“In order to make the design of a ‘compact’ kitchen a success at Target Design Studio, we look at ways in which equipment can be bespoke-manufactured to fit in awkward spaces which would otherwise be redundant and also the introduction of equipment that can be multifunctional.

“The correct specification of equipment is most important. We encourage our clients to attend demonstrations of equipment to trial and see that it will meet their exact needs and how it can possibly be utilised for other processes. Combining this with the very latest technology and design modelling software allows the client to see how the space can be best utilised.

“Business owners will usually have to choose whether the design and functionality of the kitchen will be compromised by the available budget. With compact kitchens we find that bespoke-manufactured items are more practical than standard off-the-shelf equipment, however the initial outlay can be more expensive.”

Dealer view: Three kitchens we conquered

Philip Howard, managing director of catering equipment distributor CDG, reflects on three recent compact kitchens it has delivered and highlights what made them special.

1. Ludlow Kitchen, Shropshire

“When we created the kitchen to support the new ‘Ludlow Kitchen’ restaurant at Ludlow Food Centre (top pic), we were working with an existing building with limited option to extend. The kitchen had a small footprint but offered a wide, cooked-to-order menu choice using only fresh produce. It needed to have the ability to cater for functions, the bar service and also its retail offering — so a lot to achieve in a small space. We created an open pass between the kitchen and the restaurant and an open bar/coffee servery area, saving a big chunk of space within the kitchen.”

2. The Wheatsheaf Pub & Grill, Surrey

“The Wheatsheaf Pub & Grill in Farnham wanted to showcase the high quality of their locally-sourced food and the chefs at work in an open kitchen, which offered a cooked grill bar menu. We adapted an existing bar space to form a kitchen which had no services in place. Although compact, it needed to operate efficiently to cater for up to 200 covers in one session. It required extensive cooking equipment, including chargrills, which presented major ventilation issues.

"We designed a compact system including UV odour control. The space had to be designed for limited coldroom accommodation. No external compressors were allowed due to planning and noise restrictions. The solution to this problem was to put them into the bin store and we designed a specific ventilation system to control the temperature in this area.”

3. University of Glasgow, Loch Lomond

“This field centre on the banks of Loch Lomond was a new build with an extremely challenging space. The cooking area was especially compact, so we specified compact equipment such as Convotherm combis. Although a small kitchen space, it still had to be able to cater for students and research fellows across the breakfast, lunch and dinner services. As all the food was freshly prepared, there were challenges with storage, particularly with refrigerated storage and in the service area. The solution was to create an open pass through the wall between the kitchen and dining area to ensure operational efficiency.”

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Andrew Seymour

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